Netanyahu calls Iranian president a 'wolf in sheep's clothing'

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: We've got to start with those tentative signs of a thaw between Washington Tehran. So we're still a long way from sustainable peace and both sides reaching a real deal on Iran's nuclear program, and don't forget past American warning that military option is always on the table. But even so, any thawing in US-Iran relations has got to make it tougher for the White House to think about bombing Iran's nuclear facilities and that, needless to say, isn't going down well in Israel, as I heard from reporter Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.

Daniel Estrin: There's a whole lot of skepticism here, Marco. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has called the Iranian President a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and he says all these overtures to the west, all these interviews and all these smiles mean nothing while the Iranian nuclear program marches on. In terms of the Holocaust, Netanyahu says Iran has not condemned Holocaust denial and that the regime calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, so there's a whole lot of skepticism here about the Iranian President.

Werman: Why is Prime Minister Netanyahu pushing that skepticism? Why is he saying things like, "Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing" and not to be fooled by Iran? Doesn't Israel want the nuclear threat to disappear?

Estrin: Sure it does, but it's saying that this scenario reminds it of North Korea back in I think 2007. North Korea became a nuclear power after engaging in democratic negotiations and Israel is worried that that's what is going to happen here, that Iran says, "Sure, we will enter negotiations," and that Iran will just use that as a way to buy time while it eases sanctions and has more time to build its nuclear program.

Werman: I gather there were some pretty tweets coming out of Israeli Twitter feeds?

Estrin: Yeah, it was actually the Israeli government's own Twitter feed. It put in a fake LinkedIn profile for the Iranian President. It was basically a Photoshopped profile that has Hassan Rouhani's picture and lists his job title as "President of Iran, expert salesman, PR professional, and nuclear proliferation advocate". So the Israeli message here is very clear, that they think Rouhani is, as one minister called it, "doing a smiley campaign" here.

Werman: All right. So at least the Israeli government has kind of a creative critique about the whole thing. But how about other Israelis? I mean do they share the skepticism of Netanyahu and the government? I mean what kind of dissent is there?

Estrin: I've heard a lot of Israelis sort of on the street sharing that view. "Yes," they say, the the world should not be fooled, that they really do agree with Netanyahu's skepticism and I think of his government does too. However, Netanyahu made an executive decision that the Israeli delegation at the UN would walk out, would boycott the speech that Rouhani gave, and one senior minister actually said, "That was a mistake and we don't want Israel to look like a country that doesn't want a peaceful solution to this problem."

Werman: I mean skepticism perhaps is fair, but what happens if the Iran-US relationship goes to the next step? If things start really looking positive? I mean are Israelis at all concerned about being seen as the spoilsports in this moment of optimism?

Estrin: Well, I think some Israelis do hope that this is a moment that can be taken advantage of and a moment of hope, that hopefully this is the start of something good. But I can tell you from Netanyahu's point of view, I spoke to a government official who said that this is moral issue for him, that he feels like back when the Arab Spring started and everyone was saying "Oh, this is wonderful,' Netanyahu said, "Well, this could be good, but this could be bad," and many people said, "You're a dinosaur. Netanyahu, you're not sharing in this hope. Why be such a spoilsport?" And as the government official told me today, Netanyahu feels that he was right in that assessment and that he feels the same way here, that he needs to take this moral position of standing up and saying, "I do not believe this man, Hassan Rouhani."

Werman: Reporter Daniel Estrin there in Jerusalem.