Anti-Israel Rhetoric May Quiet Down as Ahmadinejad Leaves

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -

Iran’s influential former president says his country is not at war with Israel, the media reported Monday, in the latest departure by a high-profile politician from the strident anti-Israel line traditionally taken by many senior Iranian leaders.

The remarks by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani follows calls from figures across the political spectrum to repair the damage to Iran’s international reputation they said had been caused by outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” and questioned the extent of the Holocaust.

Several of them, including Rafsanjani, are considered possible contenders in June elections to replace Ahmadinejad as president.

“We are not at war with Israel,” said the ex-president, quoted by several Iranian newspapers including the pro-reform Shargh daily. He said Iran would not initiate war against Israel, but “if Arab nations wage a war, then we would help.”

The remarks are unlikely to herald any significant changes in Iranian policy, but may indicate the assessment of politicians that Ahmadinejad’s particular brand of virulent anti-Israel rhetoric may hurt him with many voters.

Rafsanjani is considered a political centrist, attractive to some reformists but not a candidate who would challenge the dominance of the clerical establishment. He has not ruled out a run at the presidency himself, but is more likely to throw his considerable influence behind a center candidate and may be burnishing his moderate credentials.