An anti-Israel banner with pictures of senior Israeli military officers is seen Tehran following an Israeli strike on Iran's consulate in Damascus. (April 2, 2024)

Iranian Society Shifting From Anti-Israeli Sentiments To Israelophilia

Friday, 04/05/2024

Israel’s attack on the Iranian embassy in Syria that killed two high-ranking generals occurred on the same day as the annual Persian New Years picnic celebration of Sizdah Be-dar – with some echoes of April Fools Day.

The viral jokes posted on Persian social media after the attack included “Iran's regime destroyed the country of Israel with a few buckets of water by the IRGC" and "Thank God, the embassy employees were not in the Kotlett #2 building".

Iranians protesting against the regime have used the word Kotlett, which are Persian meat patties, to describe the body of the IRGC Quds commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a precision strike by the US in Iraq in 2020.

Any success of the Israeli army in eliminating the IRGC commanders and their forces in Syria is typically welcomed by hundreds of thousands of Iranians via social media posts or comments under YouTube videos.

Users also use the expression Kotlett to address other eliminated IRGC commanders. They do so despite the arrest of hundreds of people by regime forces over such posts. That includes Navvab Ebrahimi, a chef with 3.2 million instagram followers, who was detained for posting a video tutorial of how to cook Kotlett on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death.

Posters depicting Iranians who were killed in an Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus are displayed at the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria April 3, 2024.

This week, no one was arrested for using the term Kotlett on social media – apparently because of the large number of violations. But, according to the Fars News Agency, the IRGC’s mouthpiece, a person who displayed the Israeli flag was arrested. Over the past four years, the Israeli flag has been observed flying over numerous bridges in major cities before being removed by municipal workers.

For years, Iranian people have frequently refused to step on the American and Israeli flags that the agents of the Islamic Republic painted on pavements – especially at universities. Many news websites, including some hardliner outlets have stopped labeling Israel as the "Zionist regime", instead using its official name. This shift has resulted in roughly half of them using the term "Zionist regime" and the other half using Israel's official name.

After the killing of Qassem Soleimani and his companions at the Baghdad airport, both traditional religious people and reformists found themselves in a unique emotional situation. Given the wave of hatred against former US President Donald Trump promoted by the world media, these Iranian factions were willing to attend Soleimani’s funeral.

Of course, the government told many lies during that time – including the deceitful claim that Soleimani’s funeral had 7 million attendees in Tehran. At best, there were hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were bussed into the capital by the authorities to mourn Soleimani, whom they believed saved them from ISIS.

Today, the social conditions surrounding the killing of Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who was Soleimani's military equal, are completely different from those in 2020.

During the Mahsa Jina Amini movement from 2022 to 2023, the Iranian nation lost over 500 souls through the bullets of the IRGC and special forces.

Iranian society, which turned the regime’s fraudulent 2024 elections into a disgrace for the Islamic Republic with a historically low voter turnout, is certainly not ready for a massive funeral for Zahedi and his companions. Similar to the funeral of the IRGC’s Razi Mousavi in 2023, burial ceremonies with a huge bused crowd are unlikely—particularly given the regime’s plethora of challenges it needs to militarily contend with.

In the six months following October 7, the regime has been unable to organize a demonstration of even tens of thousands dedicated to Hamas. Instead, it has utilized the few thousand participants of Friday prayers in major cities to march. The distribution of sweets by the IRGC paramilitary Basij members after the Hamas attack, also received a very cold response from the Iranian people.

With a significant portion of society displaying complete neutrality towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an increase in “Israelophilia” – the anti-Israel rhetoric the government has historically capitalized on has reached its lowest level since 1979.

The 2021 survey conducted by the Gamaan Institute reveals that 35% of participants hold a positive opinion of Israel. Additionally, 65% expressed opposition to the slogan "Death to Israel," while 64% agreed with the slogan "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran."

On the celebrity front, figures like Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who traveled to Israel and directed films there, have shattered numerous taboos. The visit of exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi to Israel in April 2023, welcomed by the majority of Iranians living abroad and criticized by only a few individuals (mostly Islamists and Marxists), marked another significant step in the normalization of relations between the people of Iran and Israel.

In recent years, Iranians have praised Israel for its democracy, tolerance towards Israeli Arabs and the LGBT community, water resource management, information technologies, and wealth accumulation. Many Iranians residing in Western countries also collaborate with Israeli companies.

Israeli fiction series like "Tehran" (which aired in two seasons in 2020 and 2022) have been downloaded, watched, and well-received by millions of Iranians. Despite the series featuring a security storyline where Mossad security agents defeat Iranian security agents in their activities, it has garnered significant popularity among Iranian audiences.

Some Islamists and Iranian leftists may attribute this change of attitude to enmity towards the regime or adopt the "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" approach, or even link it to the change in people’s slogans during the Green Movement.

But, they miss the main point.

Iranians have been seeking an ally for their future nation-state, given the lack of permanent friendship among their Arab neighbors or the Turks.

Today, they find themselves more aligned with the ideals and visions of the nation-state of Israel. The history of friendship between non-Jewish Iranians and Jews has played a significant role in this shift.

More News