Israel should hope Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wins Iran’s upcoming presidential election, Dr. Thamar E. Gindin, a Jerusalem-based Iranian specialist, said Wednesday, hours after Ahmadinejad announced he was defying the wishes of Iran’s supreme leader and registering to run.
In September, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was reported to have asked the former president – known for his threats against Israel and the United States and for his Holocaust denial – not to launch a campaign for reelection. At the time, said Gindin, who teaches at Shalem College in Jerusalem, Ahmadinejad said he was retiring from politics. But on Wednesday he made clear he was mounting a comeback.
Asked why Israel should hope for the victory of a man who pursued nuclear arms and who urged its destruction, Gindin replied, “because he is crazy, and the world knows he is crazy, and it makes us look good.”
According to Gindin, Ahmadinejad was a good foil for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But since his term expired in 2013 and Hassan Rouhani took over as president, “Netanyahu is losing all the time, because they [the Iranians] are playing like real diplomats.”
Rouhani, with whom the US brokered the 2015 nuclear deal that significantly relieved Iran’s isolation and delayed the country’s nuclear program for 10-15 years, “can say things that mean one thing for Iranians, and another for Westerners,” she said. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, never did that.
Just because Ahmadinejad officially registered to run, however, does not mean he will be allowed to do so. Of the hundreds of people who will register by next week’s deadline, Iran’s 12-member Grand Council will weed out all but six or eight candidates, and it is clear that those candidates will not pose a threat to the regime.
“Ahmadinejad left after him a broken and crushed Iran suffering from problematic relations with the world and a deep economic crisis because of the sanctions imposed on the country because of his nuclear policy,” she said. “Because of this, as well as Khamenei’s declaration that he will not support him in the election, it appears that Ahmadinejad’s real chances of being reelected in the May elections are slim.”
Nevertheless, under the Iranian constitution, a candidate can run after serving two terms if he waits four years in the interim. Ahmadinejad won the election in 2005, and again in 2009, in an election that many Iranians thought was rigged, bringing masses into the streets in protests that were put down violently by the regime.
The next election is scheduled for May 19.
Ahmadinejad has been preparing the ground for a return for some time since leaving office, speaking at mosques, universities, funerals and public events. Gindin said that he has retained popularity in certain parts of the country, particularly in the villages.
Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office had any comment on this internal Iranian development.
Khamenei ultimately calls the shots in Iran, where the president can only influence policy, but not dictate it.
A former officer of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ahmadinejad relies on Iran’s devout poor, who felt neglected by past governments and helped sweep him to power in 2005.
Rouhani, who is expected to seek reelection, and his allies have criticized Ahmadinejad’s free-spending policies for fueling inflation and accuse him of wasting oil revenues.
Ahmadinejad’s critics say his fiery anti-Western talk helped isolate Iran diplomatically. During his term, the UN Security Council imposed three sets of sanctions on the country over its nuclear program.