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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iranian's Oratory Looks Back to 1979

TEHRAN, Iran -- The morning after the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was elected president in June, he made a pilgrimage to the tomb of the father of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an act that appears to have foreshadowed exactly how the president-elect planned to lead his country.

"The path of the imam is the absolute path of the Islamic republic," Ahmadinejad said then. "He was the founder of the revolution. He is the reference of the revolution."

And so, it should not have been a surprise when he quoted Ayatollah Khomeini and called for Israel "to be wiped off the map," then labeled the Holocaust a legend that was the fault of Europeans, and said Israel should therefore be moved to Europe.

Since taking office, Ahmadinejad has had numerous problems, failing to deliver on his message of economic populism and to solidify the support of the conservatives who elected him, and of the clerics who supported him.

But he has worked aggressively to roll the clock back to the early days of the revolution. He has moved to erase the changes, especially in foreign policy, which evolved under President Mohammad Khatami, seeking national unity through international isolation.

It is in this context, political analysts said, that the new president's comments about Israel should be viewed. The remarks coincided with the firing of 40 ambassadors and diplomats, most of whom supported some degree of improved ties with the West; with the removal of reform-minded provincial governors; and with the replacement of pragmatists on Iran's nuclear negotiating team.

But it was the comments on Israel that set off the greatest outcry abroad, in part because they came as U.S. and European suspicions deepened that Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons. While the Iranians have insisted that their nuclear program is geared toward energy, not weapons, there have been some signals that Iran feels it would be easier to move ahead if it were an international pariah, like North Korea. And what better way to achieve pariah status in the West than to call for the obliteration of Israel?

Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, implicitly supported the North Korean model at a news conference in September when he said the international community should learn a lesson from its approach in that conflict. "What was the result of such tough policies?" he asked. "After two years, they ended up accepting its program, so you should accept ours right now."

The anti-Israeli oratory also has roots in the president's domestic standing.

Again, it is useful to examine Ayatollah Khomeini's approach. When he took over after the shah fell in 1979, the nation did not unify right away behind clerical rule. It was only after Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, attacked in 1980 that real unity occurred.

Some Iranian analysts say that by increasing the world's hostility, Ahmadinejad is hoping to reproduce that sense of internal unity.

"His comments are more for domestic consumption," said Saeed Laylaz, an Iranian political analyst. "He wants to control the domestic situation through isolating Iran. Then he can suppress the voices inside the country and control the situation."