Hasan Rowhani’s election as Iran’s next president had Israeli analysts stressing Saturday night that this was no revolutionary shift that would prompt a moderation of Iranian hostility, but also noting that his victory was a shock to the regime and a reflection of widespread Iranian public dissatisfaction.
Hasan Rowhani is “not about to make peace with Israel or abandon the Iranian nuclear program,” stressed analyst Nadav Eyal on Israel’s Channel 10 news, but he is capable of reaching a deal with the West on the nuclear issue, and the extent of his victory is a surprise to supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
The analysts stressed that the incoming president is a man “of the Islamic revolution” rather than an opponent, and emphasized that Khamenei sets policy while Rowhani will only “market” that policy. But they saw his election nonetheless as a mass Iranian public demand for change.
They were speaking after Iran announced that Rowhani, 64, seen as the candidate least liked by the regime, had won the vote to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by a large margin.
Rowhani is “part of the regime,” is “a disciple” of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, and is “no reformist,” stressed Eyal. “But he was the candidate of the reformists” — the contender around whom the Green movement and Iran’s various minorities rallied.
Eyal noted that Rowhani, who only entered the presidential race in April, said during the campaign that he intended to be “a friend of the world.” He highlighted Rowhani’s Glasgow University law degree and fluency in French and English as marking a stark change in tone from that of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a change that might well serve Khamenei’s interests.
Channel 2’s Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari said he did not know of a single person who had expected Rowhani to triumph outright with over 50 percent of the votes. Indeed, on Friday evening, Ya’ari had speculated that Khamenei would have to either fake Friday’s results, or fake the results of an anticipated runoff a week later, to thwart Rowhani, whose election he said would constitute “a mortal blow” for Khamenei. Rowhani was quoted as saying Friday that “I entered the political arena in order to boot out the extremists” — a remark tantamount to open defiance of the regime led by Khamenei.
In the event, said Ya’ari on Saturday night, Rowhani’s success was so overwhelming that the idea of faking the results fell by the wayside. He called the cleric’s success a vote against the military and economic hold on Iran of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Israeli TV reports highlighted that, during the campaign, Rowhani had spoken of seeking a different nuclear policy, promised economic improvements, and complained about the economic sanctions imposed as a consequence of Iran’s nuclear program. They noted that Rowhani was responsible for temporarily freezing Iran’s nuclear program in 2003, when it feared US military intervention. During a pre-election TV debate, Rowhani also promised Iranians that he would “bring security, quiet and tranquility to the Iranian people in all aspects of life,” the TV reports noted.
Still, while one TV news anchor ad-libbed that the vote marked “a revolution in Iran,” the analysts rejected this designation — noting that Khamenei had carefully selected which candidates would be allowed to run.