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June 16, 2013 1:50 PM Netanyahu still war-obsessed despite Iran’s moderate swing

By Samuel Knight

A war with Iran over its nuclear program seems far less likely in the near future, after the country chose Hassan Rouhani in Friday’s (strictly controlled) presidential election.

Rouhani, described as the only moderate in the race, was a nuclear negotiator under the reformist administration of former president Mohammed Khatami. Iranian journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan said that while Rouhani was part of the negotiating team, “Iran agreed for the first time to stop enriching uranium and allowed more scrutiny of the programme, avoiding the risk of being referred to the UN security council and economic sanctions.”

The National Iranian American Council, too — a harsh critic of the theocracy — sang an optimistic tune about the election, saying that it “signals a potential opening for progress on human rights inside Iran as well as nuclear diplomacy.”

Rouhani has criticized the securitized environment in Iran and indicated he will work for the release of prisoners of conscience detained after the 2009 elections, including the leaders of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have been under house arrest since 2011.  Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator under former reformist President Khatami, has also called for a more constructive approach to nuclear diplomacy, sharply criticizing the confrontational approach Iran has adopted under President Ahmadinejad and the current nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.

But despite Iran having chosen a president who appears more aligned with the West on the nuclear issue and on human rights, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears wedded to the idea of conflict. According to Haaretz, he threw cold water on enthusiasm for the result.

“The greater the pressure on Iran the greater the chances of stopping the Iranian nuclear program, which remains the greatest threat to world peace,” Netanyahu added.
Netanyahu also noted that the election of former Iranian President Ali Khatami, considered a moderate by the West, 15 years ago did not lead to a change in Iranian policy.
“The only thing that led to a freeze in the Iranian nuclear program in the past 20 years was Iran’s of a military action against it in 2003,” said Netanyahu. “Iran will be tested by its deeds: If it continues with its nuclear program it must be stopped by any means possible.”

Revisionist history. If military action in 2003 (the war on Iraq) acted as some sort of deterrent against uranium enrichment, why wouldn’t it do the same now? The dearth of logic increases exponentially when considering that Iraq’s nuclear weapons program didn’t actually exist, nor were we intent proving that one did.

Also, Netanyahu’s word choice — “if [Iran] continues with its nuclear program it must be stopped by any means possible” — seems to indicate that he suffers from militaristic tunnel vision. Is Iran not even allowed to have a nuclear program for peaceful purposes, while Israel has a secret nuclear weapons program?

It seems that Friday’s developments give Israel a chance to be an uncooperative actor, as much as they give Iran a chance to rekindle negotiations. And why wouldn’t Israel continue taking a hardline on the “nuclear capable” tenor of the discussion, when painting Israel as existentially threatened by Iran diverts American attention from its treatment of Palestinians?

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.

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