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Iran accused of 'shadow games' to conceal 'inaction' on Gaza

Critics accuse Iran of 'shadow games' to conceal 'inaction' against Israel's war on Gaza
4 min read
03 November, 2023
Amid escalating conflict in Gaza, Iran's support for Hamas raises questions as it refrains from direct action, leading to misinformation and propaganda campaigns within Iran.
Two young men walk past a conceptual artwork symbolizing the bodies of killed Palestinian children in Gaza, while visiting the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, 2 November 2023. [Getty]

As Iranian officials fell short of delivering the support they've pledged in the past in case of an Israeli land attack on the Gaza Strip, Tehran launched a fresh propaganda and disinformation campaign to convince its supporters that the Islamic Republic of Iran had upheld its commitments and extended vital aid to Palestinian fighters in the besieged coastal enclave.

Since the Gaza conflict's onset, Iran stood alone in openly backing Hamas while repeatedly cautioning the US and Israel about potential consequences if civilian bombings persisted in Gaza or the event of a land assault on Palestinian territory. New fronts, they warned, could emerge against Israel.

Iran's foreign minister and president persistently issued warnings that the entire region could kindle or that missiles could rain down on Israel from Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, where Iran's proxy military groups held significant power.

However, despite three weeks of intense civilian bombardment in Gaza, resulting in over 8,800 deaths and a ground incursion that started on 26 October, Iran had yet to take significant military action in support of Hamas. Even its proxy forces in neighbouring countries had done no more than limited and cautious artillery exchanges or small-scale drone attacks with either Israeli forces or US forces occupying parts of Iraq and Syria. 

This apparent "inaction" as many critics are calling, prompted Iranian dissidents to ridicule the officials, implying that they were offering mere words to those suffering in Palestine. Simultaneously, pro-establishment groups criticised the authorities' response to the Gaza conflict.

To alleviate the mounting public pressure, Iran's establishment initiated a new propaganda campaign to persuade its supporters that Tehran had kept its promises to pro-Iran military forces in Palestine.

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Rejection of a ground assault

This fresh disinformation campaign was widely disseminated by state-run media and outlets affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Despite reports from the Gaza frontlines that Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles had crossed into Gaza from occupied territories, pro-establishment outlets in Iran portrayed the conflict as if Hamas had the upper hand in the military showdown with the Israeli army.

Since the commencement of Israel's land assault on Gaza, these outlets disputed the Israeli army's entry into the Gaza Strip, lauding Hamas for what they labelled a "significant blow to Israel".

On a Tuesday, the Kayhan Daily, whose editor-in-chief is directly appointed by Iran's Supreme Leader, claimed on its front page that Hamas had thwarted Israel's land incursion and simultaneously expanded the war into occupied territories beyond the enclave.

"All data indicates that the Qods-occupier regime's army couldn't breach into Gaza, not even a meter... the Zionists' attempts to infiltrate Gaza has failed for the fifth time," wrote the ultra-conservative daily.

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Other IRGC-affiliated media like Javan, Hamshahri, and Iran adopted the same framing strategy in their war reporting, celebrating what they labelled as daily triumphs of Hamas in the conflict.

On a Monday, the Javan Daily asserted, "Tel Aviv lacks the capability for a large-scale land assault and only tries limited attacks for public opinion manipulation."

As part of the new propaganda campaign, the Iran Daily, run by President Ebrahim Raisi's administration, published several reports about the "displacement of Zionists," the anxiety of Israel's settlers due to Hamas' missile attacks, and the infiltration of Hamas divers into territories controlled by Israel.

On the same day, the Hamshahri daily declared on its front page that Hamas had destroyed three Israeli tanks, captured 20 more, and forced 12 tanks to withdraw from Gaza.

Imaginary war in the absence of action

Meanwhile, the Jame Jam daily, under the headline "impatience for the hour zero," speculated that if resistance forces in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen ran out of patience, they would strike Israel from a 2,000-kilometer distance.

In a war map they drew, Jame Jam claimed that Houthi fighters would launch long-range precise missiles and suicide drones at Israel from the south, Hezbollah from the North, while Iraqi and Syrian pro-Iran militias would attack from the east.

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At the same time, as part of the media campaign to sway public opinion in Iran, municipalities in Tehran and other major cities erected giant billboards in support of the people of Gaza and against Israel.

In parallel, members of religious seminaries signed petitions requesting the establishment to send them to Gaza to fight against Israel, and paramilitary Basij organisations initiated a symbolic mobilisation, enrolling volunteers who desired to join the battle in Gaza.

On 25 October, the Fars news agency, affiliated with the IRGC, declared that over 6.3 million Iranians had registered in that campaign. Nevertheless, even Iranian officials did not take the campaign seriously.

During a live interview on Iran's state-run channel, when former parliament speaker Ali Larijani was informed by the program host that many politicians expressed a desire to be deployed in Gaza, Larijani humorously replied: "So, send them there!"

These developments prompted Iran's propaganda apparatus to more directly address the question of why Iran refrained from taking more direct action in the conflict.

As the conflict continues, Iran's shadow games remain a complex aspect of its broader regional strategy. Tehran's propaganda efforts aimed at concealing its inaction have left many questioning Iran's role in the Gaza war and the extent to which it is willing to translate its rhetoric into tangible support for Palestinian people and armed groups.