Rafsanjani Says Iran ‘Not at War With Israel’

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Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani spoke to reporters yesterday at the Expediency Council building. The Expediency Council is an advisory body which he heads. Rafsanjani spoke about Iran’s foreign policy and relation to Israel, his predictions about Iran’s current crisis and his potential candidacy.

Rafsanjani said Iran needs to “repair its foreign policy.” He added, “We are not at war with Israel,” though he elaborated “if the Arab countries are at war with them, we’ll help them.” Iranian authorities have said they would accept agreements the Palestinians make with Israel but have also said that they would support any group that fights them.

The hard-line Raja News website responded harshly to Rafsanjani’s statements on Israel. They wrote, somewhat sarcastically, that “it doesn’t appear that Hashemi, who accompanied and wrote the historiography of Ayatollah Khomeini, has forgotten his (Khomeini’s) approach towards the fake Israeli regime, as Khomeini said toward his regime ‘Israel must be erased from the scene.’” In fact, the title of the article compares the two statements by presenting Khomeini’s comments on top, with Rafsanjani’s on bottom.

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Raja also added: “Yet, maybe these statements from Hashemi are not that unexpected due to this support of those who chanted ‘neither Gaza nor Lebanon’ during the 2009 sedition.” The chant “neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran” became popular during the 2009 postelection protests. It is criticism aimed at the Iranian government’s support and attention toward Hezbollah and Hamas in favor of Iranian domestic issues.

Rafsanjani also highlighted his approach to foreign policy when he had considerably more influence in the first decade of the revolution. “During the war it was my recommendation to accept the resolution to end the war,” he said. It’s believed that it was Rafsanjani who persuaded Ayatollah Khomeini to accept the UN cease-fire with Iraq which ended one of the deadliest wars of the 20th century.

Although he was the parliament speaker during the war years he was a close confidant and adviser to Khomeini. Some hard-liners in Iran have criticized Rafsanjani for his advice to Khomeini to end the war.

Rafsanjani appeared to be answering his critics when he said that “if the resolution wasn’t signed Tabriz, Tehran, and Esfahan (three of Iran’s largest cities) would have been attacked with chemical weapons from airplanes borrowed from France and Russia and we would have had many casualties.”

He also highlighted his actions when he was president and Saddam attacked Kuwait. “After Saddam invaded Kuwait some gentlemen said let’s go support Saddam. But we didn’t support Saddam and we even accepted Kuwaiti refugees and the world trusted us and the sanctions were lifted,” he said.

Rafsanjani also said that in 2008 he spoke with a commission that approached him to address his problems with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He said he “spoke for 2½ hours where he listed all the problems of yesterday, today and tomorrow.” He claimed that these meetings were taped but he will not reveal them for the sake of “unity.”

As far as the presidential elections, Rafsanjani said: “There is no need for me to run. Of course I’m not saying I’m not running. But I’m saying it’s not necessary for an 80 year old man to run.”

Iran’s FM: Until the Next Elections Assad is the President of Syria

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in a Tehran press conference with Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, said Sunday that “Syria, like all other governments, has a legal president that has come [chosen] from the people. And the people of Syria, like all other countries in the world, choose their own president, and until the next elections, the president is Bashar Assad.” Al-Monitor’s Week in Review originally covered this story.

Salehi continued that in the next elections “everyone should be free to present their own candidate.” He stressed that “this is the official position of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He also suggested that Assad like all others can participate in Syria’s next presidential elections in 2014.

Salehi defended Assad’s crackdown, which has left more than 70,000 dead, by saying that “we cannot ask Syria to lay down their arms while rebels do as they want.”

Salehi described Iran-Syria relations as “deep and bright” and said that Iran “will never forget the support of Syria during the imposed war,” in a reference to the eight-year Iran-Iraq that began when Iraq’s troops invaded Iran in 1980. Syria was the only Arab country to support Iran while Arab states in the Persian Gulf and North Africa financially and logistically supported Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war is also known as “The Sacred Defense.”

Interestingly, Salehi described Syria’s current situation also as an “imposed crisis.” However, he added that Iran has always emphasized that Syria’s government “must be answerable to the demands of the nation by realizing the demands of its citizens.”

Iran has invested heavily to support Assad in Syria’s civil war, both financially and military. On Feb. 14 Hassan Shateri, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, was killed. Surprisingly, Salehi’s statements received scant coverage in Iranian media. As the Iranian economy continues to struggle, the Islamic Republic’s support of Assad has become increasingly unpopular at home.

In Other News

A new wave of raids of took place yesterday when security forces entered the offices of three publications. The Director, Mohammad Mehdi Imami Naseri, and Political Editor, Alireza Aghaeirad, from Maghreb newspaper were both arrested.

Upon news of the raids, several websites inside Iran had reported that three publications, the monthly Mehrnameh, the weekly Aseman and Tajrobeh, were shut down. All publications are known to be close to the Reformists. However, the editor of Mehranmeh, Mohammad Ghoochani, said that, “until this moment he had not received any letters from either the Press Supervisory Body or the Prosecutor’s” to shut down operations. However, it has been reported that the editors of the three publications had been “recommended” to shut down operations.

No reasons for the arrests of the Maghreb employees was given. However, editor of Maghreb wrote that the journalist were arrested “one day after publishing a letter by Mohammad Khatami.” Khatami is the former Reformist president of Iran who still has popular support among Reformists. Many believe these waves of arrests of journalists are meant to sideline Reformists before the upcoming presidential elections in Iran.

March 5 to March 12 in Iran is known as “Natural Resource Week.” The first day of this week has been designated “National Tree Planting Day.” Political leaders in Iran from the Supreme Leader to the president to the mayor, accompanied by the press, planted trees and stressed the importance of the environment on Tuesday.

After the tree planting ceremony Ayatollah Khamenei addressed in his speech the concerning level of deforestation in Iran. “The complaint I have with the political leaders,” he said, “at times, hundreds of trees that should not be cut down are cut down.” He also addressed the alarming trend in Iran of confiscation of “green” land on the outskirts of large cities that are converted to “concrete and high-rise towers.”

Due to the high rate of urbanization of Iran’s cities, land on the outskirts have been confiscated, sometimes through back-door dealings, and has made investors with connections to the government quite wealthy.