Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on Sunday for no relaxation of international pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program after the election of a new president widely hailed as a moderate.
Netanyahu noted that it is Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not the newly elected president, Hassan Rowhani, who sets a nuclear policy that has been challenged by tough economic sanctions and the prospect of military action.
“The international community must not give in to wishful thinking or temptation and loosen the pressure on Iran for it to stop its nuclear program,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet at Sunday’s weekly meeting.
But Israeli President Shimon Peres gave a different assessment.
Asked if Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator with world
powers, would alter the course of the nuclear program, Peres told Reuters, “He said he will not go for these extreme policies. 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 holds a largely ceremonial position and has little influence on decision-making in Israel. But his comments added to a burgeoning debate among Israelis over the meaning of Rowhani’s surprise victory.
“It [the result] surprised all the experts and all the prophets, and this is really intriguing. Why? Because apparently there are hidden forces and strengths that were unseen or underestimated,” Peres said.
Ephraim Halevy, a former head of Mossad, said on Israel Radio that Rowhani’s election “is the biggest failure Khamenei has suffered since coming to power.”
The poll’s outcome, Halevy said, was an expression of the Iranian people’s “anger and frustration” over the effect of international sanctions that have hit them hard as a result of Khamenei’s nuclear policy.
Netanyahu, however, said Israelis “are not deluding ourselves” in the wake of Rowhani’s election.
“Iran will be judged by its actions,” he said. “If it continues to insist on developing its nuclear program, the answer must be clear — to stop it by any means.”
Reaction from the Israeli left was coming in late Sunday, and it was, not surprisingly, critical of Netanyahu.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On charged that the election of the relatively moderate Rowhani is as much a disappointment to Netanyahu as it is to the extremists in Iran, The Jerusalem Post reported. “Netanyahu will not let reality get in the way of his plans to attack Iran,” Gal-On said.
“It seems that while the Iranian people and the West are welcoming the moderate new president, Israel’s leaders are still mourning the despot Ahmadinejad’s departure. Netanyahu uses the Iranian threat whenever he wants to distract the public from the country’s real problems. Rowhani’s election forces the prime minister to find new political spin.”
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who was born in Iran, said Netanyahu’s reaction was premature.
“It will take months to judge where Rowhani is going,” Mofaz said. “All of Netanyahu’s statements about deadlines and red lines have not passed the test of time. He needs to act responsibly with proper judgment and not come out with statements so fast.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich argued that the election results exposed Israel’s Iran experts as unfit to make forecasts about trends in that country.
“It is wrong to analyze tomorrow on the basis of yesterday’s inaccurate assessments,” Yacimovich said. “The new Iranian president can certainly not be suspected of being a Zionist and he is subordinate to [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei, but he is better than the alternatives in Iran.”