Israel challenged by Iran charm offensive: Analysts

Israel challenged by Iran charm offensive: Analysts
Iran president Hassan Rowhani (above)

JERUSALEM - As Iran's new president reaches out to the West with a message of moderation, Israel's hawkish approach on Tehran's nuclear programme looks likely to come under pressure, experts say.

President Hassan Rowhani on Tuesday emphasised the peaceful nature of the Islamic republic's atomic programme, telling the UN General Assembly that "nuclear weapons... have no place in Iran's security and defence doctrine."

Israel scrambled to denounce the speech, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it "cynical" and "full of hypocrisy".

"This is exactly Iran's strategy - to talk and play for time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons. Rowhani knows this well," charged Netanyahu.

But Rowhani's diplomatic overtures, which stand in stark contrast to the belligerent statements so commonly heard from his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are proving to be quite a challenge to the Israeli premier.

"For the past eight years, Israel's efforts to convince the world... to tackle Iran's nuclear designs head on relied on... adamant, Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad," commentator Chemi Shalevan wrote in Haaretz newspaper.

"Ahmadinejad... served as Israel's number one talking point, its strategic propaganda asset, a poster boy who self-explained Tehran's sinister designs."

Rowhani's message is a "real diplomatic challenge for Israel," Professor Uzi Rabi, an Iran specialist at Tel Aviv University, told AFP.

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