This change includes not only an amplification of the traditional hostility toward the Jewish polity, but also—most ominously—a new conception of that polity as weak and unstable, an easy target for a united Muslim (or united Shiite) offensive.
The prevailing opinion among Middle East experts and Iran watchers, however, is that the revised rhetoric is just that—rhetoric—and that it harbors no significant ramifications for policy-making on the part of Israel or any other states in the region or the world. Vociferous Iranian declarations about the need to erase Israel from the map are seen as nothing more than a means toward achieving certain pragmatic goals, such as eventual détente with the West.
This view is wrong. Iranian-Islamist threats to Israel’s existence are sincere, and they signal the determined pursuit of tenaciously-held ends.
In January 2006, the Iranian daily Jomhuriya Eslami carried the text of a speech delivered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran’s main mosque.
Attempting to defuse the diplomatic tension occasioned by the call for Israel’s destruction issued by the then-newly elected President Ahmadinejad at the previous month’s “World Without Zionism” conference, Khamenei concluded his uncharacteristically moderate sermon with the following ringing remarks:
We Iranians intend no harm to any nation, nor will we be the first to attack any nation. We do not deny the right of any polity in any place on God’s earth to exist and prosper. We are a peace-loving country whose only wish is to live, and to let live, in peace.
Without missing a beat, or evincing a discernible hint of irony, the reporter who covered the event continued:
The congregation of worshippers, some 7,000 in number, expressed their unanimous support for the Supreme Leader’s words by repeatedly chanting, marg bar Omrika, marg bar Esra’il “Death to America! Death to Israel!”
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