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Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum

Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum: Iran after the 2013 Elections

Jerusalem, Israel - The June 14 election in which Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran in a landslide victory was the topic of the Jerusalem Peace and Security Forum on Aug. 8. Held at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the forum met to understand the effect of the election on the future of Iran.

Professor Eliezer Glaubach, the president of the Jerusalem Peace and Security Forum, opened the discussion quoting Albert Einstein: "The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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The chair of the panel, Dr. Eldad Pardo, Iranian scholar and professor in the Department of Islamic and Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University, introduced the first speaker: Mr. Menashe Amir from Israel Radio International, a commentator on Iranian affairs, director of the Persian Web site of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an adviser on Iran to local and international organizations.

Mr. Amir claimed that people in Iran do not believe that elections can lead to a real change in their situation, because Iran is in reality ruled not by the president but rather by the supreme leader. The supreme leader is the head of state and holds the highest political and religious authority. Although he is chosen in democratic elections, he is elected for life, controls all the power, cannot be removed, and does not report to anyone. Iran is thus a dictatorship that is ruled according to Islamic laws. The current supreme leader is Sayyed Ali Khamenei, who has held this position since 1989.

Since this is the way the ruling system works, Mr. Rouhani’s promises to improve Iran’s economic situation cannot be fulfilled, Mr. Amir said. The economic situation in Iran, which has been largely brought about by the U.S. government’s sanctions, is at a critical state: There is serious unemployment; some medicines are not available, and in some areas there is even no bread.

The Iranian president can change the economic situation only through international public relations, Mr. Amir said. Showing Iran's willingness to make agreements and having an open attitude toward the West might encourage the United States to relax the sanctions.

The second speaker was Dr. Menachem Merhavi of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University, who specializes in Iran, Egypt and Iraq.

Dr. Merhavi said he is pessimistic about the new president’s will and ability to make extreme changes in Iran. "In Iran after the revolution there are two systems working in parallel: the regular governmental system and the system of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards,” Dr. Merhavi said, with the latter being the stronger. As for Iran’s nuclear program, he explained that the Iranian leadership views nuclear power as the country's basic right, the same as water and electricity. The only debate among the Iranian people is how to keep its nuclear power without annoying the West.

In his opinion, Dr. Merhavi said, a major change in Iran can come only from the religious leaders, since their authority and legitimacy are higher than those of the government.

Dr. Pardo disagreed with the previous speakers regarding the ability of Mr. Rouhani to lead a change: "Unlike [Supreme Leader] Khamenei (and the Ayatollah Khomeini before him) who places the state before religion, Rouhani, as a religious leader, places Islam before the state. From this aspect, he can make the discussed changes," Dr. Pardo concluded.

Mr. Ran Segev, head of the National Security Doctrine Division in the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs,said that Iran’s economic crisis can be solved only through agreement with the West: "The system is corrupt, and it is impossible to manage an 80 million citizen country with no banking system and foreign currency." The discussion concluded with Professor Glaubach's question if there is any chance for the supreme leader to change his attitude toward the state of Israel. The answer of Mr. Amir was short and clear: "No chance! It is a religious belief, and religious beliefs in Iran are unchangeable."

Additional Participants:

Dr. Itzhak Gerberg, director of the Department of Southern Africa in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Dr. Shelley Elkayam, an Israeli poet and scholar of Kabbalah and religion
Mrs. Yulia Rachinsky-Spivakov, a political analyst in the planning division at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mrs. Miri Kamar, secretary general, UPF-Israel
Mrs. Adi Sasaki, director of the Jerusalem Peace and Security Forum
Dr. Nurit Hirschfeld, director of the Jerusalem Interfaith Forum

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