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Israel Is Sanctifying the Status Quo and Ignoring the Possibility of a New Iran

The ascendancy of a new moderate leader in post-election Iran could offer rare opportunity for diplomatic breakthrough, but Prime Minister Netanyahu and his defense minister are resistant to change.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

A few hours before the unprecedented political drama unfolded on Friday in Iran, Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon reported to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and laid out his philosophy.

The head of the Israeli defense establishment declared - without any reservations - that nothing will change as a result of the Iranian election and that, in any event, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will decide on the country's next president.

It did not take long for the depth of Ya'alon's embarrassment of himself, and of those on whose behalf he flew to Washington, became clear. At best, Ya'alon's remarks reflected a serious error in judgment on the part of Israeli intelligence and provided additional proof of the limitations of Military Intelligence and the Mossad in predicting internal political shifts in Iran and in Arab states. At worst, his words reflected arrogance, prejudice and shooting from the hip of the very worst kind.

But how can we complain about Ya'alon, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in Poland on Wednesdsay that Iran's "so-called" election will not bring about any meaningful change. Netanyahu's and Ya'alon's Pavlovian responses, as well as the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday night, reflect the overall approach of the Likud government which rejects all change, exaggerates the threats, plays down the opportunities and sanctifies the status quo.

The only thing missing was for Netanyahu and Ya'alon to call for extending the term of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as in the case of Egypt and former President Hosni Mubarak.

One thing is clear: Khamenei did not want Hasan Rowhani to win the presidential election. Iran's supreme leader backed his national security adviser and nuclear talks envoy, Saeed Jalili. Jalilee was trounced, coming in third place and a distant 15 million votes away from Rowhani.

Another thing is clear, too: The election will change things in Iran. A hint of this could have been found a few days ago, when Reuters published the contents of a letter sent five months ago to Khamenei by Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, behind Ahmadinejad's back. Salehi called on the country's supreme leader to enter into direct talks with the United States as soon as possible. In his written response to Salehi, Khamenei said he was not optimistic about the prospects for success, but would not stop them from reaching out to Washington.

Rowhani, as former head of Iran's negotiations team on the nuclear issue, called back in 2005 for direct talks with the United States, made the elimination of the international sanctions against Iran the central plank of his election campaign. He even slammed Jalili for being too tough in the talks with the West.

The post-election period could be an opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough in Iran's relations with the United States in general and on the nuclear issue in particular, especially in light of the results of the election.

One more point should be mentioned, as for Ya'alon. In his remarks on Friday, the defense minister also dismissed the Arab peace initiative, including the positive change introduced recently as a result of the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as nothing but "spin" by the media.

Ya'alon's remarks, coming at a time when Kerry is endeavoring to restart the peace process, were much harsher than Netanyahu's relatively moderate message to the Knesset ten days ago. "We listen to every initiative and are willing to discuss any motion that is not a requisition," Netanyahu said at the time.

Netanyahu and Ya'alon at the Knesset.Credit: Tess Scheflan
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walking with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon after he arrived on a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey at the Pentagon, June 14, 2013.Credit: AP

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