Eleven years ago, a middle-aged, up-and-coming Iranian cleric sat down for a rare interview with ABC News. Though largely unknown to the West at the time, the bespectacled mullah served as chairman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and was a key adviser to the Iranian president.
Despite knowing that he was appearing before a Western audience, the turbaned official made little effort to hide his uncompromising and extremist views. When asked why then-US President George W. Bush had included Iran as part of the "axis of evil," for example, the partisan Persian did not hesitate to invoke an anti-Semitic canard, blaming the Jews for America's policy.
"After September 11," he said, "the hardliners, especially the Zionist lobby, became more active and, unfortunately, influenced Mr. Bush."
A few minutes later, perhaps concerned that he had not gotten his point across, he went out of his way to reiterate that, "What we really see in the decision-making is the influence of the Zionist lobby. They are very influential in the administration as well as with members of Congress."
The man who uttered those hateful words is none other than Hassan Rohani, the new president-elect of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yes, that Hassan Rohani, the same one that much of the Western media is attempting to portray as a judicious and reasonable man.
"Moderate Wins Iran's Presidential Election," crowed National Public Radio. "Rohani an Advocate of Peace," insisted The Australian.
But don't let the screaming headlines fool you. The assertion that Rohani is a moderate is absolute hogwash, marinated in self-delusion and garnished with sheer ignorance. Sure, when compared with outgoing nutcase Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rohani is relatively restrained. But that's like saying Attila the Hun was a moderate when measured up against Genghis Khan.
In other words, it is a distinction without a difference.
Rohani has spent more than two decades as part of Iran's national security apparatus, which has used violence and terror at home and abroad to preserve the rule of the ayatollahs. From 2003 to 2005, as Teheran's chief nuclear negotiator, his task was to dither, delay and dissemble in talks with the West while Iran's nuclear scientists advanced toward the atomic finish line. And for the past eight years, Rohani was one of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's two personal representatives on Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
His record is one of slavish loyalty to the thuggish theocracy that was installed after the downfall of the Shah in 1979, and there is simply no reason whatsoever to think that this close confidante of Khamenei will suddenly become an Iranian F.W. De Klerk or Mikhail Gorbachev.
Indeed, if Rohani's public statements are any indication, Iran's hostile stance appears certain to continue.
In the ABC interview that he gave in September 2002, Rohani justified Palestinian suicide bombers, saying that, "Palestinians can use any means to kick out the occupier." He defended Hezbollah as "a legitimate political group," called Israel "a terrorist nation" and refused to condemn the March 2002 Passover Massacre, when a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up at a Passover Seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya, murdering 30 Israelis and wounding 140 others.
More recently, in a meeting with the Turkish ambassador on January 11, 2012, Rohani came to the defense of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, even as the latter was busy slaughtering his fellow citizens.
"Syria has constantly been on the frontline of fighting Zionism and this resistance line must not be weakened," Rohani was quoted as saying by the Iranian and Syrian press. "Syria," he added, "has a particular position in the region and in the past 60 years has formed the resistance line against the Zionist regime."
And if you thought that the race for the presidency might serve to soften his views, think again. In an interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat last week, Rohani denounced what he called Israel's "inhuman policies and practices in Palestine and the Middle East."
To be sure, Rohani has been making noises about reforming Iran's economy and loosening the regime's stifling grip on the Iranian people. But while his election to the presidency does constitute a change of faces, it hardly signals a change in policy.
The departure of Ahmadinejad from the scene is certainly welcome news, and few will miss his rancorous and vitriolic anti-Semitic and anti-Western tirades.
But the results of Iran's presidential balloting are hardly a reason to celebrate. Iran may have a relatively more moderate fanatic-in-chief in the form of Hassan Rohani, but a fanatic he most assuredly is.