There was nothing more effective on the world stage to bolster Israel’s argument on the dangers of Iran than the belligerency of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A man known for vitriolic outbursts, Ahmadinejad provided the Israelis with the very fodder that was used against him by his occasional confrontational stance.

But there’s a new player on the scene today in Iran in the form of the recently elected President, Hassan Rouhani. And so far he seems to be saying the right things. In his speech at the UN General Assembly, Rouhani took the initiative by offering negotiations with the US and other world powers over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme,” he emphasised, adding that Iran “is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and the removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency”.

His was not a speech filled with the hateful rhetoric of his predecessor. Instead, it was rational and moderate. Declaring that “the world is tired of war”, Rouhani stated that “peace was within reach”. He also believes that if the US government holds firm against the influence of those promoting wars in the region, then the two countries “can arrive at a framework to manage our differences”.

In a sharp departure from Ahmadinejad, who on several occasions had dismissed the holocaust as a myth, Rouhani condemned the tragedy, calling it a “crime” in reference to the killing of Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War.

During an interview on CNN, Rouhani said: “I’ve said before that I am not a historian, and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect … But, in general, I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed against the Jews as well as non-Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn.”

Rouhani added that the Holocaust did not legitimise the occupation of Palestine by Israel. “On the other hand, this does not mean that you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, so that group can usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned”.

Addressing the inaugural meeting of a UN forum on nuclear disarmament on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, an organisation of developing countries, Rouhani said that a worldwide disarmament of nuclear weapons should be “our highest priority”.

He also called on Israel be a signatory to the international treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons. “The only country in the region which is not a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel should join it without further delay … Accordingly all nuclear activities in the region should be subject to the comprehensive safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Authority,” Rouhani said.

Israel remains the only Middle Eastern country that has not signed the milestone 1979 treaty.

All these overtures have been met positively by western leaders who sense a change in the air. In direct talks involving the foreign Ministers of the superpowers, the US and European diplomats sensed a ‘significant shift’ in Iran’s stance towards working towards a resolution on its disputed nuclear activities. Iran also added that it was keen to dismiss the belief that it is working on building nuclear weapons and wants to get debilitating international sanctions lifted of its back as soon as possible.

The Israelis however do not like such a dramatic shift. Without a belligerent Iran, there is no one to hang their message of doom prophecy on and demand increased military and financial aid from the West. For them, peaceful overtures are spiteful. So despised that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israeli delegation to walkout of the UN Assembly before Rouhani even had reached the podium to deliver his speech.

And even before Rouhani delivered his talk, Netanyahu was busy in Israel warning all who were willing to listen, “We will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smoke screen for Iran’s continual pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the world should not be fooled, either.”

And even after the primarily conciliatory speech by the Iranian president, the Israelis were not relenting. Israeli Minister for Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz insulted the intelligence of the world gathering by calling Rouhani’s talk as a “game of deception”, an art mastered by none other than the Israelis themselves in their game of occupation.

Perhaps, one Israeli politician was right when he said that Netanyahu’s instruction to Israeli delegates to walk out was a “mistake as it would give the impression that Israel was not interested in encouraging a peaceful solution to Iran’s suspect nuclear programme”. It was not a mistake, but a true reflection of the Israeli leadership.

For the government of Netanyahu, nothing could be a worse nightmare today than an Iran committed to peace. In the turbulence of today in the region, Netanyahu is reaping a fine harvest as his government policy of illegal occupation measures against the rightful ownership of lands of the Palestinians continue, and their people become quickly boxed in into scattered pockets of refugee camps. With the world’s attention on a belligerent Iran, he has managed to pursue his vision of a greater Israel unchallenged.

And towards that goal, Rouhani’s offer is not an olive branch, but a thorny one.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. Follow him on Twitter at