Last week’s election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran is seen by Israel as a new opportunity to press the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran until it ends its efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.
"So far, there is not enough support to bring it to the Security Council, but hopefully this election of what even the Iranians call a hard-liner will cause [council members] to realize that it is very dangerous to allow the ayatollah to possess nuclear weapons," said Aryeh Mekel, Israel’s consul general in New York. "We don’t want the international community to sit idly by and say, ‘Let Israel worry about it,’" he added. "The Iranians have developed missiles that cover the entire Middle East, Europe and parts of Russia."
But David Menashri, the Parviz and Pouran Nazarian Chair for Modern Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, said he doubts Ahmadinejad’s election will prompt a Security Council meeting.
"The fact that he has been elected is not sufficient for foreign countries to change their policy altogether,"he said. "The world wants to continue relations with Iran and wants to see what he is doing in office. Therefore, regardless of his basic image, it depends on the image he creates from now on, the kind of government he puts together and the policy he follows."
Ahmadinejad takes office for a four-year term in August, and in the coming weeks he will be appointing the members of his government. Menashri, who specializes in the history and politics of Iran, said one should be watching to see if he appoints extremist political figures for such crucial posts as minister of foreign affairs, minister of interior, minister of economics and minister of culture.
"He has already promised that he would have a more balanced government, and that would be a key to his success," he said. "And how will the key people who contended for the presidency be incorporated into his government, like [Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani."
Ahmadinejad trounced Rafsanjani in last week’s run-off election, garnering 62 percent of the vote. Rafsanjani had recently been seen by some in the West as a moderating influence in talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
But Menashri pointed out that Rafsanjani was no friend of Israel’s, and Ahmadinejad in an interview with a Saudi newspaper following his election made clear that he is not either.
"I will strive to expand relations with everyone," he said, "with the exception of Israel."
Ahmadinejad succeeds Mohammed Khatami, who was seen as a reform-mind president and who once hinted that Iran could soften its stance on the "Zionist enemy" if Israel and the Palestinians resolved their differences.
The Bush administration wants to continue letting Britain, France and Germany negotiate with Iran to end its nuclear program, which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes and not to build a bomb. But the West is dubious, with the U.S. arguing that Iran cannot be trusted because for 17 years it hid its nuclear development work from international inspectors. The U.S. is also believes it is not the Iranian president who controls Iran’s nuclear policy but rather Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is seen as unwilling to give up the nuclear option.
Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser, was recently quoted as saying that "Iran is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism" and that its policy is to "get rid of Israel." Until now, Iran has been the prime supporter of Hezbollah, the terrorist group that sits on Israel’s northern border with thousands of missiles aimed at Israeli cities. Menashri said Ahmadinejad will have to act fast to make his intentions known.
"The clock is ticking, and as far as Israel and the world are concerned there is not much time," he said.