In a bizarre tweet on the first of the month the former Foreign Minister of Iran Javad Zarif decided to memorialize former IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani by slamming former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former US President Donald Trump. This was a throwback to a bygone era when Zarif was the toast of the town in the West, hanging out with smiling western diplomats, while he blamed calls for war on Trump and Netanyahu.
Zarif, like some other Iranian officials, has a Twitter account that tweets in English. While Iran crushes protests at home and suppresses its own people from using social media, its leaders use social media. Because companies like Twitter don’t ban dictatorships from doing this, enabling their leaders while often banning politicians in democracies, this contradictory arrangement persists.
The tweets in English from the Zarif account are often designed to fit center-left American and European media narratives. However, now that Trump and Netanyahu are gone, his main talking points appears to have evaporated. In addition, Zarif is out of office, so he no longer needs to tweet propaganda.
However, on January 1 he tweeted about Qasem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC Quds Force who the US killed in January 2020. It is the two year anniversary of Soleimani’s death. Zarif used to pretend to be primarily a diplomat, but he has tried to ride the legacy of Soleimani over the last years. “2 years ago, I lost a friend, Iran a hero and the world a champion in fighting terrorism,” he tweeted. While Soleimani was fighting ISIS, Zarif felt more comfortable in nice suits relaxing in Europe or the US meeting officials and hamming it up for the cameras. When Soleimani was dead, Zarif tried to pretend they knew each other. In fact Zarif has critiqued him secretly.
Now Zarif’s latest attempt to manipulate the narrative is to try to latch onto anger in the US over the January 6 pro-Trump riots in the US capital last year. “To those in denial, Trump's true colors were on full display only a year later in US Capitol,” he wrote. This is classic Zarif, reading western media and pretending that he is “woke.” But he went further on January 1, slamming the former Israeli and US leaders. “The world needs brave fighters like #Soleimani—not coward warmongers like Trump, Netanyahu and Co.” This is a reminder of the days when he was foreign minister and would use Trump and Netanyahu as a straw man, always claiming they wanted war or pretending Israel controlled US foreign policy. He used to call them the “B team.” But that team is now out of office, as is Zarif. Yet he is living in the past, thinking that tweeting about the former leaders will still work. However, the world has changed. There are new administrations in Iran, the US and Israel. While some aspects of the national positions of these new leaders has not changed, there are still fundamental differences. However, Zarif is still riding the “Trump” media narrative, still trying to score points by slamming “Netanyahu.” It’s not clear who his audience is. His own government doesn’t seem to care what he does. Iranians who supported Soleimani know that Zarif is no Soleimani. Soleimani wore modest outfits and went to the frontlines. Zarif enjoyed dinners and hotels in the West. If the tweet won’t be read by Iranians or regime backers, and no one in the West really cares about this narrative anymore, it’s not clear what credentials Zarif thinks he is still showing off.