Each year since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian regime marks international Jerusalem (Quds) Day on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. As in previous years, the Iranian leadership called for the destruction of Israel and of “world Zionism,” as demonstrating masses shouted: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” during rallies and addresses by the leadership.
For Shia Iran, the struggle against Israel and its Western allies is almost its sole common denominator with most of the Sunni Arab domain. Now, with the rise of Islamist regimes – especially in Egypt, which Iran views as having broken the taboo on peace accommodations with Israel – Iran is making enhanced use of the Palestinian issue and denial of Israel’s right to exist, in order to win the hearts and minds of Muslims across the Middle East and beyond.
From Iran’s standpoint, the Arab Spring – or Islamic Awakening as Iran terms it – has revalidated Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision, and Iran feels great confidence in the righteousness of its approach, which it sees as part of a broader historical course of divine intervention. The gathering of more than 100 non-aligned nations in Tehran this week together with the participation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the newly elected Egyptian president – despite U.S. efforts to prevent it – further strengthens Iran’s belief in the triumph of its alternative Islamic revolutionary vision of the new world order.
The current leaders of Iran also associate Khomeini’s vision with repeated successes in the national and regional arenas: the nuclear program that keeps advancing despite the West’s and Israel’s efforts to stymie it, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, Hizbullah’s “victory” against Israel in the Second Lebanon War, the Palestinians’ firm stance in the subsequent Gaza War, and the Islamic Awakening, which Iran appropriates to itself.
It is believed that, like the fulfillment of Khomeini’s prophecies about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Saddam, his prophecy of Israel’s destruction will also be realized and the mission is in Iran’s hands.
The Iranian leadership’s virulent anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, much in evidence before and during Jerusalem Day on Aug. 17, in fact recycles the original slogans of Khomeini’s revolution, recalibrated to the Islamic mood now prevalent in the Middle East. In this context, Iranian spokesmen claim that the Syrian crisis is not part of the Islamic Awakening but an attempt by the West to strike at one of the main strongholds of the anti-Israel and anti-U.S. struggle.
Iran’s Crusade to Remove the West from the World of Islam
Each year the Iranian regime marks international Jerusalem (Quds) Day on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. This event, which has been held since a 1979 decision by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian government, is aimed at expressing Islamic Iran’s ongoing support for the Palestinian issue and the “liberation of Jerusalem,” which it calls “the important and central problem of the Muslim world.” It is on this day that Iranian incitement against Israel and calls for its destruction reach their peak.
On August 17, 2012, Jerusalem Day was marked by events staged all over Iran with the regime’s encouragement, and in the Muslim Arab world as well. As in previous years, the Iranian leadership (the Supreme Leader, the president, members of the government, and heads of the army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – IRGC) called for the destruction of Israel and of “world Zionism.” Demonstrating masses shouted slogans of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Outside Iran, as every year, the day was also celebrated in Lebanon under the stewardship of Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, who echoed his patrons with a sally of anti-Israel threats and boasts.
Khomeini’s doctrine (“the destruction of Zionism is almost a necessary condition for solving the problems of Islam in our time”) continues to guide the second generation of the revolution, a sort of delusional preoccupation about which there can be no deviation, questioning, or disagreement, and that one must constantly and actively strive to fulfill. This doctrine does not view the struggle against Israel as a separate matter but as part of the ongoing battle between the West, which, Iran asserts, “planted” the “Zionist entity” in the heart of the Muslim world, and the world of Islam.
Revalidating Khomeini’s Doctrine
From Iran’s standpoint, Jerusalem Day has grown even more important since the outbreak of the Arab Spring – or Islamic Awakening as Iran calls it. The Islamic renaissance in the Middle East has revalidated Khomeini’s vision. Along with the numerous challenges it poses for Iran, the Islamic Awakening enables Iran to highlight, especially on international Jerusalem Day, the Islamic fundaments that it shares with most of the mostly Sunni Arab world. On previous Jerusalem Days, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared to the leaders of the moderate Arab states: “If you are brave enough, do not place a stumbling block before your nations…allow them to be free…they are capable of erasing the Zionist regime from the annals of time.”1
Over the years the Iranian leadership has exhorted the “Arab peoples” to oppose those of their pro-Western corrupt rulers who are prepared to compromise with Israel while abandoning the Palestinians and the path of resistance. Now, when that vision is materializing, Iran feels great confidence in the righteousness of its approach, which it sees as part of a broader historical course of divine intervention. Khomeini’s activist and unique interpretation of Shia Islam, and the revolution in Shiism that he instigated, have been revalidated especially for the current leaders of Iran (and particularly Ahmadinejad with his messianic notions). They associate Khomeini’s vision with successes in the national arena (the nuclear program that keeps advancing despite the West’s and Israel’s efforts to stymie it, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, Hizbullah’s “victory” against Israel in the Second Lebanon War, the Palestinians’ firm stance in the subsequent Gaza War, and the Islamic Awakening, which Iran appropriates to itself) and in the religious arena (involving divine intervention), and this strengthens their faith and resolve. It is believed that, like the fulfillment of Khomeini’s prophecies about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Saddam, his prophecy of Israel’s destruction will also be realized and the mission is in Iran’s hands.
