The Unbearable Lightness of Wishful Thinking

Posted in Broader Middle East | 04-May-09 | Author: Barry Rubin| Source: GLORIA Center

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to journalists as he waits for an official meeting in Tehran, April 27, 2009.

Congratulations, the conflict is over! Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn't a radical, aggressive Islamist and Holocaust denier but a peacenik! Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is against war and terrorism!

How do we know this? They told us?
Well, no, they didn't actually tell us. What happened is that they told us they would go on being radical, aggressive, and terrorism-sponsoring. They just did it in a way that a lot of people engaged in wishful thinking-and who fervently believe that no one could actually be radical or luxuriate in political violence-heard something different.

Case Number 1: Iran
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an interview to George Stephanopoulos of ABC. He knew what he was saying but others want to insist on refusing to understand him.

First the relevant exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinian people negotiate an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian people vote and support that agreement, a two state solution, will Iran support it?
AHMADINEJAD: Nobody should interfere, allow the Palestinian people to decide for themselves. Whatever they decide....
STEPHANOPOULOS: If they choose a two state solution with Israel, that's fine.
AHMADINEJAD: Well, what we are saying is that you and us should not determine the course of things beforehand. Allow the Palestinian people to make their own decisions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if they choose a two state solution, if they choose to recognize Israel's existence, Iran will as well?
AHMADINEJAD; Let me approach this from another perspective. If the Palestinians decide that the Zionist regime needs to leave all Palestinian lands, would the American administration accept their decision? Will they accept this Palestinian point of view?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll ask them. But I'm asking you if Palestinians accept the existence of Israel, would Iran support that?....
STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinians sign an agreement with Israel, will Iran support it?
AHMADINEJAD: Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that. We think that this is the right of the Palestinian people, however we fully expect other states to do so as well.

And how did the Israeli online service of Yediot Aharnot newspaper, YNet News, play this? Here's the headline: ""Ahmadinejad 'fine' with two-state solution."
Well, not exa ctly. He refused to say that. All Ahmadinejad said was that he would support what the Palestinian people decided. What does that mean?
First, he personally believes that they would never accept a two-state solution so there's nothing to worry about in that respect.
Second, of course, he knows that Hamas would never agree to such a thing and Hamas already controls how people vote in the Gaza Strip. One might presume that if a referendum was held there, the vote would be "100 percent" against a two-state solution. In addition, Hamas and others opposing a two-state solution would get between 30 and 70 percent of votes in the West Bank. A lot of Fatah supporters would also vote against it. The exact numbers aren't important because whether the number is the higher or lower figure such a proposition would always be defeated.

Third, any two-state solution would only be made by Fatah. Iran supports Hamas. If Fatah and the Palestinian Authority were to make a deal with Israel, Tehran would still back Hamas in overthrowing that government, using the deal to portray its rival as treasonous. Once Hamas took over the state of Palestine, it would tear up all the agreements and invite in the Iranian military.
So in effect Ahmadinejad just said that he would never accept a two-state solution but why put that in clear words when the dumb Westerners can be left to interpret it as they wish.

But Ahmadinejad also put a little bomb in the interview which no one seems to notice. Let me repeat one of his answers:
AHMADINEJAD; "Let me approach this from another perspective. If the Palestinians decide that the Zionist regime needs to leave all Palestinian lands, would the American administration accept their decision? Will they accept this Palestinian point of view?"
What's he saying here? "All Palestinian lands" might sound like saying the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem to Western ears, but everyone in Iran and among the Palestinians knows this means: all of Israel plus all the territories it captured in 1967.
So here's what the Iranian president is saying: Suppose the Palestinians vote that they want all of Israel, would the United States accept that? The answer, of course, is "no" and so, Ahmadinejad is saying: I'm the one in favor of democracy and you're aga inst it.
(According to him, of course, Israelis have no rights to a state so they don't get to vote.)
Ahmadinejad has built his own career on regarding the West as extremely stupid, cowardly, and easy to fool. Many or most of his colleagues in the Iranian regime agree with him.

I could write at this point that the one exception was when in the mid-1980s the United States was appearing ready to attack Iran unless it ended the Iran-Iraq war. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did so but I think he was misreading American intentions (albeit to the credit of U.S. policymakers in pulling off that bluff).
Still, I'm tempted to say that up to now that the Iranian leaders' assumption has never proven to be wrong.
Unfortunately, as I predicted, Western newspapers like the Daily Telegraph are now reporting that Ahmadinejad is ready to accept a two-state solution.
Here are headlines in Canada for April 27:< /SPAN>
Toronto Globe & Mail: "Iran prepared to back Palestinian deal with Israel, Ahmadinejad
National Post: "Iranian president appears to recognize Israel's right to exist for first time"
And Agence France Presse: "Iran 'Ready to Back Mideast Peace Deal'"
Come to think of it, Ahmadinejad refuses to accept two-state solution and is cheered as having done so; Israel's government repeatedly endorses two-state solution and is accused of not doing so!

Case Number 2: Syria
YNet reports that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad:
"says Hamas and Hizbullah will never threaten Israel with his country's help" in an interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.
Is that what the Syrian president said? For here is the precise quote "They both will never attack Israel through Syria under any circumstances."
Not exactly the same thing. Syria never let's terrorist groups attack from its soil--and that's been the policy more than 40 years--because Damascus knows that Israel will retaliate against Syria if that happens. So the simple alternative is: let them attack through Lebanon, which can't defend itself against either terrorists or Israel. If and when Israel retaliates against facilities on Lebanese soil, Syrian leaders don't lose much sleep.

And, of course, when Assad says that Hamas won't attack Israel through Syria, that's because it attacks Israel from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Syria supplies weapons to both Hizballah and Hamas which have been used to attack Israel.
So to say that Syria won't let anyone attack f rom its own territory is nothing new and is in no way saying it won't help them attack Israel. Syria gives terrorists safe haven, training, bases, equipment, guns, and money to do so, no matter where the terror squads depart from on the morning of their mission.
Now one needs just sit back and wait for the media around the world to report that Syria has promised not to sponsor terrorists attacking Israel and is now a truly peacenik government. Let me know when you see these reports.

As always, one can only quote Shakespeare, one of the world's greatest political analysts:
"Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to His blog, Rubin Reports is at