Meir Javedanfar writes: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was the most moderate candidate among those allowed to run in the country’s June election. Yet within one month of Rouhani’s victory, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly called him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Such a reaction would be understandable if Saeed Jalili, the most anti-Western ultraconservative candidate, had won. But why has the Israeli government greeted Rouhani with hostility?
The common refrain in Israel is that Rouhani’s moderate image — in contrast to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s — will hamper Israel’s efforts to keep Iran isolated. Furthermore, Rouhani’s moderate tone could fool the United States and Europe into a false sense of security, resulting in the lifting of sanctions against Iran and even passivity toward the threat of Iran’s nuclear program.
Such concern likely peaked after Rouhani’s recent visit to the United Nations General Assembly, which led to a number of milestones in Iran’s troubled relationship with the U.S. The meeting between Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — the first such formal talks between the two countries since the 1978 Iranian Revolution — was followed by another major unprecedented milestone: a phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama.
To be sure, when it comes to Rouhani’s ability to usher real change to Iran’s nuclear program, a healthy dose of skepticism is called for. However, his election victory is not the threat that Netanyahu and his cabinet have alleged. In fact, there are good reasons for Israelis to welcome Rouhani’s rise to power.
Rouhani was elected on a platform of moderation. Among the presidential candidates, he was the most critical of Iran’s nuclear-negotiation strategy. His criticism focused on Iran’s intransigent posture at the talks, which forced it to pay a disproportionate price for its nuclear program. As Rouhani stated in a campaign video on June 5, 10 days before the election: “If centrifuges are turning, but the country is dormant, then we don’t choose this. If the arrangement is for Natanz [Iran’s nuclear enrichment site] to work but 100 other factories close because of sanctions and shortage of primary material or they only work at 20 percent of their capacity, then this is unacceptable.” [Continue reading…]