There is an upside to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's shocking call to wipe Israel off the map: it is a good thing that the Iranian leader has revealed his hopes. For by doing so, he has helped those who are still undecided as to how to relate to the Iranian regime. Those European leaders who suggest that Israel get used to the idea of life in the shadow of an Iranian nuclear bomb - and who offer as an example Western Europe, which faced the threat of Soviet nuclear arms - should take into account that the Soviet Union never threatened to wipe any country off the map.
The new president's pronouncement was no slip of the tongue. It was part of a programmatic speech planned for the last Friday of Ramadan, and is part of a recurring phenomenon in Iran since the revolution. It was begun by the father of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, followed by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who once said that all it would take is one nuclear bomb to wipe out Israel, and now they are joined by the new president, who has adopted a style that brings to mind the threats that Adolf Hitler used to make. One after another, three important leaders of "revolutionary" Iran have sent the Nazi message. Incidentally, for Ahmadinejad, this is only part of a broad radicalization that is expressed in other areas as well. He also has appointed five cabinet ministers from radical conservative bodies - the Republican Guards, intelligence community heads, and the Basij, volunteer militias that support the conservative regime, which some observers have likened to the SA brownshirts.
Maybe someone in Ahmadinejad's office thought that a voluble squabble with Israel might push the nuclear dispute with Iran to the sidelines. If so, he was very wrong. In effect, the opposite has occurred. The call for Israel's annihilation adds a more acute dimension to the nuclear dispute, one that does not exist, for instance, in the nuclear dispute with North Korea.
There is a tendency to ignore the fact that besides the nuclear sphere, Iran is operating against Israel in other realms: the country finances Hezbollah and supplies it with thousands of rockets that threaten northern Israel, and it also bankrolls Islamic Jihad and urges Palestinians to carry out attacks against Israel. In addition, Tehran is making an intensified espionage effort to identify targets in Israel.
Israel has adopted a tactic vis-a-vis Iran of sitting in the balcony, as it does in international disputes over Bashar Assad's regime in Syria and Emile Lahoud's Lebanon, where Hezbollah operates. In so doing, Israel apparently is signaling that it does not want to be pushed to the forefront of activity against Iran, and is leaving the work to others. The erroneous conclusion is that by doing so, the country will not become a target of its enemies. However, the Iranian president publicly informed Israel that it is in line for liquidation, even when it purports to sit in the stands as a spectator.
The time has come to come down from the stands. There is no need to do so with a marching band, and this writer is not recommending a declaration of war against the Iranian regime. But Israel has good levers for applying pressure on Iran, which can be very bothersome - for example, by aiding Kurds and the mujahideen in its territory who oppose the regime. Similarly, the Iranians suspect that the British are operating in the Khuzistan region in southern Iran, a region with a predominantly Arab population.
The struggle against Iranian nuclear arms development needs to focus not only on intelligence gathering, which is quite good, but also on additional ways, with the goal to foil such development. Although there is great doubt over whether a military option should be pursued, especially by a small state like Israel, that does not mean the country should give up on building appropriate forces. Clearly, the annihilation pronouncement from Tehran calls for a re-examination of the strategy vis-a-vis Iran under its current regime.