Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another Greeting

A few weeks ago, a top Iranian soccer official resigned after his body accidentally sent a greeting to their Israeli counterparts. This, on the other hand, looks far less accidental:
Israel's Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov made unlikely history in Madrid on Wednesday when he shook the hand of an Iranian tourism representative, Israel Radio reported.

The two found themselves face to face at a reception in Madrid with the Spanish Royal family.

Previously, when confronted with Israelis, Iranian officials have shunned contact. In the past, Iran has even pulled out of sporting tournaments to avoid encounters with Israeli athletes.

This time the Iranian representative, who like Misezhnikov, was visiting Madrid for a trade fair, surprised the Israeli minister and grasped his hand before inviting him to visit Iran.

Misezhnikov, who also visited the Egyptian, Jordanian and Moroccan stalls at the fair, replied that tourism could be a "bridge for peace" and that he looked forward to the day when all Israelis could visit Iran.

That was pretty clearly intentional. But what does it mean?

One possibility is a thawing, however slight, of Iran's hardline position towards Israel. That I doubt.

Another, somewhat more likely, is that this demonstrates weakness in Iran's government flowing out of their recent electoral repression, such that more and more government officials feel comfortable breaking from the official line.

A third, related interpretation is that openness to Israel of any form is understood in Iran as a repudiation of Ahmadinejad -- it is a way for dissident officials to signal their distance from the regime, or, more crudely, show their disdain for it.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this -- particularly if the Iranian official is forced, like his soccer peer, to resign.

UPDATE: Or there's option #4: denying it ever happened.

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