Iran's propaganda war against Israel....
Amir Taheri used to edit a large daily newspaper in Iran...
Over the past three years, Iran’s Khomeinist regime has succeeded in changing the traditional perception of Israel. Instead of Israel being the almost invincible enemy that crushed the Arabs in the Yom Kippur War and the Six Day War, it is now portrayed as a waning power, a small and vulnerable enclave that, having lost the support of its powerful protector, the United States, is facing the might of a resurgent Muslim world under Tehran’s leadership.
This message is pumped out through Iranian satellite television stations, such as the Arab language al-Alam News Network. Tehran also publishes scores of magazines and books that are freely distributed throughout the Muslim world. Muslim opinion-formers are regularly invited to Iran for seminars on the pan- Islamic campaign to accelerate “the inevitable end of Israel”, a phrase repeatedly used by Iran’s official media. Mr Ahmadinejad has visited more than two dozen Muslim countries to propagate this new anti-Israel strategy.
To underline this new image of Israel, the Tehran propaganda machine has replaced footage of poor Palestinians crushed by “Zionists” with that of the growing arsenal of rockets that Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza have built up for what President Ahmadinejad calls “the final assault on the Zionist state”. The Jew, previously depicted as aggressive and domineering, is presented as cowardly. The mullahs in Friday sermons in Iran now claim such things as “the Jew runs away at the first sight of blood”.
The Tehran regime’s mouthpieces in the media and universities emphasise the cooling of US-Israel relations under Barack Obama and insist that Washington has realised that its support for Israel has become too costly. Perhaps the most recent significant diplomatic success scored by Tehran came last month when a UN conference called by President Obama to set the world on the road to nuclear disarmament failed to call on Iran to stop its nuclear programme. Instead, it called for a nuclear-free Middle East, thus linking Israel’s reported nucear weapons to Iran’s controversial programme.
Tehran has succeeded in dragging non-Arab states, notably Turkey, a former ally of Israel, and Malaysia into conflict with Israel, and is working on others, especially Pakistan and Indonesia, in the hope of creating a pan-Islamic front. The Turkish Prime Minister visited Iran last month to seal a nuclear deal.
Tehran has other reasons to be happy with its strategy of confrontation. It has ended the Israeli-Syrian peace talks by threatening to withdraw its substantial economic support for President Assad’s increasingly fragile regime. Tehran’s bullying has also forced Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates to stop normalising relations with Israel.
Egypt’s decision last week to lift its blockade of Gaza is presented by Tehran as another example of how Muslim public opinion could achieve “victories against the Zionist enemy”. Tehran’s immediate goal is to appear as leading the international campaign to lift the Israeli blockade which, if it happens, will be presented as another sign that the tide of history is turning against the Jewish state. Assuming a high profile in the conflict with Israel has three key advantages. First, it helps divert attention from the Khomeinist regime’s domestic problems. Next week, opposition parties plan mass demonstrations calling for an end to what they describe as “despotic rule”. The regime hopes that images of its flotilla of jihad defying the “Zionist enemy” would present the opposition as “enemies of the resurgent Islam”.
Next, the “end of Israel” campaign would help the majority of Muslims, who are Sunni, to forget that Iran is a mainly Shia and thus heretic nation that is not qualified to claim the leadership of the umma.
Finally, Tehran’s strategy will enable it to present any military clash with the US, over Iraq for example, as a consequence of the Islamic Republic’s campaign against Israel rather than because of its deliberately provocative and adventurist foreign policy.
Believing that its potential adversaries are weak and indecisive, the Khomeinist regime appears determined to push the region to the edge of war and, perhaps, beyond.