Iran’s influential former president has expressed a softer stance toward the country’s archenemy Israel than the one reflected in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s typical anti-Israel remarks.

Several Iranian newspapers, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, on Monday quoted Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as saying: “We are not at war with Israel.”

“We are not eager to go to war with Israel, but if the Arabs wage war on it we will support them,” Iranian national radio quoted Rafsanjani telling reporters.

The remark is seen as part of growing calls by high-profile Iranian politicians, including potential presidential candidates, to repair Iran’s image abroad. Ahmadinejad’s comments since 2005 that Israel should be destroyed have prompted an international outcry.

Last week, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran —  who is considered a potential candidate in the June presidential election — said the president’s anti-Jewish remarks have damaged Iran.

Rafsanjani has not said whether he plans to run in the election.