A recent op-ed article on an influential Iranian website says Israel’s culture of openness and its willingness to criticize and even prosecute its leaders have helped the country survive against the odds.

Seyed Ammar Kalantari wrote the article for the widely read Baztab site, which is closely affiliated with Mohsen Rezaee, the former commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guards and current secretary of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council.

Kalantari, who regularly writes for Baztab, has previously written articles criticizing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Baztab has also revealed corruption cases inside Iran’s government. In this recent op-ed about Israel, Kalantari also levels criticism against Ahmadinejad, and suggests that Iran’s leaders need to build more trust with its people, just as Israel’s openness and ability to self-criticize has allowed it to do.

Kalantari takes pains to repeat that he believes the “Zionist Regime” is illegitimate, but nevertheless asks how Israel, “this small group of around seven million people who only about 60 years ago moved to this small spot from all sorts of different cultures and nationalities around the world” managed to survive against successive attacks by Palestinians (which, Kalantari hastens to add “were caused by Israel’s actions”), and while attacked by armies from surrounding Arab nations.

Even despite these threats, Israel openly criticized a “surprising number” of senior military figures after the Second Lebanon War (which, like Hezbollah, Iran calls the ‘33- Day War’), Kalantari said, alluding to the Winograd Commission’s inquiry into the war, which was widely praised as an example of Israel’s strong democracy and openness to self-criticism.

Such criticism leveled at senior officials could not happen in Iran, Kalantari added, because of what he said were “pretexts” such as prestige and government unity and also because of the Iranian government’s sensitivity to external factors including how such criticism might appear to the enemy.

However, the Israelis – who, Kalantari said are “exceptionally vulnerable” – have “given none of these excuses.” Israel has undertaken such criticism of itself, he added, partly because its leaders know that another war will occur and so the country needs to be prepared.

“This approach [to criticism] is made not only in [Israel’s] legal system but also in its media, which also criticized the 33-Day War,” Kalantari wrote, noting that Iranian officials including Maj.-Gen. Seyed Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, had cited Israeli media criticism of the country’s leaders during the Second Lebanon War.

Kalantari also noted that Israel has prosecuted senior officials and politicians on allegations of “financial and moral wrongdoing.”

He noted that an Israeli court sentenced the country’s former president Moshe Katsav to seven years for rape, and former prime minister Ehud Olmert was prosecuted on corruption charges, despite the “humiliation” this brought Israel in the world’s media “particularly in Iran and the Arab world.”

Israel has even allowed Sara Netanyahu, the wife of current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to be sued by her former housekeeper Lillian Peretz, Kalantari added.

Kalantari’s Baztab op-ed comes as, under pressure from sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, the Islamic Republic’s leaders have tried to present a unified public image, despite recent scandals that have caused bitter rifts between Iranian lawmakers and clerics – including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and Ahmadinejad.

Kalantari refers directly to the biggest of these scandals, the 2011 embezzlement affair in which Iranian businessman Amir Mansour Arya and 38 others used forged documents to defraud approximately $2.6 billion from state and private banks to purchase major stateowned companies.

The case is considered extremely politically sensitive in Iran because not only did it occur during Ahmadinejad’s term in office, it has been indirectly linked to his top aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, whom the president’s critics have accused of leading a “deviant current” that undermines Iran’s clerics.

Last month Iran’s courts sentenced four people to death over the scandal and handed down lengthy prison terms to 35 other defendants.

In an apparent dig at Ahmadinejad, Kalantari wrote that the Iranian authorities were concerned with preserving the government’s “unity and dignity” over the scandal.

“[For the regime], prestige and sensitivity are more important than ever at this time, when [Iran] is under pressure from foreign conspiracies including the Western sanctions,” Kalantari wrote, adding that Iran’s leaders must show unity.

However, building trust and confidence with the Iranian people is also important, Kalantari concluded, especially at a time when sanctions and external pressures could affect the stability of the system.

Dr. Eldad Pardo, an expert on Iranian politics and foreign relations from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that the Baztab article shows that, even though the Iranian regime is afraid of transparency and openness, there are nevertheless voices of dissent that are calling for the government to present alternatives to the current system.

“Gradually, even Iran is learning from the West,” he said, noting that even though Iran blocks most Western and Israeli media sites, many including Iran’s leaders still read them.

Israel Radio’s Persian language radio service is blocked in Iran, Pardo said – but noted that Iranian hardline daily newspaper Kayhan recently included an article attacking the service.

Kayhan is Khamenei’s paper,” added Pardo. “So he must have listened to Israel Radio in Persian.” Kayhan frequently cites Israel’s media, including The Jerusalem Post, but also left-leaning daily Haaretz which is often highly critical of Netanyahu’s government.

In another sign that Iran’s leaders are starting to learn from the West, Pardo recalled a May conference in Tehran entitled “National Gathering: Developments in The Middle East and Future of the Regional Order,” in which Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi- Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad’s political rival, participated.

“Other opinions – including about democracy and civil society – were raised at that event,” Pardo noted.

During the May event, Hashemi-Rafsanjani talked about issues including poverty and a lack of social security as causes for the Arab Spring, hinting that these could also affect Iran.

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