Israel is trying to curb the West’s enthusiasm at the election of cleric Hassan Rouhani as the new president of Iran in the hope that the diplomatic pressure and sanctions will not be weakened until Tehran abandons its nuclear ambitions.
Mr Rouhani’s victory surprised all observers, who believed that the regime would engineer the election of a candidate more clearly aligned with the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
While Mr Rouhani is a veteran insider of the Iranian leadership and was an early follower of Ayatollah Khomeini, his emphasis during the election campaign on improving human rights and improving relations with the West have led him to be labelled as a relative moderate.
As the results emerged, the Israeli government sought to emphasise that the major decisions would still be made by the Supreme Leader, and that Mr Rouhani is no liberal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday: “The international community should not indulge in wishful thinking and be tempted to weaken the pressure on Iran.”
Mr Netanyahu pointed out that Mr Rouhani had in the past called Israel “the big devil” — although in his first press conference this week, Mr Rouhani referred to Israel by name and not as the “Zionist entity”.
While there has not yet been any official move to remove sanctions, Israeli defence officials believe that any serious talk of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear installations will be put on hold at least until early 2014, in order to see whether a new Iranian president means a more conciliatory attitude in the nuclear talks.