Why Iran Supports the Palestinians

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By Dr. M. Reza Behnam

Iranians and Palestinians come from dissimilar cultural and historical landscapes. Yet, the Islamic Republic of Iran has embraced and championed the Palestinian cause. The two have been drawn together by a shared narrative—one of intrusion, domination and duplicity by foreign powers.

Although Iran in a former incarnation was an empire, Iranians and Palestinians have both known the heavy hand of British and American imperiums.  And both have resisted and survived the arrogance, indignity and humiliation imposed on them by those foreign powers. 

Iran experienced foreign occupation first at the hands of the British after the Second World War and later by the Americans after Britain’s MI6 and the CIA cooperated to overthrow the democratic government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953.  The Shah, restored to the throne by the United States, governed cruelly for 26 years, subordinating Iranian interests to those of the United States.  Washington’s support for his repressive rule set off the bitter anti-American revolution of 1978-79 and led to the reinvention of Iran as an Islamic Republic.   

In Palestine, Britain’s imperial design after World War I opened the door to the ongoing Palestinian Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe).  Zionism’s colonizing project begun in 1917 based on Britain’s promise of support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, ushered in the state of Israel in 1948.   Efforts to gain demographic control, to dispossess and ethnically cleanse the Palestinian people continues unabated by the last remaining colonial power, Israel. 

The anti-imperialist ideology of the Iranian Revolution affirmed the Islamic Republic’s identification with the dispossessed and with the Palestinian cause. In February 1979, Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat was welcomed in Tehran as the first foreign “head of state.” The former Israeli diplomatic mission in Tehran was turned over to the Palestinians, and the road in front of the mission was renamed Palestine Avenue.  Arafat was invited to officially inaugurate the new diplomatic legation.

During the ceremony, revolutionary leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, declared that Iran’s revolution would be incomplete until the Palestinians had won their freedom.  This proclamation—a focal point of the revolution—became foundational to Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East and placed the Palestinian cause front and center internationally.

The culture of resistance, which has come to define the Islamic Republic and its commitment to Palestine, was central to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ratified on 3 December 1979.  In foreign policy, for example, the constitution asserts that the government, “considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world….”

Recognizing that the United States has committed itself financially and militarily to the continued supremacy of Israel, the Islamic Republic has been equally determined to aid Palestinians in their resistance to Israeli domination.  For that, and its opposition to US-Israeli expansion, Iran has been in the crosshairs of every US president since its history shifted from monarchy to an Islamic Republic. 

Iran’s advocacy for Palestinian self-determination has been viewed by some of its critics as interference.  Inside Iran the concern is that the country may become more Palestinian than Palestinians.   Nearly all of Iran’s leaders, however, have claimed a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations and have indicated that Tehran would accept any decision embraced by the Palestinian majority. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has also stated that Palestine’s fate should be determined by the Palestinian people.  “The initiative to self-determination is today in the hands of the Palestinian fighters,” so said President Ebrahim Raisi in his 14 April 2023 address to the people of Gaza on the occasion of al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day); the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.  

Iran and Palestine know that alliances are vital to the survival of each.  They recognize that Israel, with US backing, is the most powerful and dangerous force in the neighborhood.  Together the Islamic Republic and its Palestinian allies— Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine— and in Lebanon, Hezbollah, have stood against US-Israeli hegemonic regional ambitions.  According to a 2020 US State Department report, Iran provides $100 million a year to Palestinian groups.

For that, Washington has put Tehran on notice that it will pay a high price for allying with the Palestinians.  Despite the political and economic costs and Washington’s ongoing efforts at regime change, Iran remains undaunted.  

Washington’s harassment of Iran, however, has known no bounds. Support for Iraq in its war with Iran (1980-88), crippling economic sanctions, sabotage operations, assassinations of Iranian leaders and scientists, disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, military threats and fomenting terrorist attacks inside Iran are among the bullying tactics Iranians have endured.

The determination to coerce Iran into submission was particularly evident during the presidency of George W. Bush (2001-2009).  In 2003, while planning for the invasion of Iraq, a frequent refrain among Bush administration officials was “Today Baghdad, tomorrow Damascus, and then on to Tehran.”  Although Bush’s war and future goals did not go as planned, he launched an unprecedented financial war against Iran, implementing a list of strategies to drive it out of the global economy. 