The Iranian leadership’s virulent anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, much in evidence before and during Jerusalem Day, in fact recycles the original revolutionary slogans of Khomeini’s revolution, recalibrated to the Islamic mood now prevalent in the Middle East. The leadership also links these slogans to the newly emergent geostrategic reality in the region and the world, and to Iran’s basic mindset of hostility and suspicion toward the West (particularly the United States and Britain) and Israel. In this context, various Iranian spokesmen have claimed that the Syrian crisis is not part of the Arab Spring (Islamic Awakening), but an attempt by the West to strike at one of the main strongholds of the anti-Israel struggle.
Negating the existence of Israel (the “Zionist regime,” the “Al-Quds-occupying regime”) allows Iran to demonstrate an activist approach to the Palestinian problem. For Shia Iran, the struggle against Israel and its Western allies is almost its sole common denominator with most of the Sunni Arab domain, enabling it to bridge the religious-ethnic gaps (Arabs-Persians, Sunnis-Shia) to a certain extent and reach Muslim hearts and minds. Now, with the rapid change in regional conditions and the rise of Islamist regimes – especially in Egypt, which Iran views as having broken the taboo on peace accommodations with Israel – Iran is making enhanced use of the Palestinian issue and the denial of Israel’s right to exist.
An Arab-Islamic Protective Sheath
For Iran, Israel’s ongoing domestic debate over attacking its nuclear program underlines the need to broaden its Arab-Muslim protective sheath beyond Hizbullah and the Palestinian terror organizations, which Iran views as its first line of defense. The meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries in Tehran (August 26-31) provides Iran with a convenient platform to both promote this goal and portray itself as the rightful leader of the new regional-global system, both militarily and economically. It also serves as a golden opportunity to mock sanctions and claims that Iran is isolated.
The Palestinian issue, along with the loathing of Israel and the West, is Iran’s main means for building this regional and international protective sheath, and for presenting itself as the leader of resistance to the West and the order it tries to impose on the region and the world, while seeking to create a new world order. Iran considers that its progress toward the bomb will afford it immunity and even put it on the playing field of the major powers with their nuclear weapons, military, economic, and ideological resources, and ability to influence regional and international developments.
Khamenei: Removal of the Zionist Regime
On this year’s Jerusalem Day, as in the past, the statements of Iran’s top political and security officials were laced with blatant anti-Semitism. Almost all of them called for the destruction of the “Zionist entity,” which they characterized as a “cancerous cell,” “abnormal growth,” “microbe,” and the like.
