Persian Files ISSN 2975-0598 Volume 19 Issue 3
Author: Silvia Boltuc
Since 1979, Iran has been the primary advocate of Palestine. This alignment originates from an ideological convergence between the principles of the Iranian Revolution and the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Starting from current events, this report aims to explore the reasons behind Tehran’s unwavering support.
Following the October 7th Hamas’ attack, Israel has launched an unprecedented bombardment of Gaza and imposed a siege on the enclave. On December 16th, 2023, the documented number of casualties in the Gaza Strip has reached 18.800, while the death toll in the West Bank also surged to 288.
In an attempt to obtain a ceasefire, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei has multiple times called on Muslim states to cease oil and food exports to Israel, demanding an end to the bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also spoke by phone with Pope Francis about the war in the besieged Gaza Strip. Raisi told the head of the Catholic Church that supporting the people of Palestine is in line with the teachings of all Abrahamic religions including Christianity.
Responding to accusations regarding Tehran’s backing of the Axis of Resistance, Iran’s top diplomat, Hossein Amirabdollahian, stated that “it is natural that the resistance groups and movements do not remain silent against all these crimes”.
Iran has strongly dismissed the notion of Quds Force involvement in decision making on the Hamas offensive. Still, Tehran expressed support for it.
On November 29th, 2023, during the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, in his message to the United Nations (UN) the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, reiterated the unwavering support of the Iranian nation for the fulfilment of Palestinian aspirations.
In his note, the Iranian President condemned the “extensive civilian massacres, assaults on hospitals, schools, and churches, the deliberate denial of water, food, fuel, and medicine to the people of Gaza, accompanied by forced displacement of thousands of people and the killings of journalists”.
Referring to the so-called ‘double standards’ of the Western world, Raisi further condemned the dramatic event in Gaza to unfold before the eyes of the global populace, particularly of certain countries claiming to champion human rights.
Iranian President called upon all United Nations member states to unite their efforts in ending what he referred to as a genocide and the occupation perpetuated by Israel in the last seven decades.
The Islamic Republic of Iran aims to address the “Palestinian issue” through a legal framework, with an initiative proposed to the UN that includes the following points:
- The only definitive and principled resolution to the Palestinian issue necessitates the cessation of the systematic occupation of the historic land of the Palestinian nation;
- The repatriation of displaced Palestinians;
- The unfettered exercise of Palestinians’ right to self-determination;
- Conducting a referendum involving the indigenous people of Palestine, encompassing Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
Iran’s support for the Palestinians began following the Islamic Revolution in 1979. This significant shift in support coincided with the transformation of Iran’s political system from a monarchy to an Islamic Republic. Alongside this political evolution, Iran’s alliances underwent a dramatic and notable change.
Iran’s Support for Palestine: Historical Background
Following the end of British control over Palestine, a pivotal moment emerged when eleven United Nations member countries, including Iran under the Pahlavi monarchy’s rule, were tasked with determining Palestine’s future. Despite Iran being the second Muslim-majority nation to formally recognise Israel following its establishment in 1948 and maintaining a significant relationship with Israel during the monarchy, notably Tehran, in 1947, voted against the UN’s partition plan for Palestine.
The Iranian leadership, even before the Palestinian Nakba (Arabic term for ‘catastrophe’), demonstrated an understanding that endorsing this partition plan would sow the seeds of prolonged regional violence for future generations. They foresaw that the proposed plan would intensify conflicts rather than offer a sustainable resolution.
History affirmed their stance. In 1948, Israel was established, marking a year known internationally as Nakba. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir famously claimed in an interview with The Sunday Times on June 15th, 1969, that “there were no such things as Palestinians…they didn’t exist.”
However, official records show that at least 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes and lands by Israeli Forces, resulting in the capture of 78% of historic Palestine. The remaining 22% was divided into the West Bank, now occupied, and the besieged Gaza Strip. The displaced Palestinians entered a diaspora, with many spending the rest of their lives in refugee camps.
In addition to the conquest of major cities, approximately 530 Palestinian villages were destroyed, and around 15,000 Palestinians lost their lives in a series of large-scale atrocities. The most widely recognised massacre occurred in the village of Deir Yassin.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, built his political approach on two fundamental principles: Islam and the defence of oppressed people.
The upheaval that resulted in the downfall of the Pahlavi dynasty stemmed in part from the repressive tactics employed by their government. Khomeini linked the monarchy, which oppressed the Iranian population, to its allies. Under the Pahlavis, in fact, Tehran established robust ties with Tel Aviv and Washington.
