In recent days, much attention has focused on signs from Israel that an attack on Iran's nuclear installations may be imminent. Amid the flurry of analysis, little attention has gone to what Iran is telling the world about its views. We would do well to listen closely. The world should never become jaded, immune to the genocidal hatred spewed by leaders of a nation that is still treated as a full-fledged member of international institutions.
On Aug. 17, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed that Israel's existence is an "insult to all of humanity." A couple of weeks earlier, he told a gathering of Muslim diplomats that, "anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime." Ever the optimist, the president explained that this would help "solve all the world's problems." Global attention has lately centered on the news from Israel. Observers and analysts have posed valid questions about whether or not attacking Iran is the best course of action, and about whether Israeli officials are bluffing or are truly preparing for a new armed conflict.
Israel's plans, of course, are a legitimate subject of debate. But we should not take our eyes away from Iran, not just its actions in pushing ahead with its fast-growing nuclear enrichment program, but also its words, the rhetoric of its leaders -- the men who set the country's agenda -- for hints into their worldview.
Ahmadinejad is not the country's top leader. But that should offer little comfort. The views of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are even more chilling. A few months ago, Khamenei declared that Israel is a "cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut." Then he pledged his support to anyone willing to participate in carrying out the operation. "From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help." The rhetoric coming from Tehran is so extreme that it strikes against a western tendency to simply dismiss ideas that clash too violently against our own. There's just no place in our minds, in civilized society, to file the repulsive words disgorging from the Ayatollah and his acolytes.
In case anyone doubted him, Khamenei openly admitted for the first time something everyone already knew. "We have intervened in anti-Israel matters," he said, boasting of Iran's participation in wars between Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas in recent years.
If you want to understand the larger ideology, Ahmadinejad told Muslim ambassadors in Tehran that "it has now been some 400 years that a horrendous Zionist clan has been ruling the major world affairs," saying the Jews control "the major power circles in political, media, monetary and banking organizations in the world." Now, where have we heard this before? It would be pointless to note that if the Jews controlled everything, they might not have faced the, shall we say, troubles they have faced over the centuries, including the near-annihilation of Jewish life in Europe during the 1940s. But that, of course, is just a myth, according to the Iranian leadership. It's unfortunate for Ahmadinejad and his friends that they don't believe 6 million Jews were killed, since they would surely derive a great deal of joy from that thoroughly and conclusively documented fact.
The Iranian regime has emerged as the world leader in Judeophobic conspiracy theories and incitement. Verbal taunts, smears and calumnies often include vicious attacks and libel against Americans, the U.S., and the West as a whole.
Those who thought Ahmadinejad's words had been incorrectly translated in 2005 when he called for Israel to be "wiped off the page of time," have now heard ample and repeated clarification. That was exactly what he meant.
When combined with Tehran's defiance of calls to stop enriching uranium and pushing forward its nuclear program on many fronts, the words take on added significance. It's worth remembering that in Khamenei's "Israel is a cancer" speech he also vowed that "the hegemony of Iran will be promoted." That's why Iran's Arab neighbors want Tehran stopped.
The question, of course, is what to do about all this. The thought of another war in the Middle East is sickening. But the idea of this regime becoming even more powerful is just as terrifying, perhaps more. Pity the people, in Washington and Jerusalem, who have to make the call. If they get it wrong, the costs will be unimaginable.
As we ponder the choices, let's keep listening to Iran's leaders. Their words as much as their actions should guide the decision.
Frida Ghitis writes about global affairs for The Miami Herald. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.