Will Iran’s New President Hassan Rowhani Rehabilitate Foreign Relations with the West and Israel?

Will Iran's New President Hassan Rowhani Rehabilitate Foreign Relations with the West and Israel?

Muslim Cleric, Hassan Rowhani has been declared Iran’s new President in a victory that some believe might rehabilitate Iran’s foreign relations with the West and Israel. The moderate muslim cleric will replace, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who has openly declared his hatred for the Jewish people’s.

However, the results of Iran’s presidential election will not stop the escalation of tensions between the west and the east. Sanctions by the West have sent Iran’s currency, the rial, into steep decline and exacerbated the impact of what critics say was Ahmadinejad’s shambolic economic management.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, told the Knesset about the presidential elections in Iran: “I ask that nobody delude himself.The results of the elections in Iran won’t change a thing.” For the rest of the region and further into the world, the election of the next president of the ancient, oil-rich nation, has more subtle implications. But for Israel the choice is between “bad” and “bad”, reports Sky News.

“We see no one among the presidential candidates who has any interest in or hope of slowing much less ending Iran’s nuclear programme,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s interior minister told Sky News.

The tension between Isarael and Iran is the cause for Iran’s lonely status in international affairs. Like most Israelis, Iran is seen almost entirely through a nuclear prism. The fear of annihilation is an imagined fear projected into reality by both sides. However, the U.S. and U.K., Israel’s main allies, don’t necessarily see it that way. The UK and US have resisted Mr Netanyahu’s explicit calls to use military action to stop Iran’s military programme – preferring instead to say that all options are on the table.

The West deals with Iran differently than other Arab nations, mainly because the state of Iran is a religious republic, built on Sharia Law principles of Islam. In light of this, Iran was always seen as more of threat than, say, Syria–which is said to have been more religiously tolerant up to the current revolution. When the Iranian Revolution of 1979 occurred, many non-religious Iranians (many call themselves Persians) fled the country after the Islamic Republic’s leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, took power. Many Iranians or Persians are hoping for the day when their country will return to its former state. The likelihood of this seems very distant.

Even with the election of moderate Rowhani, the United States and Israel have been resolute in cutting off any possible connections Iran may have to the outside world. During Ahmadinejad’s two terms in office, friction with the West over the nuclear program has risen with the United States and Europe imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil and banks over suspicions Tehran is seeking atomic bombs, something it denies.

The west greatest fear would be the spread of religious republics like Iran. Egypt is case in point.

The results of the election come not long after the Obama administration agreed to arm Syrian rebels. If the Syrian rebels, next door to Iran, were to win the war against the Syrian government–the situation would go in Iran’s favor either way. Seeing as Iran is practically segregated in international relations, and seeing as the Syrian government and Iran have not had the best of relations, a new form of government would be welcomed by any new Iranian government.

Iran’s main clients in the Middle East, Lebanese militia movement Hezbollah and the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad, will be watching events more keenly.There will be no sudden shift in Iran’s support for either in Syria’s civil war, says Sky News.

Sanctions have not helped decrease the tensions to this day. The West believed that cutting off the economic viability of Iran would force its immediate surrender to Western civilization ideologies. Instead, the government has grown more resolute in its refusal to cooperate with western governments.

Sky News reports, Iran has lost an estimated $70bn to $100bn (£44bn to £63bn) in oil revenues and other exports, has had its financial sector frozen out of the world system, and numerous senior government figures and business people face personal restrictions on their movements and businesses.

The Obama administration might be able to deal with Hassan Rowhani, unlike with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad hoping he might pursue peaceful ways out of an increasingly tense standoff with Iran over its nuclear activity. Rowhani is a moderate, which places the west in a delicate position. The west doesn’t want to seem like hawks but they likely believe Rowhani will not be any different from his predecessors. The Obama administration is taking delicate steps to ensure that it doesn’t damage any possibility of Hassan Rowhani’s ability to rehabilitate foreign relations with the west: time will tell if this approach is effective.
The question is, will Rowhani try to bridge the connections between Israel and Iran? Rowhani has pledged to draw up and implement a “civil rights charter, promote a foreign policy based on “constructive interaction with the world”, and has spoken up for the rights of women and ethnic minorities, reports Reuters. He resigned after Ahmadinejad took office in August 2005; enrichment activity resumed and expanded. Rohani was accused of being too accommodating in negotiations – a criticism that hardline rivals tried to exploit. Time will tell if Rowhani succumbs to pressures to be more hard lined.

Rowhani has backed using foreign policy as a means to improve the nation’s free-falling economy, battered by Western-led sanctions tied to the nation’s controversial nuclear program, reports the LA Times.

To the surprise of many, Rowhani polled just over 50 percent of the votes cast in Friday’s election, according to the interior ministry, good enough for a landslide first-round victory over conservatives close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reports Reuters.

According to U.S.-based Iranian analyst Trita Parsi “Though hardliners remain in control of key aspects of Iran’s political system, the centrists and reformists have proven that even when the cards are stacked against them, they can still prevail due to their support among the population,” Parsi wrote in an emailed commentary.

The election comes at a time when the Iranian people are feeling the pinch of an inelastic economy, due mainly to sanctions from the West.

Reuters states, Rohani’s focus on rehabilitating Iran’s foreign relations and its sanctions-damaged economy and his call for a “civil rights charter” proved appealing to the significant number of Iranians keen for more political pluralism at home and an end to the Islamic Republic’s isolation abroad.

Rohani managed to win with a constituency – whose core was believed to be the urban middle class and young – that had been widely disillusioned by years of security crackdowns that stifled virtually any public dissent from Islamist orthodoxy, says Reuters.

But when pressed about his lack of nuclear ambitions, Rowhani responded that Iran had continued to make advances in nuclear know-how while he headed its security council and he had steered the country away from threats of Israeli or U.S. attack on its nuclear sites. “We didn’t allow Iran to be attacked. Remember the sensitive conditions at the time … they had gotten  Afghanistan, they had occupied Iraq. They imagined tomorrow or the day after tomorrow it would be Iran’s turn,” reports Reuters.

The Israel-Iran divide allows for the passive aggression between the West and the East to escalate. No election, no matter how moderate the candidate may be, will decrease the level an anxiety in the region, until each side knows its survival is guaranteed. This means, Rowhani, unlike his predecessor, should refrain from comments about taking the Jewish race off the earth.

Israeli’s belive “Iran is on its way to becoming a nuclear super power. People in the West don’t seem to understand this. “That is an existential threat to Israel and a threat to global stability.” So East-West rivalry, religious conflict and sectarian divisions produce grand schemes and petty plots – which even their authors seldom fully comprehend and in which the voices of ordinary people are seldom heard.

However, Israel is no innocent bystander in this all: there are no innocent parties. If Hassan Rowhani has been assigned the role of rehabilitating Iran’s foreign relations with the West, the West (including Israel) must also take proactive, sincere, steps to decrease tensions.

Cedric Hines

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