The editor of Iran’s most prominent hardline newspaper says President Hassan Rouhani’s “submissiveness” and campaign rhetoric have emboldened the United States and its Arab allies to threaten a military attack against the Islamic Republic. “Mr. Rouhani’s government gifted the [Iranian] nation the shadow of war on the first day of being reelected the president of Iran,” said Hossein Shariatmadari, who is appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei the editor of Kayhan newspaper. In an interview with Fars News Agency, an outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), Shariatmadari said Rouhani’s “attacks” against the I.R.G.C. and other regime authorities during the campaign are the reason for anti-Iran remarks by Washington and its regional allies at the Riyadh Summit.

 

“Contrary to Mr. Rouhani’s loud claim that he has removed the shadow over our country, the Riyadh summit with the agenda of creating an Arab NATO and selling $110 billion of military equipment indicate that the 11th administration’s submissiveness has not only sharpened America’s teeth to attack our country, but has also emboldened dilapidated Arab states – which lacked the courage to even imagine about a military confrontation with Iran before the 11th government came to power and exhibited weakness to foreign enemies – to such an extent that they openly talk about the establishment of an Arab NATO to militarily confront Iran.”

Comment: To galvanize his disillusioned reformist base, Rouhani went on the offensive in the last days of campaign season and criticized the Revolutionary Guards' for attempting to scuttle the nuclear agreement. On the campaign trail, Rouhani also repeatedly reminded Iranian voters that the landmark nuclear deal he signed with the United States and five other world powers in 2015 had reduced the possibility of a military attack against Iran. He was also telling voters that continued engagement with the West would benefit Iran economically as it would further open up Iran to foreign investment. That message apparently resonated with the Iranian voters and helped Rouhani secure a second term.

But the president’s hardline rivals were saying that despite Rouhani’s nuclear deal, international banks and companies were still reluctant to do business with Iran because of remaining non-nuclear sanctions. They also rejected Rouhani’s argument that the nuclear accord had defused tension with Washington – citing the Trump administration’s tougher policies vis-à-vis Tehran.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, also weighed in and rejected Rouhani’s claim. “Sometimes we hear and have heard in the past that certain individuals say, ‘when we came along and assumed responsibility, we managed to take away the shadow of war over the country,’” Khamenei said at an event marking the International Workers’ Day. “No. These statements are not right. It is the presence of the people that has removed the shadow of war, and not the authorities,” he said in a speech. “When you see that the impertinent and bull-necked enemies are refraining from taking any harsh action against the Islamic Republic, it is because of the presence of the people. They fear the people. They are literally afraid.” 

Although the election is now over, Rouhani’s conservative opponents appear to be continuing to use the Trump administration’s tougher Iran policy to undermine the president's claim that engagement with the West benefits Iran’s security and economy.