Many people will breathe a sigh of relief should Mir-Hossein Mousavi be elected as Iran’s president. The question is whether a Mousavi victory and Ahmadinejad defeat will indeed serve Israel’s strategic interests, and the answer is probably ‘no.’
The election victory of reformist candidate Muhammad Khatami in 1997 and again in 2001 took Iran out of isolation, opened doors that were previously closed, and in fact extended the life of the Islamic regime.
In the face of Khatami’s smiles and promising slogans in respect to civil society, the rule of law, and intercultural dialogue, Israel’s warnings that we were dealing with more of the same appeared delusional. By winning the elections, and throughout his presidential term, Khatami managed to a large extent to neutralize the explosive domestic element and blur external criticism.
Only after the radical Ahmadinejad’s victory in 2005, and paritcuarly in wake of his venomous statements against the State of Israel and his prominent Holocaust denial, the Western world starting seeing Iran in the light Israeli leaders hoped for. This prompted Western states to gradually intensify the moves they were willing to adopt against Iran, including countries such as France and Germany, which until then refrained from adopting a harsh approach vis-à-vis the Islamic regime in Tehran.
More attractive package
At this time, Iran is in a similar situation to the one it faced in 1997. We can assume that a victory by the reformist Mousavi and his moderate statements would prompt the Obama Administration and European leaders to be much more open and attentive and much less critical towards Iran. In order to boost the moderate bloc and encourage liberal trends in Iran, the West was willing to offer a reformist government more attractive “packages” and longer extensions.
In a state where the president in fact implements the policy outlined by supreme leader Khamenei, a Mousavi win will enable Iran to break the isolation, grant an insurance policy to the Ayatollah regime, and bring it closer to the bomb.
There is no doubt that Israel is interested in seeing a liberal regime that is less hostile to it in Iran. Yet in light of the structure of Iran’s regime it could very well be that an Ahmadinejad win – and as result continued popular bitterness within Iran and the harsh approach to Iran on the international stage – is better for Israel.
The writer heads the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at University of Haifa.