It was a promise to his religious conservative supporters, a warning to his pragmatic, liberal opponents, and a threat to the rest of the world. "Allah willing, this is the beginning of a new era in the life of our nation," said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on June 24, when he cast his vote in the country's presidential election. Soon afterwards, Ahmadinejad, the son of poor parents, a self-proclaimed clean-up man and mayor of Tehran felt that Allah had given him the mandate he required: For an outsider candidate, he had achieved a glowing electoral success, claiming more than 60 percent of votes.
Ahmadinejad, 49, initially seemed humbled by his success. At his inauguration, he respectfully kissed the hand of his mentor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 66. The new president seemed even more conciliatory at his first press conference, where he said that he had no intention of closing the stock exchange because, as he had suggested during the campaign, it is "un-Islamic." When asked about foreign policy, he insisted that Iran is a responsible member of the world community, that it is not interested in war and that it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons. By September, Ahmadinejad, who may be well-versed in domestic policy but has no international political experience, made his first aggressive speech, taking the undiplomatic approach of sharply criticizing what he called the evil West in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
And now, with his recent anti-Israeli tirade, the political hardliner has outdone himself. He may have looked cheerful enough when he took to the podium in his shirtsleeves last Wednesday in Tehran, but his words sent a chill down the world's collective spine. Speaking as if he were a terrorist leader, and not the elected president of perhaps the most important regional power in the Middle East, he called for the destruction of an entire state: "Israel must be wiped off the map!" His audience of 4,000, at a conference in Tehran titled "A World without Zionism," broke out into the rhythmic chanting of what amounted to a call to arms: "Marg bar Israel!" (death for Israel). On Friday, the regime added flame to the president's fire, announcing a "Jerusalem Day" in Tehran and calling upon tens of thousands of Iranians to "rise up against Zionists and infidels."
While the Islamic world has once again remained silent, the reaction in the West to Ahmadinejad's tirade of hate was sharp and unanimous. "Unbelievable and outrageous," said the US government.
Iran's ambassador in Berlin was sent home. Even the Russians, closely allied with Tehran both economically and politically, expressed their outrage. But the sharpest reaction came from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who issued an unveiled threat, saying that the attitude of the Iranians toward Israel and towards terrorism and nuclear weapons was unacceptable. He also said that at some point people would start demanding the West to do something and that it seemed unimaginable that a country with such an attitude should ever possess atomic weapons.
Not surprisingly, the level of indignation against what Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres called this "insane regime" was especially high. The Tel Aviv daily newspaper Haaretz even compared Iran's president with Adolf Hitler, "that other elected leader who promised to destroy the Jews." A number of high-ranking politicians have called for Iran's exclusion from the United Nations, on the grounds that Tehran has violated the UN Charter, a symbolic but unrealistic demand, reports Spiegel Online. I.L.