Iranian opposition groups divided over Israel's new war on Gaza

Iranian opposition groups divided over Israel's new war on Gaza
4 min read
16 October, 2023
The recent Israeli war on Gaza has laid bare a stark division within the Iranian opposition, with differing and passionate views.
A man wrapping himself in the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran during a rally in solidarity with Palestine near the White House, 14 October 2023. [Getty]

As the world watches an increasing likelihood of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza and the growing numbers of dead Palestinian civilians by Israeli airstrikes, several Iranian opposition figures, particularly the pro-monarchists and media outlets supported by Saudi Arabia, have openly expressed their support for Israel.

In contrast, Iran's leftist diaspora and reformist opposition maintained a strong stance in favour of Palestine.

Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last Shah of Iran and a prominent figure among those advocating for the monarchy's return to Iran, has been one of the most vocal proponents of Israel within the Iranian opposition.

Pahlavi has unequivocally described Israel as a nation under attack by terrorists. One of his recent posts on X asserted, "Make no mistake, Israel is being attacked by the same forces of extremism and poisonous ideology that have been taking our once prosperous and progressive region back to the dark ages."

This is not Pahlavi's first declaration of support for Israel. In April, he visited the country, further solidifying his pro-Israel stance with a meeting with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Farsi opposition media supports Israel

In addition to outspoken individuals like Pahlavi, opposition media plays a significant role in shaping public opinion within Iran. One such outlet is the Farsi language Iran International satellite channel, established with Saudi Arabian funding.

This channel has emerged as a strong advocate for Israel during the recent Gaza conflict, consistently highlighting unverified reports of alleged rapes committed by Hamas fighters and calling for unreserved Western support for Israel.

Iran International framed the Hamas attacks as the "killing of Israeli civilians by invading gunmen, who also kidnapped dozens of women and children," fanning the flames of war rhetoric between Israel and Iran.

Prominent journalists working at Iran International have also echoed the channel's stance, offering unreserved support for Israel's war in Gaza.

Ali Hussein Ghazizade, a senior political commentator at the satellite channel, took to X to defend Israel's attacks on civilians in Gaza.

"Hamas' drones take off from the top of the residential buildings. When every inch of Gaza is full of Hamas' military facilities when every house in there has a military function, what is this talk of a non-military zone?" he wrote.

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The UK-based Manoto TV channel, known for frequently airing pro-monarchy programs, also framed the recent Gaza war as an outcome of Hamas attacks on civilians without delving into the 75-year background of the conflict.

On 7 October, Omid Khalili, one of the anchors at Manoto, made a controversial statement about the Hamas attacks: "This morning, the people of the Middle East and the world woke up to shocking and horrifying news for humanitarians and peace-lovers. However, it was very delightful and enchanting for those who are warmongers, unconcerned about peace, and have a bloodthirsty disposition."

Another influential voice within this faction is the Voice of America Persian News Network (VOA Farsi), an outlet affiliated with the United States government. VOA Farsi, too, adopted a narrative that criticised Palestinians while firmly endorsing Israel.

In its coverage of the conflict, VOA Farsi broadcast reports about unverified "top-secret documents" that purportedly proved Hamas had planned raids on primary schools and a youth centre in Israel.

One opposition journalist working for VOA Farsi, Ahmad Batebi, even took the extraordinary step of posting a video on his Instagram account that seemingly depicted the abduction of an Israeli woman.

In his Instagram post, Batebi characterised the footage as "barbaric and brutal," attributing the act to a "terrorist organisation" that, he wrote, was receiving support from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran.

Batebi later removed the video and replaced it with two other videos, possibly acknowledging doubts regarding the authenticity of the initial content.

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Pro-Palestine opposition voices

Meanwhile, the reformist opposition within the country, while critical of the establishment's stance on the Palestinian cause, has emphasised Palestinian rights and the enduring occupation of Palestinian territories.

Ahmad Zeidabadi, a prominent pacifist reformist and the author of the Farsi book "Religion and Government in Israel," also criticised those supporting the Iranian establishment's celebration of Hamas attacks.

"No rational person celebrates the outcome of a game that is far from over. The contest between Israel and Hamas is in its early stages, and a humiliating blow to Israel doesn't equate to victory," Zeidabadi wrote on his popular Telegram channel.

Meanwhile, Iranian leftist opposition members living in exile organised protests in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, demanding an end to Israel's attacks and killing civilians.

One such activist, Bella Beiraghi, actively participated in pro-Palestine protests in Melbourne, Australia. On her website, Beiraghi published an article strongly condemning Israel's prior aggressions and the blockade on Gaza under the title "Israel's Ongoing Conflict with Gaza."

"The Gaza Strip is the world's largest open-air prison. Over 2 million Palestinians live on a piece of land significantly smaller than Melbourne… It is Israel's concentration camp. Gaza is the rump of territory where victims of the Zionist campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestine in 1948 ended up," she wrote.