Israelis reacted with a mixture of pleasant surprise and wary scepticism on Friday to reports that the new Iranian president and his foreign minister had both issued greetings to mark the Jewish New Year.
Relations between the two countries have been dire for years, with Israel threatening to attack the Islamic Republic over fears it is planning to build nuclear weapons that could one day jeopardise the survival of the Jewish state.
Iran denies it wants an atomic bomb, but former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who left office last month, regularly riled Israel by calling for the destruction of the “Zionist entity”.
In a change of tone, his successor Hassan Rouhani and the new foreign minister, Javad Zarif, appeared to issue tweets in English wishing Jews a good Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish new year that is being celebrated this week. Iran has long declared an official respect for the Jewish faith while condemning Israel.
“Happy Rosh Hashanah,” tweeted Zarif on a profile that notes his career as a diplomat, academic and “Uni of Denver alum”.
The reported greetings came just as Israel was settling into a long holiday weekend and there was no official reaction.
Ordinary Israelis were torn about their meaning.
“Gosh I hadn’t heard about that, but I think it’s very nice of him,” said Julia Blus, 25, who works at an amusement park at Manara Cliffs. Next to the Lebanese border, it overlooks hostile territory controlled by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia.
By contrast, Roni Benjamin, 66, a bank executive from Kfar Saba in central Israel, said: “It doesn’t mean anything; I don’t see any real change there … What (Rouhani) really needs to do is to understand that we are not his enemies.”
Rouhani’s election in June has encouraged speculation of a more conciliatory approach to foreign affairs from Tehran, though the president’s power is heavily circumscribed by the clerical hierarchy and Israel’s government remains very wary.