Israeli leaders divided over new Iran president


Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, uses a diagram of a bomb to describe Iran's nuclear program at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2012.


Don Emmert

JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders are divided over the election of moderate cleric, Hassan Rouhani, to the Iranian presidency.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that “the international community must not be caught up in wishful thinking and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program.”

Rouhani served as the country’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003-2005. But some observers have hailed the new leader as a pragmatist who will lift Iran out of international isolation.

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“It seems that while the Iranian people and the West are welcoming the moderate new president, Israel’s leaders are still mourning despot [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s departure,” Zehava Gal-On, of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, said. “Netanyahu uses the Iranian threat whenever he wants to distract the public from the country’s real problems.”

Amos Harel, a defense analyst for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, wrote today that the elections will hurt Israel’s ability to drum up international support for an attack on Iran.

“It seems the West will want at least several months to assess the meaning of this change,” Harel wrote.

Whether or not Rouhani’s victory will prompt the West to roll back sanctions remains unclear.

On Monday, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukya Amano, said that Iran is making "steady progress" towards achieving nuclear weapons capacity, adding that he did not see sanctions making any serious impact on the program.

"Iran will be judged by its actions,” Netanyahu said at his government’s cabinet meeting Sunday. “If it continues to insist on developing its nuclear program, the answer needs to be very clear — stopping the nuclear program by any means."

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Ordinary Israelis appear both curious about the details of Rouhani’s life, but complacent about the cleric’s potential to change Iranian relations with the Jewish state.

An article in today’s Yedioth Acharonoth, a daily Israeli paper, describes Rouhani's "dark secret," the reported suicide of his eldest son in 1992.

“I don’t even know who the new president of Iran is,” said 25-year-old Jerusalem resident and metalworker, Eyal Grossman. “Iran is the same Iran. They still want to remove us from the map.”