Netanyahu rolls back his bitter response to Rouhani

After learning that new Iranian president did not urge Israel’s destruction, PMO removes tweets that denounced him and that slammed western ‘illusions’ on Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rolled back an earlier attack on incoming Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, after an Iranian news agency issued a corrected, somewhat less incendiary translation of Rouhani’s Quds Day comments about Israel.

Netanyahu’s office late Friday removed from the Twitter social media website tweets in which the prime minister denounced Rouhani, and told the BBC that the prime minister had been responding to “a Reuters report with an erroneous translation.”

Netanyahu had reacted earlier in the day to statements picked up by wire services and originally attributed to Rouhani by Iran’s semi-official ISNA and Mehr news agencies, which quoted the incoming president as saying, “The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed.”

Netanyahu’s original response said that Rouhani had “revealed his true face sooner than expected.” It added, “This statement should awaken the world from the illusion some have taken to entertaining since the elections in Iran. The president was replaced but the goal of the regime remained obtaining nuclear weapons to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the safety of the world. A country which threatens to destroy Israel must not have weapons of mass destruction.”

But other sources quoted Rouhani differently, and ISNA retracted its original report. “The day of Quds, which is one of the mementos of the Imam [Khomeini], may he be admitted to God’s paradise, is the day that the people display the unity of the Islamic world against any form of tyranny and aggression,” Rohani said, according to a New York Times translation. “In any case, in our region, a sore has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years, in the shadow of the occupation of the Holy Land of Palestine and the dear Quds. This day is in fact a reminder of the fact that Muslim people will not forgot their historic right and will continue to stand against aggression and tyranny.”

Netanyahu’s original blast could be seen as being aimed at US President Obama and a number of US lawmakers who have said Rohani’s expressed willingness to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent should be tested.

Rouhani won a landslide victory in Iran’s presidential election and has pledged to follow a “path of moderation,” promising greater openness over Iran’s nuclear program, which has placed it at odds with the West.

Netanyahu has consistently warned that the new Iranian president was merely putting on a “more hospitable face,” and that he has no power or intention to change the Iranian regime’s nuclear policy. Last month, he called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

On Thursday, the prime minister praised the US decision to level new sanctions against Iran.

“Following the Iranian elections, the House of Representatives has sent a clear message to the Iranian regime that international pressure will increase until Iran meets its obligations and ceases its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We will judge Iran by its actions alone.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu charged that Iran was going ahead with its nuclear program: “A month has passed since the elections in Iran, and Iran is going full steam ahead on developing nuclear weapons. Now, more than ever, given Iran’s progress, it’s crucial to strengthen economic sanctions against Iran and to provide a credible military option.”

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