The Cleric and the Bombers: Iran’s Hassan Rouhani
Precis: In a crucial moment of opportunity, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, extends the hand of diplomacy. President Obama’s team, surprised and gratified, grasp for Rouhani’s hand. If the handshake pans out, this rapprochement will be Obama’s greatest triumph. Rouhani is no saint but will operate in his own best interests.
On July 18, 1995, a Renault van filled with six hundred pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil detonated in front of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, killing eighty-five people. Two years earlier, a suicide truck had demolished the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. Islamic Jihaad Organisation, an Iran / Hizb’allah-backed group, took responsibility for both bombings.
Hassan Rouhani was then national security advisor to the president of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rouhani would have known of both bombings. We cannot hang these bombings on Rouhani’s hook alone: Argentina has a warrant out for Rafsanjani, alleging he ordered the 1995 AMIA bombing.
From Iran and Hizb’allah’s perspective, it was revenge for the murder of Shi’a cleric Abbas al-Musawi in 1992, itself a revenge killing for a revenge killing — such episodes recurse upon themselves with gruesome predictability. There is likely a Syrian angle to all this mess and a dead American, William Higgins USMC. The trail goes cold in southern Lebanon, Switzerland and Paraguay in a welter of speculation, memorials to the murderers, excuses and investigative malfeasance. Both investigations were bungled. In 2005, Pope Francis, an auxilary bishop of Buenos Aires at the time of the bombings, demanded a better investigation.
As chief negotiator, Hassan Rouhani has told more lies about Iran’s nuclear program than anyone else. Rouhani’s brutal candour reveals Iran’s position: nobody wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon: not China, not Russia, not the EU and especially not the USA. Iran has paid a hefty price for its nuclear ambitions.
Clearly, Rohani’s recommendation to avoid confrontation was not adopted by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the new negotiating team. In January 2006, Iran announced the end of its suspension of uranium enrichment, and in February it resumed actual enrichment activities. As a result, the IAEA Board of Governors referred Iran’s case to the Security Council. Not surprisingly, in the April 19 speech referred to at the beginning of this Brief, Rohani expressed dismay at the policy choices that had resulted in this development. “The art (of diplomacy) is to become self-sufficient at minimal costs. Pursuing some policies without considering the consequences is no big deal.
Iran is in a bind. It’s been sucked into the Syrian situation against its own better judgment. Iran has played its last card, allowing Hizb’allah to enter that fight and the Shiite dead are stacking up. Syria isn’t a civil war, it’s a bona-fide revolution. Bashar Assad isn’t worth the trouble. As the chess pieces move, Iran finds itself uncomfortably allied with Russia in an unwinnable war. As the wretched nation-states of the Middle East self-destruct in an orgy of sectarian madness, Iran must look to its own self-preservation and continued viability. If Iran cannot lower the steam pressure in its own boilers, it will explode.
Rouhani extends his hand to the West. We know he’s a liar, not to be trusted, up to his neck in state-sanctioned murder. But Hassan Rouhani, Hassan the Cleric, was elected President of Iran wih the mandate for change. We don’t have to trust Rouhani. We can trust Rouhani to act in his own best interests where his predecessors have not.
Image credit: (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)