Hassan Rohani assumed office only recently, but we can already detect the difference in the US and Israel's approach to the new Iranian president. While Washington's spokespeople are greeting Rohani with cautious approval, Israel's spokespeople, headed by the prime minister, claim he is a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and cling to his remarks about Israel (some of which were officially denied) in order to prove that Iran remains determined to annihilate us.
Before we slide down a slippery slope, we should give some thought to the significance of our approach. Israel's basic approach is that the identity of the Iranian president does not matter – because Supreme Leader Khamenei holds all the power, and Khamenei alone has the authority to deviate from his own nuclear policy. Israel's reaction on the day after elections in which Rohani surprisingly won more than 50% of the votes will be perceived by these voters – mainly the youngsters, woman, and the enlightened, educated Iranians - as an Israeli insult to them and their pride.
Israel is essentially telling the Iranian voters that their actions are insignificant; that there is no chance their situation will improve and that Israel is determined to delegitimize their choice. But if Rohani is so insignificant in our eyes, why invest so much effort in his delegitimization?
Rohani rushed to form a government which consists of many figures who are familiar to Western nations, mainly the US. If Israel will continue with the delegitimization of the new Iranian government, even before any official talks have been conducted between Washington and Tehran, some of the Americans may reach the conclusion that Israel's only goal is to hurt the chances for negotiations with Iran.
Earlier this week Rohani, during his first press conference as president, said he wanted to launch serious negotiations about his country's nuclear program. He reiterated Iran's official stance, according to which it has the right to enrich uranium, but only a very gullible person would expect the Iranian president to abandon his basic position even before talks kick off. Some will claim that Rohani's campaign of smiles at the US is no more than a ploy and that his call for fair dialogue is a trick aimed solely at buying Iran more time so it can complete its nuclear program. This is entirely possible, but in order to find out the truth Israel should support the launch of negotiations as soon as possible rather than make it more difficult for the sides to return to the negotiation table.
I do not believe Rohani would establish a moderate government unless he knew there was a genuine willingness on the part of the US to negotiate with him. If what we are seeing now are the first steps toward negotiations, the more we detract from the importance of talks with Iran, the more we will be detracting from our ability to influence them.
Rohani is faced with the urgent task of relieving the economic distress most of the Iranian people are experiencing. He is aware he will not be able to convince the West to ease sanctions without a significant step on his part related to the nuclear program. The US is determined to enter into negotiations on the basis of Rohani's invitation. If Israel chooses to launch another campaign against the US under such circumstances, our relations with Washington will be damaged and we will be playing into Iran's hands.
This week a senior official in Jerusalem said the US' conduct vis-à-vis the civil war in Syria has caused Israel to have less faith in Washington's desire to do what is necessary with regard to the Iranian issue. What's the point of signaling to Iran that a gap is opening up between us and Washington even before nuclear talks have begun? Why should we doubt the Americans' ability to negotiate wisely and responsibly?
I suggest that Israel officially announce its support for negotiations between the US and Iran that are aimed at removing the Iranian nuclear threat from the map of the world, and it will assess the results of these negotiations in reference to this goal alone. As long as this goal is not achieved, Israel will continue to have its finger on the trigger.
Should Israel add a word of praise for the Iranian people, who expressed in the recent presidential elections their desire for liberty and prosperity, perhaps it will mark the beginning of a long journey toward dialogue with the Iranian public. As a nation that is very sensitive about its national pride, we should show the same sensitivity when it comes to the dignity and honor of the masses in Tehran.
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