Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with Muslim leaders and scholars in Hyderabad, India, February 15, 2018..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani enjoys the image in the West of a “moderate.” His smiling face has made him the poster boy for the Islamic Republic’s side of the nuclear deal known as the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), signed in 2015 by Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US (which withdrew from the deal this year under US President Donald Trump), UK, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (the P5+1).
Rouhani was the main architect of the JCPOA on Iran’s behalf, agreeing to rein in its nuclear program in return for the lifting or easing of multilateral sanctions which had forced the Iranian economy into a crisis. But over the weekend, Rouhani showed his true face, and it is anything but moderate when it comes to Israel and the US. He called Israel a “fake regime” and likened it to a cancerous growth and claimed the relocation of US Embassy to Jerusalem is an expression of increasing “hostility towards the world of Islam.”
Addressing the annual Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran, Rouhani said one of the “most important effects of World War II was the formation of a cancerous tumor [Israel] in the region.”
“They deployed a power in the region that completely obeys the West in regional matters,” he said, adding that “they formed the fake Israeli regime and killed and displaced the historical nation of Palestine.”
In a thinly veiled reference to Iran’s main rivals in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have close ties with the US, Rouhani said, “We have a choice to either roll out red carpets for criminals or to forcefully stand against injustice and remain faithful to our Prophet, our Koran and our Islam.”
Yesterday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei urged the conference participants to “strengthen the Islamic awakening and resistance movement in the region as much as they can, because the only way for the salvation of the region is to spread this spirit and thinking.”
Harsh rhetoric against Israel and the US, along with flag burning, is not unusual in Iran however Rouhani himself usually prefers to cultivate his moderate image. His words and Khamenei’s should not be glossed over. The JCPOA, which Israel fought vigorously against, stalls Iran’s nuclear ambitions by some 10 to 15 years, which are ticking down fast.
A week ago, in a statement to the 73rd Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said Iran “is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).”
But such claims do not dispel all the natural fears of Israel, the US, Saudi Arabia and Iran’s other main enemies. The country is continuing to develop weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads; it continues to sponsor terrorism, including funding Hamas and Hezbollah; and it is still supporting the Houthis in the bloody civil war in Yemen and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, where it is trying to establish a longterm presence and replace displaced Sunnis with a Shi’ite population.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Rouhani’s speech by calling on the international community to sanction Iran and promising, “Israel knows very well how to defend itself from the murderous Iranian regime. Rouhani’s slander, which calls for the destruction of Israel, proves yet again why the nations of the world need to join in the sanctions against the Iranian terrorist regime which threatens them.”
Among those who answered the call was Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who tweeted that it was unacceptable to Iran to call into question Israel’s right to exist or to call for the country’s destruction.
It is possible that Rouhani’s comments were not aimed for Israeli and American ears, but for home consumption, where he is under attack by hardliners, particularly since the US sanctions snapped back into place earlier this month.
Nonetheless, together with Khamenei’s remarks they are a clear indication that Iran is no promoter of peace. Israel calls for Iran to remove its forces from Syria; Iran calls for Israel to be removed from the face of the earth. Verbal aggression is not acceptable. It is a worrying indication that physical aggression is not far away.
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