Rohani’s Refusal to Disavow Holocaust-denial Could Be Netanyahu’s Only Ace in the Hole

Like his country’s Caspian horse, the Iranian leader is showing speed and versatility in his efforts to win over the West; by the time Netanyahu comes to N.Y., the Iranian horses may have already bolted.

The Iranian-born Caspian horse is considered by some experts to be oldest breed on earth. It originates from Mazandaran province, in northern Iran, on the Caspian Sea. It is known in history as the “King’s Horse” because it was the favorite of the Persian King Darius the Great, who enshrined its image in numerous tributes that adorn the archaeology sections in many of the world’s top museums.

The Caspian, rediscovered in the 1960s after centuries in which it was considered extinct, was renowned then, as it is today, for its speed and versatility. These two traits make it an irresistible metaphor for Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s efforts to carry out a flash reboot of his country’s relations with the West, in general, and with U.S. President Barack Obama, in particular.

So much so, that by the time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes to the podium next Tuesday as the last head of state to address this year’s United Nations General Assembly and to elaborate on what he describes as Rohani’s “trap,” he may find himself closing the barn door after the Iranian horses have bolted.

Rohani hadn’t even landed in New York yet and already a “historic” meeting was announced between Iranian foreign minister Mohamad Zarif and his U.S. counterpart John Kerry, against the backdrop of Thursday’s meeting of the P5+1 nuclear forum. In another sign of change, Zarif has replaced Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, as his country’s chief nuclear negotiator.

And even before he had set foot at the UN headquarters in midtown Manhattan, the building’s corridors were already humming with rumors of a possible accidental-on-purpose meeting that may take place at noon today, Tuesday, at a luncheon for heads of state to be hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

Rohani is set to start a full gallop on American public opinion this week, not only in the UN building but in interviews and meetings with the general media and in separate speeches to different audiences, including one at the New York based Asia Society on Thursday.

Rohani’s main Achilles’ heel, however, remains his disingenuous refusal to disavow the obsessive Holocaust-denial of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Contrary to vague pledges not to build a nuclear weapon, which many Americans would love to believe, Holocaust-denial does not go over well with most Americans, especially Jews. It was cited as one of the main reasons for the Iranian Jewish community’s refusal to meet with Rohani, at his invitation.

This could provide Netanyahu with his ace-in-the-hole in the media counterattack that he plans to launch when he comes to the U.S. early next week. It might even replace the Roadrunner cartoon of an Iranian bomb that helped highlight Netanyahu’s argument against the Iranian nuclear program at last year’s General Assembly.

One way or another, these are heady days for the UN, which has turned into the central arena for developments on the most burning issues of the day. The world will be hanging on every word said today by Obama, in the morning, and by Rohani, in the afternoon, for clues about the prospects for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement and for news about the other focal point of international attention – the disposition of Syria’s chemical weapons.

That drama is going to be played out in the UN Security Council, where the U.S. and Russia are headed for a diplomatic game of “chicken” in which both countries press for a resolution adopting their agreement on Syria, but on their own terms – Washington with a Chapter 7 clause allowing for the use of force, and Moscow without such a provision.

All of which paves the way for powerhouse showdowns which will most likely be resolved (I couldn’t resist) with a last minute bout of good, old fashioned horse-trading.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

AP