Swimming against the tide of “cautious optimism” that characterized reactions in
key capitals to Iran’s election of Hassan Rohani as president, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday Israel was not “deluding” itself and advised the
world not to get carried away by “wishful thinking.”
community must not become caught up in wishful thinking and be tempted to relax
the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at the weekly
cabinet meeting, in his first public response to Rohani’s victory.
are not deluding ourselves,” he said. “We need to remember that the Iranian
ruler [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] at the outset disqualified candidates who were
not in line with his extreme worldview, and from among those whom he did allow,
the one seen as least identified with the regime was elected.
But we are
still speaking about someone who calls Israel the ‘great Zionist Satan.’”
Netanyahu said in any event it was Khamenei who determines Iran’s nuclear
policy, and not the country’s president.
“The more the pressure on Iran
increases, the greater the chances of stopping the Iranian nuclear program,
which still remains the greatest threat to world peace,” he said.
reference to former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, who served from 1997 to
2005, Netanyahu said he, too – like Rohani – was considered moderate by the
West, yet he did not bring about any change in Iran’s “aggressive”
“Over the past 20 years, the only thing that has brought about
a temporary freeze of the Iranian nuclear program was Iranian concern in 2003
about an attack against it,” Netanyahu said, alluding to fears in Tehran at the
time that the US, which had just gone into Iraq, might do the same with Iran as
“Iran will be judged by its actions,” Netanyahu said. “If it
continues to stubbornly develop its nuclear program, the answer needs to be
clear: stopping its program by any means.”
Netanyahu’s remarks – similar
in tone to skepticism he voiced two years ago when protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir
Square brought down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak – contrasted with
more conciliatory statements made in other capitals, such as
They also clashed with comments made by President Shimon
Peres, who – unlike Netanyahu – said the election results bode
Peres told Reuters that Rohani said he would not go for “extreme”
“I am not sure he specified his policies. But it will be
better, I am sure, and that is why the people voted for him,” Peres
In Washington, the Obama administration released a statement
reflecting its cautious optimism that the integrity of the election was
“Yesterday’s election took place against the backdrop of a
lack of transparency; censorship of the media, Internet and text messages; and
an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and
assembly,” the statement read.
“However, despite these government
obstacles and limitations, the Iranian people was determined to act to shape
In an apparent nod to moderate overtures Rohani has
already sent to the West, the White House said it remained “ready to
directly” with Iran so that its government could make
“responsible choices” on its nuclear program.
European Union foreign
policy chief Catherine Ashton, another key interlocutor regarding the Iranian
nuclear issue, released a statement saying that she remained “firmly committed
to working with the new Iranian leadership toward a swift diplomatic solution of
the nuclear issue.”
Rohani, and how the West should deal with him, is
certain to be one of the main issues on the agenda when Ashton comes to
Jerusalem for talks on Thursday.
Even though Ashton’s statement on the
Iranian election underlined the need to find a “swift diplomatic solution,” one
Israeli official said Jerusalem was concerned about what he described as the
EU’s “default psyche” – which he described as “to engage.”
predicted a process whereby the EU will want to engage with the new Iranian
president, but he will not formally take over his position until August, and
then will certainly ask for more time to “get organized” and to name a new
Israel’s concern, the official said, was that the
EU’s reflex will be to give Rohani time.
“But we don’t have time to
give,” he stated, “because the centrifuges are spinning.”
official said that Jerusalem’s primary concern, and the reason for Netanyahu
playing a “spoiler” role on Sunday, was that the world will want to focus on the
illusion the elections created, and not the reality.
“There is a concern
that there are people who will embrace something that is illusory, a façade,
just as in the past, when the Arab Spring started,” he said. “It is important to
have a reality check.”
The official said Netanyahu was urging the world
to follow the events in Iran carefully and focus on the centrifuges, because
whether or not they keep spinning will tell the real tale of whether there will
be a change in Iran’s nuclear policy.
“The vote is a protest vote against
the leadership,” he said.
“Our concern is that although the Iranians are
fed up with their government, that does not necessarily change reality or affect
the nuclear program.”
Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this