Iran's new president is no moderate

The outcome of the June 14 Iranian election, in which Shiite cleric Hasan Rohani emerged victorious, is very bad news. Photo: Wikimedia

NEW YORK, June 19, 2013 — Leave it to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to pull the wool over the eyes of his people by letting them believe that they have just elected a reformist president. Count on the United States to welcome the hoodwink.

Contrary to the cautious and not-so-cautious optimism expressed by the White House, the outcome of the June 14 Iranian election, in which Shiite cleric Hasan Rohani emerged victorious, is very bad news.

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In the first place, Rohani is no moderate. This is evident in his past history as a loyalist of the Islamic Revolution that ousted the Shah of Iran in favor of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. It is also evident in his many subsequent top-tier positions in Khamenei-led governments. Rohani would not have been approved by Khamenei as a candidate had his credentials or campaign been too liberal.

Secondly, Rohani is no friend of popular protests. In July 1999, during Rohani’s tenure as Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, students at Tehran University demonstrated against the closing of the reformist newspaper, Salam. Though the demonstration began peacefully, it ended with a clash between students and police at one the university’s dorms.

During the clash, a student was killed. This sparked a week of rioting throughout the country, leaving a number of people dead and hundreds injured. After that, more than 1,000 people were detained by authorities. Dozens of students disappeared. Their whereabouts are unknown to this day. The violent quelling of the demonstrations and harsh detentions were spearheaded by Rohani.

These events occurred seven years after the suicide of Rohani’s eldest son, who left a note in which he attacked his father’s ideology and tactics. “I hate your government, your lies, your corruption, your religion, your double-dealing and your hypocrisy,” he wrote in a letter, excerpts of which were published in the Asharq-al-Awsat newspaper and reported yesterday in Ynet.

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“I am ashamed to live in an environment in which I am forced to lie to my friends every day and tell them that my father is not part of all this – to tell them that my father loves the nation and to know that the reality is far from this. I get nauseated when I see you, father, kissing Khamenei’s hand.”

Why, then, is this 64-year old mullah hailed as a beacon of hope?

Where Iranians are concerned, this probably has to do with the fact that Rohani always opposed his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even resigning as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator when Ahmadinejad was first elected. In addition, Rohani was not backed by Khamenei in the election. Furthermore, Rohani uses terminology that could be misconstrued as democratic. He pays lip service to women’s rights, for example, without being specific.

From the point of view of the Obama administration and the other P5+1 countries (Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany) involved in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Rohani represents yet another opportunity for self-delusion. With an Iranian president like Ahmadinejad boasting about wiping Israel off the map and destroying the rest of the West, it was a little difficult to ignore Iran’s true ambitions.

As summits and sanctions were not putting a dent in Tehran’s race to acquire nuclear weapons, time seemed to be running out, not for undertaking a military operation, mind you, but rather for finding a moderate negotiator.

Then along came an electoral victory for Rohani, a proven expert at nuclear negotiations: keeping the West at bay while enabling Iran’s scientists and technicians to work on their centrifuges unfettered. Indeed, this is precisely what he did when he was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. As he told the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council in September 2005, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the Isfahan facility…. By creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work.”

From Khamenei’s perspective, things are turning out better than anticipated. Though he did not back Rohani for president, the Supreme Leader is suddenly grasping the advantages of having a puppet so palatable to the Iranian people and to the West. His first order of business was to meet with the president-elect and provide him with the “necessary guidelines” to follow. He then let his Revolutionary Guards give Rohani a bear hug of “complete cooperation with the new government in the framework of its responsibilities.”

By the time Rohani held his first press conference on Monday, he was sufficiently briefed on how much leeway he would have in his new role. This did not appear to bother him, however. Rohani’s real aim is not to alter the policies of the regime, but to present them in a better light, so that Iran will be left alone by the international community.

“…The first goal is that no new sanctions are imposed,” he said to reporters. “Then, that the (existing) sanctions are reduced. […The U.S.] should recognize all of Iran’s rights, including nuclear rights.”

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Ruthie Blum

 Ruthie Blum is a pull-no-punches, conservative, Israeli-American columnist for Israel Hayom,  and the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’”

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