How deep is your hate?

For Iran and its surrogates, enmity towards Israel and the United States provides justification for amassing weapons and militarising their societies.

By Claude Salhani
Source: The Arab Weekly
The shadow of an Iranian paramilitary Basij member is cast on the image of the Israeli flag in Tehran. (AP)

There is a recurring question that arises in the minds of many people concerned about and by the violence that perpetuates in the Middle East. This concern revolves around extremist thinking found among actors in the unfolding drama in which violence, hate and ignorance are the principal actors.

Are those fanatics calling for the destruction of Israel really aiming for the complete destruction of the Jewish state or are they playing it up for the benefit of Western television cameras?

Why do protesters from Sana’a to Peshawar have their banners written in — often poor — English? It is no secret they crave the attention of the Western world.

Calling for the destruction of one’s perceived enemy is a psychological weapon. It is the radicals’ way to pressure their nemesis by ratcheting up the anger of their public.

Such radical discourse may find acceptance in the minds of the rank and file and the undereducated who may see the situation and its resolution in simplistic terms. The reality reflects a very different image.

In ensuring that a continuous posture of enmity towards the other is relentlessly fed by professional hate-mongers, they bank on their ability to make sure the next generation will provide cannon fodder for the forthcoming conflicts. Happy thoughts.

Tehran openly supports anti-Israeli armed groups, including the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, but it is the Palestinians and the Lebanese who have sustained the most losses as a result of the wars of Hamas and Hezbollah.

In June 2018, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed Tehran’s long-held position that Israel is “a malignant cancerous tumour that must be removed and eradicated.” Iranian generals routinely express the desire to destroy Israel or claim to be able to wipe out Tel Aviv.

When the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) says “wiping out Israel from the face of the Earth” is an “achievable goal,” does he really mean it? Does he believe it when he says Tehran has “obtain[ed] the capacity to destroy the imposter Zionist regime”?

In both cases, the answer is likely “No.”

Much like its proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and other places who clamour in their rallies for the destruction of the “Zionist enemy,” Iranian military and political establishment’s eradication discourse is more a legitimising cry of war and a mobilising slogan for their supporters.

For Iran and its surrogates, enmity towards Israel and the United States provides justification for amassing weapons and militarising their societies.

“This sinister regime must be wiped off the map and this is no longer… a dream (but) it is an achievable goal,” Iranian Major-General Hossein Salami was quoted by the IRGC’s Sepah News as saying.

Four decades on from Iran’s Islamic Revolution, “we have managed to obtain the capacity to destroy the imposter Zionist regime,” he said.

Salami’s comments, while not unusual for Iranian officials, were made amid particularly heightened international tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and incidents that raised fears of a confrontation between Tehran and its main regional rival, Riyadh.

The United States, which withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018, has imposed a campaign of “maximum pressure” — with vocal support from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Salami’s comments were given prominent coverage by the Tasnim and Fars news agencies, close to ultra-conservative political factions.

The rhetoric of eradication of the other is unrealistic the other way around. Iran cannot uproot Israel and Israel will not wipe out Hezbollah or Hamas. These organisations provide extreme expressions of anger and hate but also social services to impoverished populations.

At a conference at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, a panellist explained there are three branches of Hezbollah. There is the political party, which is represented in parliament by elected deputies, including Christian deputies. Hezbollah also has had, at various times, one or more ministers in the Lebanese government.

The social branches of Hezbollah act in the absence of the Lebanese state, providing health care, education and social services.

Then there is the armed group, which is considered by many in the West to be a terrorist organisation.

The conundrum is that if the social services were removed, thousands of children would be taken out of school and deprived of many basic services. Social services may provide the radical group with human shields for its messages of hate and armed organisation but what is the alternative for poor children?

Getting rid of hate speech would be the first step of the de-escalation process in conflict-plagued regions.

For hate-driven regimes, such as the one in Tehran and other extremist systems, it would be utterly de-legitimising. So don’t expect a hate-free environment to emerge by tomorrow.

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