The Iranian regime launched a multi-platform campaign to recruit fighters for the Hamas war against Israel while Iranians are branding it a propaganda stunt.
The media campaign started simultaneously on several of the regime’s mouthpieces, such as websites affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards and the state broadcaster. A chyron message was aired during broadcasts calling on viewers to sign up and declare their readiness to be sent to Palestine to fight Israel.
A short message was also sent to Iranians asking them to express their readiness via SMS. The regime also launched a website with the name of al-Aqsa Storm, the codename Hamas used for its surprise air, sea and ground offensive into Israel that killed over 1,400 Israeli civilians and hundreds of soldiers.
The Iran-backed Islamist group, designated a terrorist group by the US and several other countries, also took more than 220 people as hostages.
Although most Iranians are familiar with such regime gimmicks and are certain that their participation in a media stunt would not qualify them to go to war, about six million people registered in the campaign, titled “You are dealing with us.” The Persian phrase is literally translated as “I am your rival.”
The regime also organized and sponsored several events and rallies in numerous Iranian cities to garner support for its publicity campaign.
The campaign has been a source of ridicule on social media, where Iranians make fun of the regime loyalists who say they are eager to go to war despite being sure that is not possible. A large number of people wish that the volunteers would actually go to the war so that Iran is rid of such regime sympathizers.
Even if travel to Gaza was possible, Iranians cannot legally go there because to get to Gaza they have to go through Israel, which is not an option for anyone with an Iranian passport. And even if the Islamic Republic opts to engage in the conflict, the IRGC members and members of its extraterritorial wing Quds Force are the natural candidates and not ordinary civilians.
“We knew you wouldn't go," political commentator Ali-Hossein Ghazizadeh said on X (formerly twitter), claiming that these regime supporters who use their connections with regime insiders to fill their pockets would not leave the safety of their homes, let alone go to the war. “We wish for all of you to become martyrs,” he addressed the Hamas supporters, referring to a recent interview by the country’s culture minister, Mohammad-Mehdi Esmaili, who told the reporter to be ready to die in Gaza.
Asghar Sepehri, the brother of Iranian political prisoner Fatemeh Sepehri, has quipped that those who complain that they cannot go to Gaza because the borders are closed can ask Iran’s ruler Ali Khamenei to extend the war to Lebanon. “Ask the Supreme Leader to have Hezbollah of Lebanon also enter the war with Israel. Your deployment to Lebanon won't be a problem,” he said on X.
The spillover of the conflict has already reached the West Bank with limited artillery fire exchange between Israel and Hezbollah. Iranian authorities keep threatening that if the war extends to other fronts, they will engage in the war. Israel says if Hezbollah enters the war in a more significant and direct way than it already is, Israel will attack Iran.
Another social media post that resonated with Iranians and was widely retweeted pointed out that Basijis – a term used for IRGC’s volunteer forces – will never go to war because they are not used to fight with armed people, referring to the crackdown on protests that rocked Iran after the death in custody of a young woman last year.
“They're not used to facing an armed enemy, and they're afraid. Basijis only go where their opponents are 16-year-old girls and unarmed people who can be attacked and killed with guns and batons,” said an X user who posts under the name Moji.
A group of Iranians also held a gathering at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, claiming that they are at the airport and ready to go to war. All Iranians know that Mehrabad Airport is only used for domestic flights, drawing large social media ridicule that these so-called Basijis are not even ready to take the longer trip to Imam Khomeini Airport, from where international flights depart.
Such false expressions of support for Hamas are not limited to Iran. Recently a video went viral of a Turkish reporter who asked people on streets if they were ready to go to the war. The interviewees say they are ready but immediately another man comes and asks about information and addresses of the people who expressed readiness. The short clip is widely circulated because none of those who claimed support for Hamas are actually willing to give their contact information to make it official.