Victor Davis Hanson

So far Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's peace ruse is still bearing some fruit. President Obama was eager to talk with him at the United Nations -- only to be reportedly rebuffed, until Obama managed to phone him for the first conversation between heads of state of the two countries since the Iranian storming of the U.S. embassy in 1979.

Rouhani has certainly wowed Western elites with his mellifluous voice, quiet demeanor and denials of wanting a bomb. The media, who ignore the circumstances of Rouhani's three-decade trajectory to power, gush that he is suddenly a "moderate" and "Western educated."

The implication is that Rouhani is not quite one of those hardline Shiite apocalyptic theocrats like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in the past ranted about the eventual end to the Zionist entity.

Americans are sick and tired of losing blood and treasure in the Middle East. We understandably are desperate for almost any sign of Iranian outreach. Our pundits assure us that either Iran does not need and thus want a bomb, or that Iran at least could be contained if it got one.

No such giddy reception was given to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In comparison with Rouhani, he seemed grating to his U.N. audience in New York. A crabby Netanyahu is now seen as the party pooper who barks in his raspy voice that Rouhani is only buying time from the West until Iran can test a nuclear bomb -- that the Iranian leader is a duplicitous "wolf in sheep's clothing."

Why does the unpleasant Netanyahu sound to us so unyielding, so dismissive of Rouhani's efforts to dialogue, so ready to start an unnecessary war? How can the democracy that wants Iran not to have the bomb sound more trigger-happy than the theocracy intent on getting it?

In theory, it could be possible that Rouhani is a genuine pragmatist, eager to open up Iran's nuclear facilities for inspection to avoid a preemptory attack and continuing crippling sanctions.

But if the world's only superpower can afford to take that slim chance, Mr. Netanyahu really cannot. Nearly half the world's remaining Jews live in tiny Israel -- a fact emphasized by the Iranian theocrats, who have in the past purportedly characterized it as a "black stain" upon the world.

After World War II, the survivors of the Holocaust envisioned Israel as the last-chance refuge for endangered Jews. Iranian extremists have turned that idea upside down, when, for example, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani purportedly quipped that "the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything."


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.