On the eve of Jerusalem Day, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stressed the centrality of Jerusalem to the Muslim umma (nation). “The Zionist settlement on the land of the Palestinians,” he said, “damages the geometrical infrastructure and the basic Middle Eastern infrastructure and hence constitutes the root of the Middle East’s problems in recent generations.” Khamenei remarked that Iran does much to put the Palestinian issue on the regional and international agenda so that it will not be forgotten, and stated:
The Palestinian issue is not a tactical issue for Iran….It stems from the depths of the soul of our Islamic faith….We believe it is our religious duty to rescue this Islamic nation [the Palestinians] from the claws of the Zionist regime and its supporters in the international arena….With Allah’s help, we hope that just as the morning broke on the Islamic Revolution, on the Iran-Iraq War [the Sacred Defense], on the return of our prisoners, so too the dawn will break on the Palestinian issue and the land of the Palestinians will return to the hands of the Palestinian nation, [and the] fraudulent and extraneous Zionist [entity] will be erased from the map of geography.2
Khamenei continued his unbridled attacks on Israel in a meeting that he and the heads of Iran’s three governing authorities (the president, the chairman of the Majlis, and the chairman of the legal authority) held with ambassadors from the Islamic countries to mark Id al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan). Khamenei again emphasized that Jerusalem and the Palestinian problem are at the heart of the Muslim states’ concerns and of Middle Eastern developments. He again blamed Israel and Zionism: “Many of the problems in this sensitive region stem from the toxic and dangerous Zionist cancerous cell that the great powers, whose hands are contaminated with blood, try with all their might to sustain….The United States and other powerful countries say unanimously and openly that they have bound their fate to the fate of the Zionist regime, and this will cause them harm.”3
In remarks included in his Id al-Fitr prayer, the Supreme Leader praised the Iranian people’s participation in the Jerusalem Day rallies and said that thanks to the Islamic Awakening, masses of people in the Arab world were able to participate as well, even though formerly this was prohibited (by pro-Western leaders who have since been deposed). Khamenei added that the Islamic umma stands at the threshold of a new era marked by “amazing events” that will undoubtedly affect all the world’s people. At the same time, he warned Muslims not to fall into complacency and disregard the United States and Zionism, and said they must “recognize the fact that the murderous regimes of the United States and Zionism are the sworn enemies of the Islamic umma….One should not put trust in their policy and their actions anywhere….They have never acted for the good of the Muslim states and do all they can to wreak harm.”4
Ahmadinejad: A Middle East without Americans and Zionists
In the course of a Friday sermon on Jerusalem Day, Ahmadinejad used blatantly anti-Semitic terms in attributing all the world’s troubles to Jews and Zionism. He also attacked the process of political accommodation and totally condemned the two-state solution; leaving an Israeli presence even in a small territory was like leaving a cancerous growth in a patient’s body.
It is clear to everyone that the Zionist regime contravenes the wholeness of humanity and human society and is the main cause of human deterioration, this being a corrupt minority group, anti-human and anti-divine values, an organized and united front against all the heavenly values. The Zionists are defective human beings who solely pursue power, money, and control over others. They have a past of two thousand years of fomenting rebellion and tensions in the world. In the new era, for at least four hundred years the Zionist minority group has been undermining human society while causing it the heaviest and most irreversible damage….
According to solid testimonies, the First and Second world wars were planned behind the scenes by the Zionists. Subsequently, the Zionists took over the United States, run the affairs of the world, and indeed pull the strings of U.S. governments. They control the centers of finance and the main media in the world. Over the past seventy years all human boundaries have been trampled so as to impose the Zionist regime on the region and the world. The evil countries and imperialism have made use of all their powers and also succeeded to a great extent.
Exactly at the same moment that the heads of world Zionism believed the Zionist regime had stabilized and been accepted by the peoples of the region, there arose a tremendous movement of the Iranian people, known as the Islamic Revolution under the leadership of a divine man, and thanks to it the peoples awoke, swept by an enormous wave of anti-Zionist consciousness and the revival of Palestinian resistance. Over the past three decades the basis of the Zionist regime has been in danger, and question marks have been placed on the idea that stood behind this regime’s establishment. If before our revolution they tried to consolidate and extend the Zionist regime, today they sense danger and are trying to salvage it.5
In light of all this, Quds Day, said Ahmadinejad,
is the day of all human beings and human society and is intended to remove the disgrace of the Zionists from human society. For these last few hundred years the peoples have been in a struggle with the Zionists, and for the last one hundred years the peoples have been directly and fully captive in the hands of the policy and activity of world Zionism, and even in a country like the United States, no presidential candidate stands a chance of participating in the elections unless he goes down on his knees before the Zionists and pledges himself to them.
The Iranian president criticized the political initiative for a two-state solution:
The plan to establish two states on the occupied lands is a deceitful plan of the enemy. The Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous growth. The presence of Zionists in even one centimeter of the lands of Palestine is dangerous, especially if this is to be a legal and official state. All must be warned and keep their eyes open….Even if the Palestinians are given eighty percent of these lands, the rest will be given to the Zionists, and this is still a danger. The establishment of the two states means providing a historic opportunity for their [the Zionists’] rehabilitation and that means squandering a hundred years of resistance, and whoever agrees with this must know that he is not on the side of the peoples but against them.
Ahmadinejad called on the U.S. president
to put aside the Zionists and act independently….Forge ties with the countries of the region in a trustworthy and genuine way, and know [that if you do not do this] the peoples will very soon close accounts once and for all with the Palestine-occupying Zionists. A new Middle East will be established for certain, and in it no trace will remain of Americans and Zionists.
