Iran's Rohani Takes Revolutionary Guards to Task Over anti-Israel Slogans on Missiles

Inscriptions on missiles, tested in 2016, were meant to sabotage nuclear deal, Iranian president accuses in rare criticism of powerful militia

Supporters of Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rohani hold his portrait during a campaign rally in the capital Tehran on May 4, 2017.
Supporters of Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rohani hold his portrait during a campaign rally in the capital Tehran on May 4, 2017. ATTA KENARE/AFP

Iran's President Hassan Rohani made a rare criticism of the country's powerful revolutionary guards on Friday, when he accused the organization of trying to sabotage Iran's nuclear agreement by testing ballistic missiles stamped with anti-Israel messages

Rohani, who was speaking at a presidential TV debate, said: "They wrote messages on the missiles so that we won’t be able to reap its benefits," the Guardian reported.

The moderate cleric was referring to the revolutionary guard's testing of two missiles designed to be able to hit Israel in March 2016, two months after sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program were lifted in accordance with an agreement the country signed with world powers.

Iranian agencies said the two Qadr missiles were stamped with the Hebrew words, "Israel should be wiped from the pages of history," though the inscription could not be seen on any photographs. 

Rohani was elected by a landslide in 2013 on pledges to end Iran's international isolation that had crippled the economy and to ease restraints on society in the Islamic Republic. He seeks re-election on May 19 against hardline rivals, though even supporters voice disappointment at his performance in office. 

Iran Revolutionary Guards conduct ballistic missile test. IRINN, Reuters

In the TV debate, Rohani battled criticism that few Iranians had enjoyed any tangible benefits from the 2015 deal. 

"What has changed since the deal? What has changed in the day to day lives of our people?" said hardline candidate Ebrahim Raisi, one of four sharia (Islamic law) judges who oversaw executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s. 

However, all of Rohani's opponents in the debate said they accepted the nuclear pact as necessary for Iran's future. 

Another conservative candidate, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, also a former commander in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), accused Rouhani of failing to tackle unemployment estimated at 12-20 percent. 

In response, Rouhani said Iran's reconnection with the global financial system after most sanctions were lifted had already borne fruit in renewed oil exports and was sure to yield jobs and investment boosting the economy in coming years. 

"All the nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted. Today, we export 2 million barrels oil per day. Without the deal we could only export 200,000 bpd," the moderate president said. 

"If we try, we can reach an average growth of 8 percent in the next five years ... We will bolster the economy in the coming years. We don't say we can, we say we will do it." 

Iran's overall economic outlook has improved since the nuclear accord. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts between 4 and 5.5 percent growth in 2016, well up from the 1.3 percent it forecast before the deal was clinched. 

Raisi and Qalibaf have vowed to created millions of jobs a year, if elected, though they have not said how they would do so and economists have called such promises "unrealistic".