Netanyahu’s Newest Challenge: The Calm of Hassan Rouhani

UN Photo/Sarah Fretwell

UN Photo/Sarah Fretwell


For those who didn’t watch the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly last night, I highly recommend checking out (at the very least) the transcripts of President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speeches, the latter of which I want to address from the Israeli perspective.

Rouhani’s speech was, in some ways, an immediate departure from his predecessor, the perniciously anti-Semitic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not only did he avoid employing the inflammatory absolutisms so commonly associated with the Iranian regime in the last decade, but Rouhani went even further to suggest that his country could play an active role in solving some of the problems plaguing the Middle East:


“Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran invites you and the entire world community to take a step forward; an invitation to join the WAVE: World Against Violence and Extremism. We should accept and be able to open a new horizon in which peace will prevail over war, tolerance over violence, progress over bloodletting, justice over discrimination, prosperity over poverty, and freedom over despotism. As beautifully said by Ferdowsi, the renowned Iranian epic poet:
‘Be relentless in striving for the cause of Good
Bring the spring, you must, Banish the winter, you should.’
Notwithstanding all difficulties and challenges, I am deeply optimistic about the future. I have no doubt that the future will be bright with the entire world solidly rejecting violence and extremism. Prudent moderation will ensure a bright future for the world. My hope, aside from personal and national experience, emanates from the belief shared by all divine religions that a good and bright future awaits the world. As stated in the Holy Qur’an:
‘And We proclaimed in the Psalms, after We had proclaimed in the Torah, that My virtuous servants will inherit the earth.’” (21:105)

Of course, nothing Rouhani said could have satisfied his many skeptics, who point to his refusal to meet (or shake hands) with President Obama in New York City as evidence that there is no change in Iranian policy. In addition, it cannot be forgotten that no matter how pragmatic Rouhani may be, he still operates, at best, in coordination with Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, if not strictly under his supervision. Iran still supports the Assad regime in Syria, and is still enriching uranium believed to be intended for military designs.

Yet Meir Javedanfar suggests that Obama’s speech – coupled with Rouhani’s subsequent recognition of the Holocaust as a “crime against humanity” during his CNN interview (found below) with Christiane Amanpour – may offer a fresh start for nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran.

Either way, what Rouhani has proven is that unlike Ahmadinejad he is a thoughtful politician well suited for the challenge of ending Iran’s international isolation. Going forward there will be less drama and more diplomacy. This has allowed him to quickly appear more approachable, although I believe he will be tough negotiator down the road.

Rouhani’s “charm offensive” now makes Bibi Netanyahu’s position more challenging. Stopping the Iranian nuclear program has been a personal and national agenda for years; recent statements by Netanyahu reveals his greater distrust for the reserved Rouhani than the flamboyant Ahmadinejad. He ordered the Israeli delegation to exit the UNGA during the Iranian president’s speech and declared, “I won’t allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations charade by a regime that denies that Holocaust and calls for our destruction.”

In light of yesterday’s statements, what will be Netanyahu’s next move? He speaks before the UNGA next week, the same stage where he provocatively presented Auschwitz’s blueprints and cartoon bombs in an effort to rally international support against the Iranian regime. My guess it will be more of the same. Internationally, Netanyahu may be perpetually stuck between being perceived as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, and the one who said “I Told You So”, however this is a small price to pay if the Iran’s nuclear program comes to a halt. But Rouhani’s arrival on the global stage means Israel’s Iranian challenge just got more complicated, and although it may not be reflected in any public statements made by Israeli officials, today might be the beginning of a more nuanced Israeli approach.




Posted on by Gabriel in Israel