New Iran leadership scraps anti-Israeli event

The administration of Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani has cancelled an anti-Israeli conference as part of his outreach to the West and efforts to map out a new diplomatic path for Iran.

The annual event was set up by Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and showcased the former president’s vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric and promoted his anti-Israeli sentiments.

When the conference was first held in 2005, Ahmadinejad made his infamous remark that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” He later suggested that the Holocaust was a “myth.”

Iranian news websites, including, said on Friday that the Foreign Ministry scrapped the gathering in Tehran because it was seen as undermining the government’s policy of “interaction with the outside world.”

Rouhani’s overtures to the West — including the historic exchanges last month at the United Nations — appear to have solid backing from Iran’s top decision-maker, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As long as the supreme leader keeps his support, the backlash from critics cannot seriously reverse Rouhani’s policies of easing tensions with the outside world.

Hard-liners accuse Rouhani of selling out on Iran’s ideological values.

One of the organizers of the anti-Israeli conference, dubbed New Horizon, said the cancellation was a “disaster” and a “big mistake.”

“Cancellation of the anti-Zionist New Horizon festival is a disaster. It was the most powerful anti-Zionist conference in Iran,” website quoted the organizer, Nader Talebzadeh, as saying.

Talebzadeh said 63 foreign scholars and 50 Iranian speakers were expected to address the gathering, which was supposed to have taken place either in late September or early October. He added that he began inviting foreign speakers back in May, when Ahmadinejad was in office.

Rouhani’s short-term goal is seeking to ease Western sanctions as part of negotiations over Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Talks with the U.S. and other world powers are scheduled to resume in Geneva next week, but Iran has not yet given details on what new proposals it would bring.

The West and its allies fear Iran’s ability to make nuclear fuel will eventually lead to weapons-grade material. Iran repeatedly denies it seeks nuclear weapons and says its atomic program is only for energy and medical applications.

Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing Iran’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction, its long-range missile program and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In an apparent message to Iran, the Israeli military said Thursday it had carried out a “special long-range flight exercise” and posted rare footage of the drill online.

The military said its squadrons practiced refueling planes in midair this week and tested the air force’s ability. The accompanying footage shows a tanker plane refueling a fighter jet midair, a key part of any long-range operation.

The release of the video comes just days before Western powers are to open new talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

President Barack Obama disclosed in an interview last Friday that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iran continues to be a year or more away from building a nuclear weapon, in contrast to Israel’s assessment that Tehran is closer.

In recent speeches, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned against letting Iran drag the world along for talks while it continues to pursue a bomb. He’s been on a media blitz of late to warn the West against Rouhani’s softer tone, which he dismissed as a trick aimed at removing crippling economic sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.