A week earlier Ahmadinejad met with the ambassadors of Muslim countries in Tehran and spoke similarly of “the Zionists’ control of the world,” saying that “for about four hundred years a horrible Zionist clan has been managing the world. Israel resembles the global ruling Zionism.” He asserted that “bringing about an evolution in the world requires making a decision, closing ranks, and the goal must be the destruction of the Zionist regime that constitutes both the symbol of the Zionists’ hegemony over the world and the means for the oppressive powers to expand their rule in the world.” Regarding the importance of Quds Day, Ahmadinejad said that it
not only constitutes a strategic solution to the Palestinian problem, but a key to solving the problems of the world as a whole….Everyone who loves freedom and pursues justice in the world must do everything in his power to bring about the destruction of the Zionist regime and pave the way to the creation of a free and just world….Zionism is the plight of the new era.6
A Historic Opportunity to Remove the Fraudulent Regime
In his statements for Quds Day, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, referred to the domestic debate in Israel about attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Hajizadeh, who is in charge of Iran’s strategic-missile stockpile, said that “the Islamic anti-Zionist resistance front has long sought justification for carrying out a far-reaching and fateful operation [against Israel] aimed at avenging the blood of the Palestinian martyrs, the victims of Sabra and Shatila, and other victims.” The senior IRGC official warned that
if the animalistic statements of the heads of the Zionist regime [about attacking Iran] are put in practice, it will be a splendid opportunity to erase this fraudulent regime from the pages of history and cast it into the garbage bin of history. In fact we think these threats are a form of psychological warfare, but if they want to carry out their threats, it will be the only positive step of this murderous regime….We welcome such a move by the Zionists, and the fulfillment of their threats, because it will give us a pretext and a good opportunity to set the burial stone once and for all on the polluted life of this fraudulent and occupying regime and to rescue humanity from the hands of this cancerous growth.
That, said Hajizadeh, would evoke the “great pride that accompanies an obligation that has fallen to the lot of the fighters and defenders of Iran, and this obligation will be fulfilled with the annihilation of the Zionist regime and the establishment of a new Middle East.”7
In a special announcement that the IRGC published for Jerusalem Day, it stated that the initiative of the leader of the revolution (Khomeini) to demonstrate support for the Palestinian people had gradually morphed into a day for expressing the presence and sentiments of peoples who demand justice and liberation from the world’s imperialist and occupying powers.
There is no doubt that the waves of the Islamic Awakening in the region, the anticapitalist movement in the West, and the rise of a firm front of Islamic and anti-Zionist resistance…constitute the blessed fruits of international Quds Day. In light of the Islamic Awakening and the accelerating process of the disappearance of the imperialist front’s hegemony in the Middle East and its failure to defend the Zionist regime, the United States, Europe, the treasonous Arab regimes, and the Zionist regime decided to strike Syria – the heart of the anti-Zionist resistance front –and thus obstruct the tsunami of the Islamic Awakening.8
Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, asserted that “Quds Day, which was designated by Khomeini as a day of resistance against the Zionist regime, demonstrates that there is no other option but resistance until the complete end of occupation and Israel’s destruction.”9
“Destroying Israel Is Our Duty”
The head of the Intifada and Al-Quds Office of the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council, who is responsible for the Al-Quds Day preparations, published beforehand a list of the slogans to be called out by the citizens in this year’s demonstrations. This long catalog of catchy pronouncements includes: “Our cry is like the waves of the sea, the slogan ‘death to America’ is in the mouth of the whole world,” “We the Muslim umma are prepared for sacrifice on behalf of religion, we are anti-Zionists and anti-Americans,” “My brother the hero, rise up with the flag of the velayat in your hand, the destruction of Israel is assured, my brother,” “The Palestine-occupying regime must be eradicated from the face of the earth,” “Today is the day of America’s humiliation, the end of the superpowers’ rule,” “This is the export of the revolution, the plotting of the wicked ones will be neutralized,” “Like a thorn in the eyes of the fanatics, nuclear Iran became a fertile ground of science,” “Syria supports Quds and therefore is being pressured by the occupiers of Quds [Israel],” “Khamenei is the leader of our nation, the enemy of America the Great Satan,” “Israel, Israel a microbe of corruption, Islam will always be in jihad against Zionism,” “Support for velayat-e faqih [rule of the jurisprudent] is our pride, Israel, Israel is our bitter enemy,” “Defending Palestine is our pride, destroying Israel is our duty,” “America, Israel, this is the last warning, the Islam Division is prepared for an uprising.”10
