AP: He wants Israel wiped off the face of the earth, dismisses the Holocaust as a myth and defies the world by pushing ahead with a nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fiery rhetoric has found instant appeal among some Arabs, who consider him a hero for standing up to Israel and the West. But not everyone is cheering the hard-line leader.
BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP) – He wants Israel wiped off the face of the earth, dismisses the Holocaust as a myth and defies the world by pushing ahead with a nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fiery rhetoric has found instant appeal among some Arabs, who consider him a hero for standing up to Israel and the West. But not everyone is cheering the hard-line leader.
Many Arabs interviewed by The Associated Press said Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric and defiance remind them of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, and worry they will result in violence and turmoil for the Middle East.
They say the Iranian leader’s comments against Israel are meaningless, especially without a common Arab stand on the issue. They find his insistence on developing a nuclear program worrisome because he may use the technology against them. And many say Ahmadinejad’s focus should be redirected toward Iran’s foundering economy.
“The Iranian president is beating his head against the wall. He is as foolish as Saddam,” said Hussein Kadhim Thijeel, a teacher from the Iraqi city of Karbala. “He will make his people go through the same suffering that Saddam brought to the Iraqi people.”
Mohammed Ahmed, a 30-year-old Jordanian electrician, agreed: “Ahmadinejad is speaking irresponsible and nonsensical words. He is repeating the Iraqi president’s mistakes.”
“He’s a liar because he doesn’t possess enough resources to wage war against Israel,” said Mohammed Salim, an Egyptian retiree.
Still, Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel tirades have struck a chord in the Arab world, where the Palestinian struggle for a homeland is an almost holy issue.
“He tells the truth,” said Muwaffaq Mohammed, a journalist from Syria, Iran’s closest friend in the Arab world. “He says things few Arab leaders dare to say.”
And Maher Ibrahim, a teacher from the Iraqi city of Najaf, called the president “a very courageous and strong man …. He is aware of the dangers of Israel because it is supported by America and Britain.”
The Palestinian group Hamas, an ally of Iran’s, has long praised Ahmadinejad. Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, told The Associated Press this week: “We love and respect his stands.”
Other Palestinians disagreed.
“I don’t think he can help us with anything,” said Sida Shteweh, 20, of the West Bank town of Nablus. “Everyone is threatening Iran, and if he can help himself that’s good. But if he can’t help himself, how can he help us?”
Since his election last summer, Ahmadinejad has deepened his country’s isolation and provoked an international outcry when he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and later expressed doubt about the Nazi destruction of 6 million Jews during World War II.
His outbursts have come amid a growing conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Washington says Tehran is secretly trying to build warheads, but Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and only to generate electricity.
Inside Iran, some pro-democracy reformers, including former President Mohammad Khatami, have denounced Ahmadinejad, saying his rhetoric is harming the country’s international standing. But he also appears to rally public support with his insistence on the nuclear program.
Analysts call the difference in Arab opinions interesting: They say some Arabs may be drawn to Ahmadinejad’s seemingly humble appearance and his campaign stance as a man of the people.
Other Arabs, however, may be fed up with slogans and with politicians who use the Palestinian issue as a “maneuvering tactic just to attract public opinion,” said Jamil Nimri, a Jordanian columnist.
Some may even be affected by Sunni-Shiite tensions _ Iran is predominantly Shiite _ or by historic pan-Arab misgivings about their Persian neighbor, said Hazem Saghieh, a senior Lebanese columnist with the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat.
“Or it could simply be that he overdid it with the defiance,” Saghieh said.
Mishari al-Misfer, a student from Kuwait, said Ahmadinejad’s insistence on developing a nuclear program worries him because Iran could use nuclear weapons to attack Sunni Arab countries in the Persian Gulf that oppose Tehran in regional disputes.
“If problems (with the West) continue, he is going to harm the name of Islam. What happened after Sept. 11 is enough,” al-Misfer said.