The person who makes the decisions on issues like the nuclear project, the war on Syria, the aid to the Assad regime and the support for Hezbollah is the supreme religious and political leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is the direct commander of the Revolutionary Guards, which are not only responsible for the development of the nuclear weapon, but are also directly running the war in Syria and issuing orders for Hezbollah.
The Revolutionary Guards and supreme leader Khamenei belong to the radical conservative faction of the ayatollahs, and so even if President Rouhani opposes the funneling of millions of dollars to Hezbollah (and to Hamas as well, about $70 million a year), he has no chance of making a change. Khamenei won’t let him touch the issues that are most precious to him.
The second reason why Rouhani’s election is not necessarily good news for Israel and the Arab Gulf states is that if Khamenei wishes to violate Iran's nuclear agreement with the world powers for some reason, or to deceive the world and keep developing the atom bomb secretly, Rouhani will be the one who will market it to the world.
In the past, radical Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad served as a PR weapon in the hands of Israel and the United States. His radical comments led to the establishment of the tough sanctions system against Iran. But Rouhani’s sweet talk and smile offensive, which create the impression of a moderate person, could generate a serious consciousness problem for Israel if and when Iran decides to relaunch the race towards the bomb.
Rouhani is an extraordinary marketer, and with his image he is capable of curbing moves such as the Israeli and American effort to stop the development of ballistic missiles in Iran, which has been going on in contradiction of United Nations resolutions. With Rouhani as president—although he has no control over the Revolutionary Guards’ development of ballistic missiles—Iran will be able to play for time and reach compromises which won’t help us.
It’s the economy, Hassan
Another reason is that Rouhani was elected on the “economic ticket.” He promised to improve the economic situation in Iran, and mainly to drastically reduce the high unemployment rate among young Iranians. While the removal of the sanctions following the nuclear agreement with the world powers increased the dollar reserves in the Iranians’ coffers by billions and allowed them to resell oil with no end in sight, this situation has yet to infiltrate the middle and lower classes, and unemployed young people are still wandering the streets.
If Rouhani succeeds in doing what he promised to do in the current election campaign, it won’t be in Israel’s favor, as it will preserve the ayatollah regime forever.
Rouhani may be defined in Iran as a “reformist,” and he may be willing to slightly remove restraints and bring in a bit of modernization, but he is still an ayatollah, the regime’s own flesh and blood, which is why even Khamenei welcomes his reelection. We should remember that he was responsible for developing the nuclear weapon as prime minister, so in any event, we are not talking about a righteous among the nations here.
Nevertheless, as far as Israel is concerned, there is also an optimistic aspect in his reelection. First of all, because Khamenei listens to him and accepts his opinion, many times in complete contradiction of the Revolutionary Guards commanders’ opinions. It’s possible, for example, that he will manage to convince the supreme leader to cut the hundreds of millions Iran is investing in Hezbollah.
The Revolutionary Guards see Rouhani as a bitter rival because he has been saying out loud that their economic power should be reduced. This military organization holds about 40% of Iran’s economy, gas and oil projects, civil industry, security industry, foreign trade and smugglings. The people who benefit from this situation are primarily the organization’s commanders and their people, who receive nice salaries and enjoy a much higher standard of living than Iran’s middle class and lower classes.
Rouhani explicitly said during his election campaign that he would try not to increase that power budget. If he succeeds, it would be good news, as the Revolutionary Guards would be forced to be much less generous towards Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the Shiite militias in Iraq.
When it comes to the Iranian people, Rouhani’s election is definitely good news. He will likely get his people involved in the legal system, reduce the number of executions, increase the equality for women and their integration in the labor market and grant more freedom of religion, language and culture to minorities like the Azeris, the Kurds and the Baluchis.
Rouhani may be an ayatollah, but he has good intentions too. The problem in Iran is that he is faced by major conservative forces and fanatic Shiite Islamists who will try to sabotage his achievements as much as they can. The battle in the country has yet to be decided, so Israel should also continue its intelligence surveillance and stay focused on what is happening there. The Iranians have a tendency to surprise the world if they are not supervised, even with smiling Rouhani as their president.