In the wake of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad call to “wipe Israel off the map,” two schools of thought have emerged. One argues that the statement was part of Iran’s internal politicking and an effort to rekindle the revolutionary regime’s waning ideological fervor. The other maintains the speech is the clearest indication yet why Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons spell trouble. Both groups display a surprising disregard of Iran’s actual anti-Israel strategy.
Instead of waiting for Iran to finish Israel off, attention must be focused on the war Iran is currently waging against the “regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem].” This decade-old war is based on sponsoring and supporting Palestinian and Shi’a terrorism and has proven safe, effective and relatively cheap.
Iran is employing terror groups to achieve four aims: first, some terror organizations are in fact part and parcel of Iran’s own defense posture. For instance, by equipping it with thousands of long-range rockets, Iran transformed the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizballah into an organic arm of its strategic deterrent to dissuade an Israeli preemption of its evolving nuclear weapons program. Second, Tehran sponsored terror attacks on Israel are designed to divert it from going after Iran. In this way, Iran has been able to open a second front in its terror war. Third, through its proxies, Iran is at war with Israel without being directly involved, diminishing the likelihood of an Israeli response against Iran. Indeed, by opting to go after the perpetrators of terror rather than its sponsors, Israel has buttressed Iran’s rationale for its indirect strategy. Four, by constantly supporting Palestinian violence and undermining any efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, Iran not only assures its strategic goals are advanced, but also acts to weaken Israel should a conflict erupt.
Iran’s often repeated thesis that terrorism will lead to Israel’s destruction has so far been mainly a propaganda ploy designed to make sure attacks on Israel continue. Ahmadinejad apparently also toed the line. “A new wave of Palestinian attacks would destroy the Jewish state,” he promised. The Iranian President is hoping that as Iran is getting closer to crossing the nuclear threshold, terrorist attacks on Israel mount so as to shield his nuclear program. He must be concerned that the growing international alarm over Iran’s nuclear aspirations would not somehow legitimize an Israeli preemption. He is also worried that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza could advance peace negotiations with the Palestinians and so free Israel’s hands to act against Iran. “I hope,” Ahmadinejad said, “that the Palestinians will maintain their wariness and intelligence [vis-à-vis any Zionist peace tricks], much as they have pursued their battles in the past 10 years. This will be a short period, and if we pass through it successfully, the process of the elimination of the Zionist regime will be smooth and simple.”
But it would be a mistake to think that Ahmadinejad’s urgings display the usual Iranian application of terrorism. Recent Israeli moves, its retreats from Lebanon and especially Gaza, might have convinced Tehran that terrorism may indeed be a strategic weapon which would bring Israel’s demise. Likewise, America’s difficulties to quell the terror campaign in Iraq have undoubtedly further solidified this Iranian perception. It is not by chance that Ahmadinejad referred to the downfall of the USSR as an eloquent demonstration of the power of “our holy hatred.”
Thus, the timing of Ahmadinejad’s call for the elimination of Israel is significant. Under this interpretation, the pronouncement is tantamount to publicly throwing the gauntlet to Israel. Iran it appears is seeking to demonstrate to its terrorist allies that Israel has been so frazzled that it will not even respond when an open call for its destruction is made.
The Iranian leader is betting that the escalation of the ongoing terrorist war will spell Israel’s death by a thousand cuts even before Iran can wield its nuclear power: “Very soon, this stain of disgrace [i.e. Israel] will be purged from the center of the Islamic world – and this is attainable,” he declared.
Either way, an intensification of the terror war against Israel is imminent. In the name of coping with a putative (demographic) danger, the retreat from Gaza has directly led to heightening an immediate threat to Israel’s survival.
Avigdor Haselkorn is the author of The Continuing Storm: Iraq, Poisonous Weapons and Deterrence (Yale University Press).