By Eli Avidar
The damage of Ahmadinejad, who encouraged Hezbollah’s aggression and dragged the whole region into a dangerous arms race, is bigger than the publicity benefit we gained from him. He was not good for the Jews and was not good for the Iranians, and replacing him gives some opening of cautious hope to the entire region... Hassan Rouhani will have to prove that he's not just a nicer mask on the face of the old regime, and that he is capable of making a real difference in his country.
Translated by Viktoria Lymar
Edited by Steven Stenzler
20 June 2013
From the moment Iran’s new president is sworn in, he needs to maneuver between the voters and the conservatism of the ayatollahs, but no one should be sorry that Ahmadinejad is gone.
The election of the moderate among Iran’s presidential contenders has instilled a justifiable hope in the world. The president’s role was taken over by an educated scholar, who unlike his predecessor is not driven by frustrations and feelings of inferiority.
Hassan Rouhani is not expected to gamble on the fate of the Iranian people to buy his international standing; the blatant rhetoric of Ahmadinejad's days will become more moderate, and Holocaust deniers will be unable to continue their gaze on Tehran.
The main loser in the elections is Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. Over the last years, Nasrallah's status as an ideological and theological asset has been undermined, and he is not anymore a role model for the Arab world, or a catalyst for the conversion of the Sunnis to Shia, as he used to be in the first half of the previous decade.
Make no mistake – the Iranians have remained Shiite patriots. They were happy when their brethren in Lebanon won international acclaim, and the elections still don’t show a great fondness for America – and certainly not for Israel. But the Iranian people are also tired of paying the price of the wasteful and corrupt monster that arose in Lebanon.
The extravagance of Hezbollah chiefs was widely publicized in the Muslim world in the recent years – and particularly, headlines were made by the stories about excessive wealth of the wives of the organization’s higher-ups. The antagonism is no longer suppressed. The Iranian support for Hezbollah will apparently continue, but the open check policy may end and the Iranian president won’t any longer restrain himself over the disappearance of billions of dollars from the accounts of the organization.
The Iranian election results were unequivocal. It is estimated that the percentage of Rouhani’s supporters was even higher that the official results, which entitled him to the presidency in just one round. The leaders of the Green Revolution, who had been blocked from participating themselves in the election, decided to bet on endorsement for the most moderate among the conservatives – and won the pot.
The Iranian public was fed up with suffering from political oppression combined with economic crisis, and at the same time to see how the country's resources are wasted in the Lebanese and Syrian adventures. The sanctions have led to a severe crisis in Iran – nevertheless, the Assad family keeps receiving a monthly allowance of tens of millions of dollars to safeguard the crumbling Syrian regime.
From the moment Rouhani is sworn into the presidency, a heavy responsibility will rest on his shoulders. He’ll have to navigate between extreme ayatollahs and the tremendous hopes his voters pin on him, to pave his way between the Revolutionary Guards and the necessity to restore Iran's position in the world. The support of the reformists is guaranteed him at first, but Rouhani is going to need to bring results as well.
Some argue that Ahmadinejad was good for the Jews. In his pidgin language, in his anti-Semitic statements and in his belligerent conduct, he was proving Israel's claims about the peril posed by Tehran. Yet the damage of Ahmadinejad, who encouraged Hezbollah’s aggression and dragged the whole region into a dangerous arms race, is bigger than the publicity benefit we gained from him. He was not good for the Jews and was not good for the Iranians, and replacing him gives some opening of cautious hope to the entire region.
However, the credit to Rouhani cannot lead to the breach of the red lines the world has set for Iran. It should be kept in mind that it was not Ahmadinejad who launched the Iranian race to the nuke, but instead, the moderate Rafsanjani. Also, there is no indication yet of a turnaround in the stances of the Supreme Leader Khamenei.
In the coming months, Hassan Rouhani will have to prove that he’s not just a nicer mask on the face of the old regime, and that he is capable of making a real difference in his country. The Iranian people have proven this month that they are not willing to take anything less than that.
Original Hebrew article:
Photo credit: AFP/Ma'ariv
The author is Chairman of the Smart Middle East Forum