For weeks, President Rouhani has been quiet as Iran’s military thumped its chest, displayed its missiles, and warned the US that any attack would bring an Iranian retaliation “with no boundaries”, destroying Israel and the American position in the Middle East.
On Saturday, Rouhani’s response to military commanders was far from muted: Back Off.
He told the audience:
It is very important to formulate one’s sentences and speeches in a way that is not construed as threat, intention to strike a blow.
We must be very careful in our calculations. Launching missiles and staging military exercises to scare off the other side is not good deterrence, although a necessity in its proper place. A misfire could burst into flames and wreak havoc to everything.
The statement may have been delivered in Rouhani’s trademark “moderate” tone, but the President has issued his own warning to the Revolutionary Guards. Not only should they desist from statements such as “Iranian Ships Off US Maritime Coast“, they should not make any attempt to disrupt the talks with the 5+1 Powers for a comprehensive nuclear deal.
At those talks in Vienna earlier this month, Tehran agreed with the US and its partners that neither side should engage in hostile rhetoric.
That agreement followed weeks of threats from Iran’s military, using a statement from US Secretary of State John Kerry that “military options were still on the table” if the Islamic Republic did not adhere to the interim nuclear deal. Now the Americans were acknowledging they should keep close watch on the messages put out to a domestic audience, and Rouhani’s negotiators doing the same.
The agreement does not completely shut down the tough talk. For example, the Supreme Leader is continuing to snipe at supposed US dishonesty.
However, it is one matter for Ayatollah Khamenei to issue the political challenge, another for Iran’s military to raise the prospect of armed confrontation.
Rouhani made that clear on Saturday, as he said that Iran would never pursue a nuclear weapon: “Our belief, our faith, our religion and principles tell us not to seek weapons of mass destruction.”
More importantly, he had again told the Guards, who have tried to limit if not sabotage efforts at “engagement” since the President’s election last summer, “I have the support of the Supreme Leader. Don’t forget that.”