For the first time in eight years of appearing before the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a less controversial and hard-line speech than the leader of Israel.
Where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concentrated his remarks Thursday on Iran’s nuclear program and the threat he said it posed to Israel and the world, Ahmadinejad made only one reference to Israel in his speech a day earlier, noting “the continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation.”
Ahmadinejad did not deny the Holocaust, accuse the US of attacking itself on 9-11 or repeat his usual citation of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s prediction that Israel would be “wiped from the pages of history.”
Nor did the Iranian president mention that one nuclear weapon could destroy Israel – as former President Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani once said – or even say that Iran would retaliate against an Israeli strike.
In fact, Ahmadinejad, who in the past has boasted about Iran’s entry into the nuclear club, did not mention the nuclear issue at all — or the draconian sanctions imposed on Iran because of its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The closest he came to the subject was a broader complaint against the world’s “domineering powers” and his demand that the United Nations come under “new management.” Those themes were the same as he has stressed in previous years.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neo-conservative Washington think tank, wrote that Ahmadinejad, in what is likely to be his last appearance at the UN as Iranian president, showed his “soft side.”
But Ahmadinejad, a traffic engineer by training, has long fancied himself a philosopher and his periodic ramblings on a future world of “justice, love and dignity” make real Iranian intellectuals cringe.
In earlier meetings with journalists, he was more bombastic, claiming that Iran has a 7,000 year history while Jews have shallow roots in Israel – a comment that Netanyahu refuted with vigor on Thursday.
In a meeting Tuesday with a small number of Americans who have written books on Iran , Ahmadinejad marveled that the world pays so much attention to his remarks and did not seem to understand the reason — because usually he says something outrageous.
Still, this week at any rate, he seemed to be playing defense more than offense. Only when pushed on Tuesday on the topic of a possible Israeli strike did he respond that the “Zionists will not take any actions” against Iran because if they attack, “the absolute losers will be them.”
–Barbara Slavin is Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on Iran. She tweets at @BarbaraSlavin1
(Photo: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) speaks during a news conference in New York, September 25, 2009, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem February 24, 2010 in this combination photo. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Menahem Kahana/Pool.)