Following new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election earlier this summer, there was tepid hope amongst former President Ahmajinedad's adversaries that the new leader might usher in a more-moderate era, or at least remotely so, to the nation's foreign policy. His post-election promise to "follow a path of moderation and justice, not extremism" is not the usual rhetoric that emerges from pulpits of Iranian leadership. Along with his sentiment that Iran's relationship with the United States is "an old wound that needs to be healed," the statement provided more optimism than did Ahmajinedad's entire presidency.
Yet as President Rouhani prepared to enter office, which he officially does today, he maintained the "old wound" metaphor and contorted it in a way that is disconcertingly evocative of the previous administration. Feeding into the enthusiasm of supporters who were shouting "Death to Israel," President Rouhani noted: "A sore [Israel] has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years."
This remark wasn't as inflammatory a statement as were those which President Ahmajinedad uttered regularly, most notably when he referred to Israel as a "tumor" and explained, "We don't even count them as any part of any equation for Iran. During a historical phase, they represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated." President Rouhani's remarks indicate, however, that there isn't likely going to be a vast change in Iran's foreign policy positions.
Iran has proven to be one of Israel's gravest threats in recent history and Ahmajinedad's steadfast initiative to surreptitiously develop nuclear technology poses an obvious threat to the United States and its many allies.
Along with perpetuating Iran's usual anti-Israel rhetoric, President Rouhani is following in his predecessor's footsteps of continuing nuclear investments and dishonestly representing his motives to do so. Although he claims that "we are ready to show more transparency and to show the world that Iran's nuclear work complies fully with the international framework," when paired with his reminder that "Muslim people will not forget their historic right and will continue to stand against aggression and tyranny," his sincerity in claiming to merely seek nuclear power for energy is difficult to accept.
President Rouhani's allusion to Israel as a "sore" is the first explicitly crass statement he's made about the nation as the official face of Iran. Whatever hope that Israel and its allies might have held that Rouhani's presidency would provide an opportunity for improved civility in the region has clearly evanesced.
Israeli President Netanyahu remarked in response to the comments that he believes "Rouhani's true face has been revealed earlier than expected." If President Rouhani's true face is indeed as oppressive as President Netanyahu fears, it is unfortunately unlikely that this administration will champion well-overdue peace in the region.