[SEE: Ahmadinejad]Robert Mackey
On Friday, just three days after basking in the spotlight of international attention — meeting with President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in New York to talk about reviving the Middle East peace process — Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, gave an address to the United Nations General Assembly devoid of histrionics that was almost completely ignored.
To a certain extent Mr. Abbas was simply unlucky to have been scheduled to speak on the same day that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program flared up and dominated the news cycle. But even before President Obama accused Iran of building a uranium enrichment facility in secret, the Palestinian leader and the concerns of his people were marginalized when the Mr. Netanyahu chose to focus, in his address to the General Assembly on Thursday, on the threat from Iran and the fact that its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, expressed doubts about the Holocaust last week.
Despite the fact that Mr. Ahmadinejad defied expectations by not mentioning the Holocaust at all during his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday — five days after he reportedly called the killing of six million Jews by Nazi Germany “a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim” — Mr. Netanyahu began his address on Thursday in New York with an outraged rebuttal of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s repeated questioning of the historical record.
Near the start of his address, Mr. Netanyahu said:
Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.
Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews.
Is this a lie?
A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler’s deputy, Heinrich Himmler, himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?
Mr. Netanyahu went on to call the moral legitimacy of the United Nations into question for letting Mr. Ahmadinejad speak at all, and chastised delegates who sat through the Iranian president’s speech, in which he called Israel “racist” and said its treatment of the Palestinians amounted to “genocide.” As can be seen in this video report from Al Jazeera, Mr. Netanyau also said: “The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
There is no doubt that Mr. Netanyahu is outraged by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s claims about the Holocaust, but his decision to engage so passionately with Iran’s president, while all but ignoring the conflict at home, also helped to change the subject from a conversation that presents difficulties for Israel’s leader — how to make peace with Palestinians without alienating his supporters — to one that allows him to seize the moral high ground.
The arc of the conversation this week in New York — moving from discussions of Middle East peace on Tuesday, to the protests against Mr. Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, to Mr. Netanyahu’s presentation of documentary evidence of the Holocaust on Thursday and to the full-blown international argument on Friday about Iran’s nuclear weapons — was undoubtedly more favorable to Israel’s prime minister than if Iran had been removed from the equation and the world had spent four days talking about Israel’s refusal to stop expanding its settlements on the West Bank.
The way the week played out instead recalls an observation made last year by a former head of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, who told an Arab-language satellite channel that Iran’s current president is, paradoxically, very good for Israel.
As a reader of The Lede pointed out, last year, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the former intelligence chief, Ephraim Halevy, called Mr. Ahmadinejad a “gift,” since his inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric “unites the entire world against Iran.”
In remarks Haaretz said were made in an interview with Al Hurra, an American-financed Arabic channel, Mr. Halevy claimed that Iran’s president served a vital Israeli interest by helping to make the case that Iran’s current government is “impossible to live with.” He added: “We couldn’t carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran.”
In the same article, Haaretz noted that another former senior Mossad officer, who served under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told Time magazine that Israeli hardliners were wrong to say that Iran posed an “existential threat” to Israel. “Iran’s achievement,” the former intelligence official said, “is creating an image of itself as a scary superpower when it’s really a paper tiger.”
Earlier this week, The Lede noted that some analysts were asking if Iran’s president was trying to change the subject, from questions about the legitimacy of his election to his defiant stands on Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s legitimacy as a state. As the week ends, the conversation has certainly shifted, but perhaps in a way that Mr. Ahmadinejad will be less than happy about.
Finally, we should note that in an interview with Akiva Elder published Haaretz in 2003, Mr. Abbas denied that he had denied the Holocaust in a book based on his doctoral dissertation:
The question about whether he denied the Holocaust in his Ph.D. angers Abbas. “I wrote in detail about the Holocaust and said I did not want to discuss numbers. I quoted an argument between historians in which various numbers of casualties were mentioned. One wrote there were 12 million victims and another wrote there were 800,000. I have no desire to argue with the figures. The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgiveable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind. The Holocaust was a terrible thing and nobody can claim I denied it.”