The “maximum pressure” campaign of former President Donald Trump (2017-2021), and continued by the Biden administration, has further severed Iran’s financial sector from the global economy, reduced its global trade and diminished its foreign currency reserves.  With the sharp depreciation of the Iranian currency, the rial, an overall inflation rate of 51 percent and food inflation at 70 percent, nearly 60 percent of the total population of 87.2 million are experiencing poverty.

In a 2019 summary, Human Rights Watch noted that US officials, on several occasions, have indicated that US sanctions are causing intentional suffering—what Human Rights Watch refers to as collective punishment—to compel Iranians to demand governmental change.

To further its predatory expansionist plans in occupied Palestine and the region, Israel has left no stone unturned to block conciliation between Washington and Tehran. Its leaders have used the Iran “threat” narrative to make detente difficult.  Economic sanctions, the consequence of decades of Israeli demonization of Iran, have also made it increasingly difficult for Tehran to continue funding its allies. 

The 2015 nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, would have given Iran a modicum of economic stability and improved relations with the United States.  Also, it would have made economic aid to Palestinians easier.  Under Israeli pressure, Trump abrogated the nuclear pact in 2018 and imposed 1,500 additional economic sanctions.  

In addition to sanctions, the United States has increased its military threat against Iran.  Forty-five US military bases encircle the country, with US troops deployed near Iran in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Syria. 

US Central Command, the largest military coalition in the world, has listed deterring Iran its number one priority.  In 2023, the United States and Israel began a new series of extensive war games, with Iran as their primary target.

Regime change has continued to be the preferred US course of action toward Iran, further sowing insecurity and angst among Iranians.  Ongoing threats, attacks and destabilizing activities have also made Iran extremely watchful internally and externally.   Their concern has forced the country’s leaders to further build-up its security and defense systems. 

A primary objective of the September 2020 US-brokered Abraham Accords—normalizing relations among the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and Israel—has been to taunt and ride roughshod over Iran.  Another less-noted objective has been to undermine Tehran’s resolve and ability to support the Palestinians.  

The Arab signatories made their betrayal of the Palestinians and their cause official when they agreed to the accords.   The agreement has confirmed, as Netanyahu brazenly stated, that Israel did not need to resolve the Palestinian issue in order to normalize relations with Arab states.  Iran, a non-Arab state, has stood alone.

Although some Arab leaders have offered financial assistance, most have subordinated the Palestinian cause to their own domestic and regional interests.  Cooperation between Israeli and Arab autocrats is not new.  Oman and Qatar, for example, have maintained covert relations with Israel for decades.  And Egypt—the flagship of the Arab world—in collaboration with Israel, has imposed a crippling 15-year blockade of the Gaza, causing extreme hardship for more than 2 million Palestinians trapped in the densely-populated 139-square mile strip. 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, aid to Palestinians from 1994 to 2020, amounted to more than $40 billion, with close to 77 percent of that amount provided by non-Arab donors.  Very little of that amount has gone to the people of Palestine, while 40 percent has ended up in the coffers of the Palestinian Authority (PA). 

It is worth noting that the PA has been a collaborating force with Israel since 1994; carrying out Israel’s colonial system of economic control of the occupied territories and maintaining security, not for Palestinians, but for Jewish colonial “settlers.”  In June 2023, during a closed session of a Knesset committee,  Prime Minister  Netanyahu admitted as much, saying:  “Israel needs the Palestinian Authority….it does our job for us.”  Adding that, Israel also needs to crush Palestinian aspirations for an independent state. 

The US-Israel “strategic” partnership has only engendered division and weakened the Middle East, as the Iranian revolution portended.  Arab potentates have been led to believe that their survival and security rest on military collaboration and agreements with the United States and Israel.  An assortment of American envoys and US-brokered accords (Camp David, Oslo and Abraham) have not eased the pain for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. 

The Iran-Palestine alliance, however, represents a different paradigm anchored in cooperation among the countries in the region independent of foreign interference. The March 2023 agreement, brokered by China, to restore diplomatic relations between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia reflects a modest shift in that direction. 

For now, Iran’s support of the Palestinians has stood the test of time and has been a check on Israel’s plans to expel the Palestinians from their homeland and to dismantle Palestinian national resolve.  

For Palestinians, the Constitution of the Islamic Republic is a direct expression and confirmation of their alliance with Iran:  “The Islamic Republic of Iran… considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world. Accordingly, while scrupulously refraining from all forms of interference in the internal affairs of other nations, it supports the just struggles of the mustad’affun [oppressed] against the mustakbirun [oppressors] in every corner of the globe.”

Source: The Palestine Chronicle

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