Most of the Friday sermons included the calls for Israel’s destruction, and the governors of Iran’s provinces averred among other things that “Israel is breathing its last breaths” and “Israel is near its end.”11 The governor of Kermanshah province said there was no doubt that “the spirit and the ideas of the Imam Khomeini have pervaded the spirit and the body of each and every Muslim in the world, and thanks to the unity of their ranks they will remove from the earth the fraudulent existence of the Zionist regime.”12
The directors of Iran’s media conveyed similar messages, lavishing much praise on Khomeini’s wisdom in establishing Quds Day with its evolution to its present status, particularly since the Islamic Awakening. The newspaper Hamshahri (identified with the mayor of Tehran) wrote that today the influence of Quds Day goes far beyond the boundaries of Iran, the Shia, and even the Muslims, drawing every free person in its wake whoever he is. Khomeini taught the people that the impact of their clenched fists is greater than any weapons or army. “This self-confidence helped produce two intifadas, the first one and the second one in occupied Palestine, and proved more than ever the flimsiness of the hated Zionist regime (Israel).” Khomeini’s seemingly simple remark that “If each Muslim pours one pail of water, Israel will be flooded with water,” well illustrates the meaning of these statements. All these have led to the fact that this year for the first time, seventy Islamic states will officially declare the holding of Quds Day demonstrations. One can say that the heartfelt wish and the vision of the Imam Khomeini are now being fulfilled, and Islamic unity in support of holy Quds and occupied Palestine is now evident to the whole world. (Note that Iranian delegations held Quds Day gatherings and processions in various countries, including European ones, but mainly in countries with large Shia concentrations such as Lebanon and Bahrain.)13
The Fars News Agency published cartoons that well manifest the sentiments emanating from Tehran regarding its outlook on Israel and Zionism. Here, “the Islamic Awakening” is written on the arm, “the Zionist regime” above the fly, and beneath, “holy Jerusalem.”
A Formulated Superpower Doctrine
In sum, Iran marked Jerusalem Day this year in the eye of a storm: the tightening of the international sanctions against it, the upheaval in the Middle East in general and the threat hovering over Iran’s strategic ally, Syria in particular, and the domestic debate in Israel (and to a lesser extent also in the United States) about a possible attack on Iran.
Particularly in the context of these regional and international conditions, for Iran this day constitutes an important opportunity to emphasize its common denominators with its Muslim Arab environment – the holiness of Jerusalem and the hatred of Israel and the West – while putting aside intensifying disputes (particularly with Turkey and the moderate Arab states, especially the Gulf states) over the crisis in Syria.
Iran sees regional conditions (its own strengthening) as well as international ones (the decline, or so Iran claims, of American power) as working to its benefit. In that context, it has leveraged Jerusalem Day to convey unifying messages in an effort to win – again on the backs of the Palestinians – the sympathy of the Muslim world. Similar to Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Second Gulf War, Iran seeks to highlight what it has in common with its environment and “all the Muslims” as a single camp facing the imperialist threat. Iran hopes thereby to entrench its regional defense lines and ward off an attack on its nuclear facilities.
Iran is persistently trying to build up its regional and international status and present a formulated political and ideological doctrine worthy of a “superpower” in the midst of the regional and global changes. Quds Day, like the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Tehran at the end of August 2012, offers Iran an opportunity to mobilize support for its concerns, present itself as capable of setting an alternative (Islamic) regional and international order, and show the West that its efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic have failed, since Iran can influence and even shape regional processes not necessarily according to Western logic. For example, Iran stresses its opposition to the process of Israeli-Palestinian accommodations aimed at a two-state solution, its opposition to Western involvement in Syria, post-Mubarak Egypt, and Bahrain, and many other issues.
From Iran’s standpoint, nuclear weapons will add a further, central component to its quest for regional and international hegemony, giving it broader, risk-free room to maneuver in promoting its ideological and political doctrine, and in becoming a dominant force in the region that can influence and even shape the new Middle East and beyond.
The message coming more strongly from Tehran in this latest Quds Day, reflecting its analysis of regional and international circumstances and the situation in Israel, is that the liberation of Jerusalem is now closer than ever.
Article by Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall,