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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
“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
“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
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.