The big news of the day is clearly the surprise election of Hassan Rouhani as President of Iran. The first thing it teaches us is how much we do not know. There was not one analysis, nor seemingly intelligence service, that predicted this happening. His support seemed to grow suddenly as soon as all the reformers threw their support behind him.
It is important to divide what we know and what we do not know about the election.
The first thing that we know is that the majority of the Iranian people has had enough with the rule of the clerics and the direction of the country. They are uninterested in whatever pan Arab (even though Iranians are not Arabs or maybe because) ambitions that the clerics who have been running Iran have. They are uninterested in aiding Hezbollah, or Syria, they want more freedoms and they all voted for the best of bad choices.
What does it really mean for Iran or for Israel? I do not claim to be an expert on Iran, so I can only go by what others are saying- and opinions seems very divided. There are some who are saying this is just what the Supreme Leader wanted- this way the hard line policies of the regime could have a moderate face. I am not sure I buy this argument since it seems very hard to me to see how he could have manipulated this outcome. Others believe that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was taken by surprise by the victory, and realized that any attempt at manipulating the results would have resulted in a renewal of protest and further delegitimizing his rule. The question is what does it mean for the policies of the country; does it mean that Khamenei now recognizes that with 67% voting against his candidates for President he must change course for the country and moderate his positions on a whole range of issues? Is he going to try to skate by just having Rouhani as a front man? We truly cannot answer the question and only time will tell.
Two things however are clear. If Israel was planning to take military action any time soon, that action will be very difficult to justify at the moment. It will also be very difficult to get someone else to act anytime soon, so short term this is probably bad news for Israel. Long term it could be good news. Clearly the overwhelming majority of the Iranian have had enough with the policies of the regime and if there could be truly free elections a non Islamist reformer would undoubtedly have one and Iran would change direction on a whole host of items including their irrational hatred of us. So maybe just maybe this is a sign of a brighter future,
Finally both our Prime Minister and Defense Ministers have been taking the wrong tactic. First their credibility has been undermined by the fact that both stated last week that there results of the election were already known in advance. Then today both dismissed the results, warning the west not to be foolish. Caution is appropriate but the right response would have been more in the direction of what President Peres stated, welcoming the results stating that it was a hopeful sign but then emphasizing that only facts on the ground can change things.
President Obama has made the right decision even if he made it kicking and screaming to start arming the rebels. There is little choice and it’s the minimal response to the crossing of the red line that Assad did. There may be no angels in these fights, although some of the rebels are in it for all the right reasons, but there is a real devil and that is Assad who has been willing to kill 100,000 of his own people. I am not sure why we cannot provide even more lethal weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles. There must be a technical solution to making them inoperable after a certain number of month, or creating a remote kill switch that would ensure that they not fall into terrorist hands.
Yesterday’s announcement of President Morsi of Egypt was also significant since Egypt is now firmly in the anti Assad camp and has called for the US to impose a no fly zone. Hezbollah entry into the war has clearly been the final tranformation of the war into a fully sectatrian battle. Its worth reading an article in the New York Review of Books Syria Inventing a Religious War