Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest video-taped message to the Iranian people – in which he conflates the relatively good performance of the Iranian football team with unrest on the streets of Tehran – has been widely ridiculed by the Iranian media. His message followed hot on the heels of his first such message when he tried to address the water shortage in Iran by offering Israeli water management expertise. Needless to say, this outlandish outreach was dismissed curtly by Iranian officials, who reminded Netanyahu to stop stealing water resources from regional states.
It is easy to ridicule Netanyahu’s trollish behaviour and ignore the thoughtful strategy behind his tapes. He may be wildly unpopular in Iran but he has shown originality by being the first Western leader to openly and consistently communicate with the Iranian people. That fact alone is upsetting to Iran’s leaders.
More ominously, the video messages signal a renewed effort by Israel to exploit Iran’s vulnerabilities – notably a water crisis – with a view to fomenting unrest in the country. Viewed in the wider context of a Saudi-led regional alliance against Iran and a concerted move by the United States to destabilise the Islamic Republic, Netanyahu’s unconventional outreach speaks to a strategic intent to escalate the undeclared war against Iran.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s audacity is boundless, as demonstrated by his repeated messages to a country that is officially committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. Are these video messages effective, though? Some sections of the Israeli media appear to think so on account of Netanyahu’s identification and ruthless exploitation of Iran’s weak points.
The Israeli prime minister is also trying to cash in on domestic resentment at Iran’s energetic regional policy, as demonstrated by protestors’ slogans decrying Iranian intervention in regional flashpoints, from Syria to Yemen. This has become a well-established pattern, with virtually every protest – irrespective of its cause and intent – descending into a rant against Iranian foreign policy.
This alone is a remarkable achievement for Israel, the US and the UK who, through their proxies among the exiled Farsi-language broadcasters, relentlessly push the line that Iran’s active regional policy is at the heart of the country’s intensifying economic and fiscal malaise.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, as Iran has one of the smallest defence budgets in the region. Moreover, the Islamic Republic’s regional policy has plenty of supporters at home – both within the expert community and the wider public – for it has been remarkably successful at a relatively low cost.
To put it in perspective, Iran’s defence budget is almost a fifth of that of Saudi Arabia, which spends roughly 12 per cent of its GDP on defence. By contrast, Iran allocates less than 3 per cent of its GDP to defence. Furthermore, the Israeli defence budget hovers at around $20 billion annually (which is more than twice Iran’s official defence budget) and accounts for over 5 per cent of GDP.
However, facts are completely ignored when it comes to the intensifying propaganda war against the Islamic Republic, in which Netanyahu has taken centre stage. The audacity of the leader of an Apartheid state — which, according to the Israeli media, plunders the water resources of impoverished Palestinians — lecturing the Iranians on water management is nothing short of stunning in its calculated callousness.
It is important to remember that the propaganda war is merely a corollary of the real war between Iran and Israel. This is a war which the Israelis and their allies in the exiled Iranian opposition are anxious to bring to the streets of Tehran.
Remarkably, they have had some successes, as demonstrated by the increasingly reactionary slogans of some of the more extreme protestors. In barely believable scenes, some of them have been chanting “death to Palestine” by way of demonstrating their opposition to Iran’s ruling clerics. It is these ugly scenes that Netanyahu seeks to exploit to the full.
While it is important to remember that these “protestors” in no way represent the broad mass of Iranian public opinion, it is equally important to acknowledge that Iran’s Palestine policy – and more accurately the Islamic Republic’s unequivocal commitment to Israel’s destruction – is set to become a prominent feature of unrest in Iranian streets as America’s all-out economic war against Iran gathers pace.
Netanyahu may be a clown, but his antics should not go unanswered. Whilst Iran dedicates considerable media and propaganda resources to the pro-Palestinian cause, much of it is ineffective and even wasteful. For example, the state broadcaster (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting), produces hours of anti-Zionist content on a weekly basis, but much of this is stale and lacks originality.
In fact, this type of boring content has contributed to public apathy on the issue; hence, the extremists chanting anti-Palestinian slogans by way of demonstrating defiance against the authorities. To counter Netanyahu effectively, Iran needs to step up its game.
There are plenty of issues and successes which Iran can highlight and amplify. For example, it was revealed recently that former Israeli energy minister Gonen Segev had been arrested for allegedly spying for Iran. Based on this writer’s research, this is only the tip of the iceberg of Iran’s intelligence coups which have involved deep penetration of the Israeli establishment.
Some of these successes can be weaponised to counterattack in the propaganda war against the Israelis. It is time to wipe the smile off Netanyahu’s face.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.