The presidency of Hassan Rouhani has ushered in a wave of hope for Iranians and non-Iranians alike. The standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, exacerbated by conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s messianic prophecies, has left many Iranian nationals and the international community in search of a solution for peace. The recent election this summer of the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, has given hope of a possible thawing of tension between Iran and the rest of the world. While the efforts of President Rouhani and his willingness to negotiate have been much appreciated by international spectators, there is one nation that has not been persuaded by Iran’s momentous efforts; Israeli President Netanyahu has recently come out in full force condemning the Rouhani government and urging the international community to not be swayed by these new diplomatic endeavors by the Islamic Republic. While Israel’s stance is obviously security based, and caution may be warranted, it is unfair and discriminatory to discredit the diplomacy of the Rouhani government when they are so willing to cooperate.
Historically, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been categorised as a rouge state for its defiance to comply with the UN on their nuclear program. In response, the UN has held sanctions on Iran since 2006 after Iran rejected the Security Council’s demand to halt Uranium enrichment.1 Numerous resolutions have subsequently been passed to increase sanctions through the UN as well as via other entities, such as the European Union in 2012. The sanctions have left Iran with a crippled economy and increased isolation in the world. It is evident that the regime of the Islamic Republic has come to realise that if the situation in the country does not change soon, their days as a government will be numbered. One needs only to look at the 2009 Green Movement to see the growing discontent in the country.
Setting a new tone for Islamic Republic, President Rouhani began his term in office on a peaceful note by tweeting on his official twitter account, ‘As the sun is about to set here in Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah’.2 This development marks two important changes occurring in the Islamic Republic. Firstly, the use of social media by the Rouhani government is a sign of the progress away from the Shi’ite clergy’s ban of social media. Websites like Facebook and Twitter have been prohibited in Iran since the 2009, due to their utility in organising the protests. Although President Rouhani’s Twitter account is not managed by him personally, it is run by his close confidants who tweet on his behalf. Additionally, on September 17th, 2013 Iran temporarily lifted the social media ban.3 Although the incident was claimed to be a ‘glitch, it was more likely an attempt to observe what would happen if the ban is lifted permanently. Future events may reveal a relaxation in the social media ban in the coming years.
Secondly, Rouhani’s goodwill message to the Jews is a complete transformation in tone towards Israel and the Jews. Prior to Rouhani’s presidency, President Ahmadinejad, who was first elected in 2005, made a name for himself by criticising Israel and the occupation of the Jerusalem. He proclaimed in his 2005 speech, ‘The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time’.4 In contrast, Rouahni’s stance towards Israel has been amiable and friendly.
Extending a conciliatory spirit, Rouhani has been engaging in dialog concerning Iran’s nuclear program. On September 27th 2013, US President Barack Obama and President Rouhani made a historic shift in US-Iran relations by engaging in a fifteen minute phone call – the first direct exchanges between US and Iranian leaders since the 1979 revolution.5 During the phone call, Rouhani expressed his interest in finding a peaceful solution to the nuclear stalemate, after which President Obama reciprocated his hopes.
Regardless of Rouhani’s new efforts to mend relations with world, Netanyahu has not been charmed. On October 1st 2013, President Netanyahu warned the UN General Assembly that Ahmadinejad was a ‘wolf in wolfs clothing’ while the new President Rouhani is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community’.6 Netanyahu believes that Rouhani’s attempts at reconciliation are merely a tactic to buy the regime time to produce a nuclear weapon. He has proclaimed that every Iranian regime is the same as the next, regardless of who is currently in power.
Is it right for President Netanyahu to deliver such a diatribe after Rouhani has made such clear efforts to establish peace? American journalist John Judis rightly points out how small diplomatic efforts can surmount to large-scale change. Judis asks us to ‘think of how Ping-Pong diplomacy laid the basis for Richard Nixon’s opening to China’.7 It is likely that Rouhani’s efforts to create and openness and dialogue between Iran and the world is one step towards future cordial relations. These actions must not be ridiculed and credit is deserved for this Iranian paradigm transformation.
Of course it is natural to continue to be cautious of Iran’s nuclear intent, however, in going forward, it is essential to engage in friendly discourse when the olive branch is being so clearly extended for peace. A demeaning attitude will only prohibit further progress and continue the nuclear stalemate. Is this not what the international community has wanted all along – a sign of diplomacy and compromise by Iran? Now that we are receiving it, we should take full advantage of these new political winds and change the course of our relations with Iran.
Israel’s impluse for continuing the hostile tirade on Iran can be attributed to several motivations. Firstly, out of Netanyahu’s 3,138 wordspeech to the General Assembly, only 53 words were directed to the never-ceasing Palestinian issue.8 Rather, his overwhelming comments were aimed at his speculation of the Rouhani regime. This demonstrates Netanyahu’s attempts to avert the international community’s attentionaway from Israel’s internal dramas and preoccupy them with Iran’s nuclear program. His second motivation is likely his fear that with future sanctions lifted, and the betterment of Iran’s economy, Iran will gain more influence in the Middle East. Regardless of what his motivation is, the Netanyahu government should not impede the peace process between Iran and other nations. Rather, they should support Iran in their attempts to once again become a valued member of the international community.