Even if this was part of the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s campaign of smiles for the West, the visit to the Shiraz synagogue Friday night, May 1, by the head of his assistant for minority affairs, Hojat- Islam Ali Yunessi, was especially noteworthy. He was the first high-ranking Iranian cleric to visit a Jewish synagogue in a decade and, moreover, he delivered a speech in praise of Iran’s ancient Jewish community’s successful coexistence with other groups.
But most remarkably, he admitted that historical research and archeological excavations in the last 150 years had corroborated the Biblical account of the deeds of the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great (550-530 BCE).
(The Bible recounts that Cyrus issued a fabled decree for the emancipation of slaves, including the Jewish people, from Babylonian captivity, and allowed them to return to their homeland in Judah and rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem.)
That reference alone will undoubtedly be enough to bring Iran’s radical elements down on Yunessi’s head for his temerity in gainsaying precepts laid down by the founder of its Islamic Revolution. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared the Jewish Bible a forgery because of its many contradictions of the Koran text and denounced all Persian rulers prior to his revolution as symbols of despotism and repression.
Yanessi did, however, take the precaution of pointing out that it would be a mistake to equate Judaism and Zionism because, he said, some Jews are anti-Zionist.
According to debkafile’s Iranian sources, Yanessi acted out a gesture on behalf of President Rouhani that was designed to allay Iranian Jews’ fear of fallout from the constant denunciations of the rulers of Tehran by Israel’s leaders.
The Voice of America TV this week quoted the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as cursing the Iranians and hoping for their destruction. Although this quote was lifted from a speech the rabbi made many years ago, it got Iranian Jews worried.
But Rouhani sent his ally to the synagogue most of all in the hope of winning points with American Jews and their support for the comprehensive nuclear accord soon to be signed between Iran and the Six Powers.
The Iranian president has demonstrated notable diplomatic and tactical versatility for making sure that the accord goes through and results in the substantial easing of sanctions, urgently needed to boost the ailing Iranian economy.
Tehran is pinning high hopes on the visit to Israel this week by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice and the senior US negotiator Wendy Sherman on a twofold mission:
1. To try and talk Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu out of his absolute conviction that the accord to be signed, which will acknowledge Iran as a nuclear threshold state, is bad and harmful to Israel’s and world security.
2. If that doesn’t work, Rice and Sherman will try and obtain an Israeli pledge not to resort to a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, an action that would scuttle the Obama administration’s entire Iran strategy.
The coming visit by these two senior American officials has caused few ripples in Israel. However, for the Iranians, so much is at stake, that Rouhani sent a prominent cleric to stand up in a Shiraz synagogue and underwrite Cyrus the Great’s acknowledgement of the Jewish homeland in Judah and their temple in Jerusalem. He considered it was worthwhile for the sake of an international accord that accepts Iran’s nuclear threshold status and averts an Israeli attack.