We began Friday's Live Coverage with the note that President Ahmadinejad, amid his political difficulties, had the opportunity of introducing the Tehran Friday Prayer on Quds (Palestine) Day.
We are still uncertain if the President made much of an impression at home. There were summary articles with headlines such as "Quds Day Will Remove the Zionist Black Stain" and "Zionists Trying to Control Region [Through] Israeli Regime", but they soon dropped off the front pages. This morning, not even the pro-Ahmadinejad IRNA offers a reference on its homepage.
However, Ahmadinejad did make quite a mark abroad. The New York Times is close to the headlines in Iranian media, "Iran’s President Calls Israel ‘an Insult to Humankind’", picking out this provocative passage: “[his is] an occasion for all human communities to wipe out this scarlet letter, meaning the Zionist regime, from the forehead of humanity.” Other outlets go farther in the dramatic presentation, such as AFP, "'Tumour' of Israel Will Soon Be Destroyed".
That framing re-introduces Ahmadinjad's alleged comment, soon after he took office, about wiping Israel off the map. Though the translation is still hotly disputed, it is the legend and not the fact that matters. So expect many outside Iran to present Friday's speech as a renewed declaration of war, in rhetoric if not military strike.
That might be no more than the recycling of a narrative --- after all, the Islamic Republic never attacked Israel after Ahmadinejad's supposed declaration the first time around --- if it were not for the timing. This month has seen a sharp escalation in the messages from the Israeli establishment, put out and sometimes shouted out by media, that West Jerusalem might have to attack Iran soon to end its nuclear threat. The campaign has gone as far as the "revelation" of Minister of Defense Ehud Barak that a new US National Intelligence Estimate revises assessments and says the Islamic Republic has made substantial progress towards the Bomb --- even though that NIE does not actually exist, the propaganda has made its mark.
In context, Ahmadinejad's chest-thumping is not a declaration of war; it is not even primarily about Israel. Instead, it is an attempt to bolster, and perhaps even save, his position. It is also part of a wider context for the Islamic Republic --- facing isolation because of the turns in the "Arab Spring" and the crisis in Syria, it is trying to score points with populations in Middle East countries and offer a way back for links with Arab countries, even supposed foes like Saudi Arabia.
It is the nature of politics and media, however, that context gets stripped away. And when that happens day after day, there is the prospect that those in power forget the original purpose of their rhetoric and convert it into reality. That, rather than any immediate cause for a showdown, is the opening for a conflict which moves from words to airstrikes.