Well done, Mr. Prime Minister, but...

The main public opinion battlefield is thus here in Middle East – that is, if Israel does not want to be surrendered by eternal enemies forever.

Tehran 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Tehran 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In an outstanding interview with the BBC’s Persian service, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had his first direct conversation with the Iranian people.
If during his recent visit to the UN Netanyahu launched a counterattack against the Iranian regime’s charm offensive, in his interview with BBC Persian he took aim at the very heart of the regime. One of his statements was so painful that former Iranian president’s Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s grandchild called it “a fireball in the Islamic Republic’s camp.”
Fuad Hashemi criticized BBC Persian for giving Netanyahu a forum to speak openly with the Iranian people. He argued that “Iranian officials are not allowed to speak with Israeli people through official Israeli TV” – an opportunity they deny themselves, as they don’t acknowledge the existence of the Jewish state and have been trying to destroy it by any and all means.
Rebuking BBC Persian, the junior prince of the Rafsanjani dynasty asserts that Netanyahu’s interview has greatly hurt the regime. He warns that “paying tribute” to Netanyahu will harm Great Britain’s interests in Iran.
However, the fact that the Islamic Republic’s propaganda machine, its cyber army and its legion of lobbyists and apologists could not come up with any better response than to focus on Netanyahu’s point about jeans shows just how on-the-mark the prime minister’s well-chosen words were.
Here is what Netanyahu said: “I think if the Iranian people had freedom, they would wear jeans, listen to Western music, and have free elections.”
In one sentence, he addressed two of the most important issues the Iranian people have been fighting for under the oppressive Islamist dictatorship which has occupied Iran since 1979: First, the battle over lifestyle and second, the battle over democracy and human rights.
True, the prime minister would have been better off if he had chosen the example of women being forced to wear veils, but anyone with a normal IQ understands what he meant by the comment about jeans: Iranians are not free to wear what they want, drink what they want, eat what they want, or listen to whatever music they want to listen to.
They have to do as the Islamic regime and Shari’a law order them, or face punishment, anytime, anywhere.
For three long decades the Islamist dictatorship has waged war on an ancient civilization, depriving it of individual choice.
FOR THE second battle, on the other hand, Netanyahu chose an excellent example: the demand for free and fair elections. President Hassan Rouhani was not freely elected. He was handpicked, along with seven others, by the Guardian Council and the supreme leader, in a process that disqualified Rafsanjani.
Also disqualified were hundreds of people who registered, thousands who did not bother to register because they knew they would be disqualified, ten of thousands who could not register as they had been murdered by the regime over the past 34 years and the hundreds of thousands who have fled the country due to the unbearable situation there.
Netanyahu praised Iran, the Iranian people and Cyrus the Great. He told the Iranian people about the long friendship between Persians and Jews, which stretched from ancient times until 34 years ago, and he told them it was his wish to renew such a friendship. This highlights once more that both Israeli society and its political leadership long for a partnership with a democratic Iran.
Netanyahu told the Iranian people they deserve a better government, a notion that apparently US President Barack Obama doesn’t subscribe to. He explained to them clearly why Israel cannot accept a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic and how this problem can be resolved peacefully.
He made it obvious, once again, that by keeping the military pressure up Israel seeks to gather support around the globe to bring this dictatorship to its knees economically and politically.
Without a doubt, Netanyahu’s interview was a successful PR move, and again without doubt, it could have been better.
Let’s hope this is only the beginning of Israel’s targeting of Iranian public opinion. The truth is that Islamic Republic is Israel’s greatest enemy and Israel should have done more in addressing Iran’s civil society. Israel’s efforts have been focused on the fight in the Western public opinion battlefield.
While the Western front is important, Israel needs to turn its head toward the east; after all, the point of all these efforts is to establish Israel in the Holy Land, in the heart of the Middle East.
The main public opinion battlefield is thus here in Middle East – that is, if Israel does not want to be surrendered by eternal enemies forever, it needs to make friends in the region, and to make friends it needs to launch a large-scale PR campaign.
Engaging more visibly the Iranian people, the most secular and democracy-loving society in the Middle East, is a step that the Jewish democratic state can only gain from – especially in light of absent American leadership. So well done, Mr. Prime Minister. But keep it up.
Saba Farzan is a German-Iranian journalist and director of political studies at the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy.
Saeed Ghasseminejad is a political analyst and PhD candidate in finance at City University of New York.