Arik Segal
Founder of Conntix, lecturer at IDC Hertzliya

Signals from Tehran ?

Statements by politicians and diplomats are considered to represent  states’ official standpoint on certain issues. This is one of the reasons why decision makers often use obscure rhetoric which allows them to navigate easier in the jungle of political and electoral commitments. In other cases, statesmen who recognize the power of their speech use it to send unequivocal messages. In the first week of September, the newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif published a series of surprising statements on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. While Rohani wished a happy New Year for all Jews (and even used the Hebrew words – Rosh Hashanah), Zarif corresponded to a tweet by saying that “Iran never denied the Holocaust and the person who did that is no longer with us”.

Considering that the language that usually comes from Tehran is in between anti-Semitic to anti-Zionist, it would be natural to assume that words of Rohani and Zarif are fake in their essence and by far in their intention. This interpretation received a boost by a follow up statement made by Fars news agency who announced that the Twits were false  and made by a “fan”. However, both Christiane Amanpour from CNN and journalist Robin Wright “subsequently reported on Twitter that they had separately been in direct contact with Zarif and he confirmed that it is he himself tweeting“.

Skeptics would argue that even if those words are genuine, then they have no real value if they are not demonstrated through a policy change. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed this notion by saying “The Iranian regime will be examined only by its actions, and not by salutations.” Assuming that Israel would respond in such this manner, what could have been the reason for the coordinated Jewish love show from Tehran? a possible explanation is that Israel was not the main target audience for Rohani and Zarif .The two officials who represent the moderate fraction in Iranian politics are trying to overrule the authority of the conservative supreme leader and his proteges (who also control  Fars new agency).By taking the most consensual issue in Iranian politics – the negative rhetoric toward Israel and doing a 180 degrees shift, they mark themselves as being defiant to the regime in the most obvious way.

Nevertheless. supposing that the statements are empty handed and meant to serve an internal Iranian political struggle, they can still play as an opportunity to the Israeli government.  A positive reply from the Israeli government could put Rohani in a difficult spot: he could either show his bluff, then play into the hands of his political rivals, disregard the Israeli statement and then harm his credibility or respond in a way that will unofficially open a channel of communication between Israel and the Iranian regime. If Rohani and Zarif planned to use the Israeli issue for their own political struggle, a creative Israeli communiqué  via social media could have forced them to be put their money where their mouth is. Rohani can always choose to close this channel and deny it, however that will put him in the same place as his predecessor Ahmadinejad, an act which is not beneficial for him.

For decades Israel has been used by Arab rulers as the common enemy to unite different fractions and be blamed for all evils. The new Iranian regime is using a reverse approach which Israel could have used to further breach the revelry between extremists and moderates, or possibly start negotiating with an important segment of the regime – both a win-win situation for Israel . The statements of Ahmadinejad who wanted to “erase Israel from the face of the earth” and frequent  Holocaust denials were well heard in Israel and in many senses shaped the Israeli security perception against Iran. On the same token, Rohani’s statements should not be taken for granted. A leader’s words are a valuable asset that can be used against or for him.

About the Author
Arik Segal is an international mediator and entrepreneur who specializes in the application of technologies in innovative dialogue structures. He established “Conntix” – a consultancy that aims to connect people through innovation and technology. He is a member of the Center for Applied Negotiations at the INSS and serves as the technology and innovation adviser for Mitvim. Arik is a lecturer at IDC Hertzeliya in the courses: innovative conflict resolution, innovative public diplomacy and online political campaigns. He teaches at the Rotary Peace Fellowship and gives guest lectures on international institutions such as Harvard Kennedy School.