The historical cooperation between the Iranian monarchy and Israel originated from the strategic vision of Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. This strategy, later termed the periphery doctrine, aimed to diminish Israel’s isolation in the Middle East. Except for a brief period when Mosaddegh’s government severed ties with Tel Aviv to garner Arab countries’ support in reducing Britain’s influence in the Gulf, Ben-Gurion’s approach proved successful.
From 1960 onwards, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency advisors provided training to Savak personnel, the Shah’s feared intelligence and security agency. Simultaneously, the Israeli Mossad aided in training individuals focused on interrogations and overseeing infiltration missions within anti-monarchy factions. Geographically, Iran played a strategic role in U.S. espionage endeavours directed at the Soviet Union, leading, among other measures, to the installation of radio listening stations along the northern border.
According to the Iranian Revolution’s principles, the Palestinian people symbolise a population enduring similar unjust oppression that spurred the Iranians’ revolt in 1979.
In Iran’s view, the common thread connecting Israel and the U.S. is what they label as ‘Western arrogance’, a perception directly linked to their historical encounters with Anglo imperialism.
Iran experienced the Anglo imperialism during the early 20th century when the British Empire sought to control Tehran’s oil resources and maintain strategic influence in the region.
Additionally, the 1907 Anglo-Russian Entente divided Persia into spheres of influence, granting Britain control over the southern region and oil-rich territories. This agreement significantly curtailed Iran’s sovereignty and limited its ability to govern independently.
When analysing modern Iran’s stance towards Israel and the U.S., it’s crucial for analysts to recognise the profound influence of the nation’s collective memory shaped by its historical past. The Iranian population endured oppression under the monarchy, and Persia faced the challenges of foreign imperialism, both of which significantly affect the country’s current attitudes.
Supporting the Palestinian struggle or forging ties with African nations that have endured European colonialism stems from the same drivers that sparked the Revolution in Iran.
Moreover, the feeling of oppression within Iranian society is amplified by its religious context. Iran has a Shiite majority, a minority branch of Islam that has historically faced severe persecution from Sunni caliphates. This persecution persists today, exacerbated by terrorist organisations like the Islamic State.
If Islam and the obligation to defend oppressed individuals make up two primary pillars in Khomeini’s narrative, the third aspect is the necessity of safeguarding borders against constant threats. In fact, one event that contributed the most to Iranian collective memory is the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), when U.S.-backed Iraq invaded Iran.
Notably, the Iran-Iraq war, which exceed one million deaths, influenced also some Middle Eastern scenarios. According to several studies, for example, anti-Israel/U.S. stances entered the narrative of groups such as Anṣār Allāh (the Partisans of Allah), accused of being Iranian proxies in Yemen, after the aforementioned war. The Houthi movement identifies common ground within the Islamic Revolution through the Zaydi concept of khuruj, the duty to rebel against an unjust ruler.
Iran views some common roots in the Palestinian cause and its struggle during the Revolution. The Revolution’s leadership considers monarchical Iran and Palestine to have experienced the same British and American imperialism.
Particularly, they accuse Washington of having supported the repressive rule of the Shah. As for Jerusalem, the colonising project originated from the Zionist ideology begun in 1917 based on Britain’s promise of support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Revolution that led to its establishment and Shia Islam, are defined by a prevailing ethos that can be defined as ‘culture of resistance’. It is no coincidence that the groups active in the Shiite crescent define themselves as the ‘Axis of Resistance’. This highlights how the Iranian Revolution has affected Middle Eastern countries.
Although Hamas is a Sunni Islamist organisation, its declared struggle to free Palestine from Israeli occupation aligns with the political view of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Furthermore, Tehran multiple times condemned the constant assault on one of Islam’s most significant places of worship, al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf (the holy mosque), by Israeli settlers. These stances coincide with Hamas’ short-term goals to deter Israeli violations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In general, Iran will continue support the Palestinian struggle because, as the government’s top diplomat at the United Nations stated, it is part of the DNA of the cause of the Islamic Revolution. Although Tehran affirmed that the war between the resistance and Israel will continue until the end of the occupation, the Iranian leadership stressed that the scope of this war should not extend to civilians.
Iran’s efforts to secure a ceasefire and a lasting resolution in Palestine involve urging Muslim countries to cease oil and food exports to Israel, initiating dialogue with Pope Francis to protect all Abrahamic religious faithful in Palestine, and conveying messages to the UN, all aimed at diplomatic channels.
Indeed, the Iranian representative at the UN sees the military strength of the resistance factions as a means to hinder the occupation’s expansion and the evacuation of occupied territories, rather than a method to achieve a definitive solution to the issue.
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