As the Iranian protests continue, one of the signs of just how serious the protesters are is what they are chanting in public about their government:
“Death to Dictator” “Death to Rouhani” “Death to Khamenei” and “Reza Shah, Bless Your Soul”.
Clearly, the extent of the anger of the protesters goes beyond removing an individual leader — some want a complete change in government that would return Iran to the way things were before Khomeini and the Islamic revolution.
Here is another anti-government chant opposing Iranian machinations outside of the country:
Dec 30 – #Kermanshah, #Iran
People chanting “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My life for Iran”#IranProtests #???????_?????? pic.twitter.com/UBRKWnt0Ds
— Heshmat Alavi (@HeshmatAlavi) December 30, 2017
This was tweeted by Heshmat Alavi, a political and human rights activist who has written for Forbes, The Hill, The Daily Caller and Gatestone Institute.
While “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My life for Iran” is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Israel, it does illustrate less than enthusiastic support for the Palestinian Arabs in general, and Hamas terror attacks in particular.
But that in itself is not really anything new.
In 2009, Iranian-born conservative author Amir Taheri wrote in his book The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution:
Since [the crushing of the protest in] 1999, Iran has witnessed countless student demonstrations and protests. In hundreds of resolutions passed during mass gatherings, students have challenged virtually every aspect of the Khomeinist ideology and the regime’s domestic and foreign policies. One typical resolution passed repeatedly states that the people of Iran do not desire the destruction of Israel and do seek close and friendly relations with the United States. Every year in July, students mark the anniversary of the 1999 events. On October 8, 2007, students in Tehran greeted Ahmadinejad with cries of “Down with the Dictator” and “Forget about Palestine! Think about Us,” forcing him to run away briefly with the help of his bodyguards. [emphasis added]
Four years earlier, in 2005, The New York Times reported that Iran’s hard line on Israel was not unanimous:
Beset by practical concerns such as double-digit inflation and unemployment, Iran’s youthful population is well aware of the fact that the ideological hubris of their parents’ generation – often a half-baked hodgepodge of anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, Islamism, and Marxism – has borne the country little fruit apart from a soiled international reputation and political and economic isolation. During the 2003 summer student protests, one popular slogan, delivered in lilting Persian, was “forget about Palestine, think about us!” [emphasis added]
The article was written by Karim Sadjadpour, currently an Iranian-American policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment and Ray Takeyh, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Sadjadpour and Takeyh go on to write:
There exists no inherent reason why the Israeli-Palestinian struggle should be an overriding concern to the average Iranian. Iran has no territorial disputes with Israel, no Palestinian refugee problem, a long history of contentious relations with the Arab world, and an even longer history of tolerance vis-a?-vis the Jewish people. To this day, the Jewish community in Iran is the largest in the Middle East outside of Israel.
Ironically, in 2005 this article was claiming that based on the troubled relationship between Iran and the Arab world, it was Iran — not the Saudis — that should have been drawn into an alliance with Israel.
They summarized the position that Iran need not be so supportive of the Palestinian Arabs in the words of one reformist leader that:
“We shouldn’t be chanting ‘death to Israel’; we should be saying ‘long live Palestine.’ We needn’t be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.”
Clearly, things have not worked out that way so far — this despite the fact that 2 years earlier, in 2003, an article in The New Republic and republished in The Jewish World Review was saying the same thing and was asking Is Iran rethinking its position on Israel? It suggested that
though the West still thinks of Iran as a cauldron of anti-Israel passion, a new generation of pro-democracy Iranians increasingly speaks out against the government’s seeming obsession with the Palestinians.
From the way the article describes it, even “conservatives” in the Iranian government were apparently seeing the light. You would expect a very different situation from the one currently going on during the past few days.
The article examines why things were potentially so promising:
several senior conservatives have quietly joined the chorus, hinting that Iran’s support for terrorist groups opposed to Israel is negotiable. According to one senior conservative official, “Iran’s policy in the Middle East and the peace process is not beyond the realm of possibilities that can be discussed, given a dialogue with the United States.” Translation from Islamic Republic-speak: We can talk turkey on Israel/Palestine. Sadeq Zibakalam, a Tehran University professor with close ties to conservative officials, underscored this view earlier this year, when he told the U.S.-funded Radio Farda Persian service that Iran understands Washington’s concerns about Tehran’s support for Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. President Mohammed Khatami, a reformer who has long argued that Iran should not interfere in any agreements made between Israel and the Palestinians, is unlikely to quibble with the conservatives.
So what happened?
While Mohammed Khatami, the reformer, was president in 2003, by 2005 a new president was elected: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — and the rest is history.
|Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Credit: Farzad Khorasani Source: Wikimedia Commons|
While he did not single-handedly stem the supposedly growing tide of reform, Ahmadinejad did represent the interests of the hard-liners.
For now, it is impossible to say whether the current protests will be put down and crushed as were the student protests in 1999 and the election protests in 2009. Even if successful, they are not about to change Iran overnight into a friend of Israel reminiscent of the reign of the Shah of Iran. Instead, it has been suggested that the current unrest will keep the government occupied and reduce the possibility of conflict between the two countries, especially along the Syrian border, at least for a while.
But beyond that, the idea that Iranian animosity towards Israel is not hardwired, may perhaps hold promise for some point in the forseeable future.