"Chutzpah" is one of the Yiddish language's greatest contributions to civilization. The quintessential example is when a defendant, having just murdered his parents in cold-blood, throws himself on the mercy of the Court because he's a double orphan!
In our time no one does chutzpah better than Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and nowhere does he do it better than at the United Nations.
Last year, serial human rights abuser, "Wipe Israel from the Map" Ahmadinejad keynoted the UN Human Rights Council's Durban II Conference in Geneva. At another appearance at the General Assembly in New York, he flirted with Holocaust Denial and boasted about Tehran's 9,000 nuclear centrifuges, making fissionable material in contravention of International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) rules and UN Security Council resolutions.
Now, given the spotlight as the only head of state to attend the opening session of the UN's Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference, the irrepressible Iranian president castigates the "Zionist regime" with "acts of terror" and claims that the U.S. and Israel have created "major terrorist networks" that threaten the world with nuclear blackmail. And the winner is? Ahmadenijad -- with 168 nations whose diplomats provided polite applause after his latest harangue.
As with his previous UN appearances, there's always a method behind Ahmadenijad's "meshugas" (Yiddish for madness). Even before the opening gavel, came word of a significant victory for Iran. Egypt, Tehran's historic Mideast archrival, which fears and loathes a nuclear Iran, has already telegraphed it will seek to spin the nuclear forum's focus onto Israel. Ambassador Maged Abdel Aziz told reporters last week that "[s]uccess in dealing with Iran will depend to a large extent on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone." Egypt's working paper will urge NPT members to "renew their resolve to undertake, individually and collectively, all necessary measures aimed at... the accession by Israel to the Treaty as soon as possible as a non-nuclear weapon state."
Worse still, there are hints that the U.S. may follow up Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller's demand last year that Israel go public about its defensive nuclear arsenal and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would break forty years of consistent U.S. policy not to paint Israel as the Mideast's atomic bad guy at the very moment Tehran is planning its nuclear breakout.
Behind their public anti-Israel bluster, Arab leaders privately tell us they're losing sleep not because of the Jewish state but because of the real-time nuclear threat unfolding next door in Iran, which, they fear, America lacks the resolve to stop. Lee Smith in his new book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, argues that the key to understanding the Mideast mindset is captured by this Osama Bin Laden statement: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse."
Witnessing North Korea's and Iran's defiance of the U.S. -- as well as the Obama's Administration's hint it may join demands that Israel unilaterally surrender its nuclear deterrent -- Egyptians, Saudis, Kuwaitis and other regional players may use anti-Israel rhetoric to hide their real purpose of distancing themselves from a weakened "American horse." Indeed, Israelis have just published a study that Saudi Arabia as well as Egypt -- with Pakistani help -- may be ready to develop their own nuclear weapons arsenals.
Mideast proliferation is surely not the purpose of Obama's new "soft diplomacy;" but Washington's delayed, watered down, and ineffective sanctions program, coupled with diplomatic signals more designed to pressure Israel than Iran, serve only to embolden, not rein in, Tehran. Demoralized Arab friends may feel they have no choice but to "go nuclear" to counter Iran, though under a smokescreen of anti-Israel rhetoric.
Israel's commitment not to threaten the region with nuclear attack or blackmail has been unwavering for over forty years. In the 1960s, Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser pledged to secure "atomic weapons at any costs" and threatened to "drive Israel into the sea." The 1967 Arab-Israeli War was the result. Rather than wait around to see if Nasser was serious about getting atomic weapons, Israel developed its own deterrent nuclear capacity, pledging never to be the first to introduce nukes in the region. It held fast to its "no first use" policy, even in 1973 when a combined Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack on Yom Kippur threatened its very survival.
Israel's president, Shimon Peres, its most ardent advocate for peace with the Palestinians, is also the "father" of Israel's secret nuclear efforts. In April 1963, he told President Kennedy that "Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East." Long before the election of Barak Obama, Peres personally told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Israel would be willing to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty within two years after the establishment of "regional peace." Peres believes that it was Israel's unstated but obvious nuclear capabilities that helped set the stage for peace -- the Jewish state's historic peace with Egypt.
President Obama claims to be a "realist" about the Mideast, but his ambiguous policy about Israel and regional deterrence is anything but. In pursuit of a "new day" for that ancient region, he should stop wasting precious political time and capital debasing the deterrence of democratic Israel. Instead, to stop the volatile region from becoming an armed nuclear camp, President Obama must demonstrate to the Arab world that Washington is still "the strong horse" with the will to thwart all-too-real nuclear threats from the tyrants in Tehran.
This essay was co-authored with Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian who is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center
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