Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office on Saturday night stood by its fierce
condemnation of comments attributed to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the
“Zionist regime is a wound that needs to be removed,” saying Iran’s later denial
of the statement was possibly manipulation of the state-run press.
Friday, Iran’s semi-official student news agency ISNA quoted Rouhani as saying
at an al-Quds Day event, “The Zionist regime is a wound that has sat on the body
of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed.”
Minister’s Office then issued a harsh condemnation, saying these words showed
the true face of the new Iranian president, installed in office on
“Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected,”
the statement issued on Friday by the PMO said.
And then, as if
anticipating what would happen next, the statement continued, “Even if they will
now rush to deny his remarks, this is what the man thinks and this is the plan
of the Iranian regime.”
“These remarks by President Rouhani must rouse
the world from the illusion that part of it has been caught up in since the
Iranian elections,” said Netanyahu, who since Rouhani’s election in June has
been calling on the world not to be “taken in” by his “moderate” words and
“The president there has changed, but the goal of the regime
has not: to achieve nuclear weapons in order to threaten Israel, the Middle East
and the peace and security of the entire world. A country that threatens the
destruction of the State of Israel must not be allowed to possess weapons of
mass destruction,” the prime minister said.
Shortly after the ISNA report
– which echoed the fiercely anti-Israel language of outgoing president Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad and contradicted the image Rohuani is trying to portray as a
“moderate” – the Iranian state media repudiated the story, claiming that
unidentified news agencies had distorted Rouhani’s remarks.
TV then broadcast an excerpt from an exchange between Rouhani and journalists at
an al-Quds Day event.
“After all, in our region there’s been a wound for
years on the body of the Muslim world under the shadow of the occupation of the
holy land of Palestine and the beloved al-Quds,” Rouhani said in the segment. ISNA later published that version
of the comment.
But the exchange that was broadcast on Press TV did
nothing to alter the position in the Prime Minister’s Office.
official said that the PMO had no doubt that “the remarks that were [originally]
attributed to him [Rouhani] correctly reflect his extremist
Asked how the PMO could stand by condemnation of a statement
that was at odds with what appeared in the Press TV segment, the official hinted
at manipulation, saying that the “the Iranian regime has the ability to control
the local press. We don’t accept the denial at face value,” the official said.
“Why would the original Iranian report distort his words?” This suggested that
the Iranian regime – concerned that Rouhani’s comments would harm the image he
has been trying to portray as a “moderate” – possibly staged an exchange with
journalists in which Rouhani watered down his original
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, left no room for doubt nor pulled any
punches in his last speech as president.
“You planted wind in our region
and you will reap the storm,” he said of Israel at an al-Quds Day event. “I
swear to God that a ferocious storm is coming and it will uproot the Zionist
entity,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.
Rouhani took office on Saturday, succeeding Ahmadinejad, after Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed him, Iranian media said.
Rouhani on the cheek and the new president kissed the leader on his
The start of Rouhani’s presidency puts an end to Ahmadinejad’s
eight years in office during which Iran grew more isolated and came under
wide-ranging United Nations, US and European Union sanctions over its nuclear
program, putting enormous pressure on the economy.
Rouhani faces huge
challenges, including combating inflation which he put last month at 42 percent,
bringing down high unemployment and bridging the political divisions between
conservative, moderate and reformist factions.
His most immediate test is
persuading parliament to approve his candidates for cabinet positions, which he
is expected to introduce on Sunday after he takes the oath of
“Rouhani will certainly appoint more competent men and women to
key economic ministries and institutions. He will also follow saner economic
policies,” said Shaul Bakhash, an Iran historian at George Mason University in
Virginia “But the economic problems are staggering... Above all, without a
serious easing of sanctions, it is difficult to see how Rouhani can get the
economy moving again.”Reuters contributed to this report. •