Two similarly garbed men stand in the spotlight in Tuesday’s papers, one from Iraq, and the other from Iran. Clad in a turban and sweeping robes, one man’s star is rising, while the other’s is setting. They are Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
At the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the newly elected Iranian president may shake hands with US President Barack Obama in a possible symbol of shifting tides in Tehran. More substantially, the White House confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet during the next round of talks between world powers and Iran.
The last time such a high-level meeting between Tehran and Washington took place was 1979, Haaretz reports ahead of Thursday’s meeting between the P5+1 and Iran. It considers the chances of a meeting above the level of foreign ministers, however, “slim.” The paper quotes Rouhani, who is slated to speak at the UN Tuesday, saying that his speech aims to show the world “the true face of Iran” in discussing the nuclear issue.
The paper’s editorial cartoon shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rouhani walking into the UN building in New York. Netanyahu holds his placard from last year with his now notorious bomb diagram, looks askance at Rouhani, and thinks, “Where is Mahmoud when I need him.” The hard-line and unpredictable Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Iranian president, was an easier foil for Netanyahu.
Yedioth Ahronoth quotes senior American sources saying ahead of Thursday’s meeting between Kerry and Zarif: “We’ll see if the Iranians are serious, if this charm offensive has substance.”
Israel Hayom adopts a more skeptical, borderline pessimistic, stance ahead of the General Assembly — which it calls “the General Argument.” It writes that while Syria was expected to be the main event, the “surprising warming of relations between the US and Iran” is expected to steal the spotlight. The paper suggests that maybe, just maybe, press photographers might snap a shot of Obama and Rouhani shaking hands at a soiree thrown by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later this week.
In Maariv, columnist Ben-Dror Yemini writes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the one calling the shots on the international stage ahead of this week’s UN summit, not the US. He writes that while Obama appears “like a broken reed” for his inability to drum up international (or American) action in Syria, Putin is winning points abroad for determination and leadership.
Concerning Iran, he says “it’s going to get much worse” because Iran also understands the situation.
“Some smiles from the new president, Rouhani, and the free world melts. After Putin wrote an article in Obama’s home court, The New York Times, Rouhani’s publicist was hosted in the Washington Post,” he writes. “Behind their backs, and by the patronage of these two, the biggest crime against humanity in the past 10 years continues. But when it comes to writing, the two of them are sugar and spice.”
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s deteriorating health makes headlines Tuesday as the 93-year-old remains hospitalized in intensive care after undergoing heart surgery. Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the elderly rabbi had difficulty breathing, that “his life is at risk,” and that he is hooked up to a respiratory apparatus.
The paper quotes Shas party chairman MK Aryeh Deri urging people to pray for the rabbi’s health, and saying “I am very concerned. We know how this begins but we don’t know how we leave it.” Another Shas activist, Yossi Levi, said at the hospital, “I have not seen the lion like this in my life.”
“I’ve been here since the ’80s, when we established Shas, and you should know that this is the most difficult hour of my life. We owe the rabbi 90 years of Torah. He is our shield,” Levi told Yedioth.
Maariv assumes the worst and looks to who may succeed Yosef as the religious Sephardic community’s head honcho. Among those who paid their respects to Yosef at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem was Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel.
“As far as Rabbi Amar is concerned, it was not just an innocent hospital visit, rather an unofficial coronation ceremony for the next maran, the spiritual leader of the Sephardic public and of course of Shas,” the paper writes.
According to sources close to Amar who spoke to Maariv, Yosef greeted Amar with “joy and tears” and the infirm rabbi called his colleague “the light of the world,” a term reserved for one of the Talmudic greats. They suggest that Amar was unofficially dubbed Yosef’s successor. According to other sources in Shas who spoke to the paper, Ovadia hasn’t yet named anyone his replacement, “and that it’s chutzpah on the part of Rabbi Amar’s people that they place the crown on his head while [Yosef] is hospitalized and groaning in pain.”