"our magnanimous Imam [Khomeini] said: 'the Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor that must be removed'."
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei; June 4, 2013
Iran marked the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. As in every year, the events commemorating the revolution started with the "Ten Days of Fajr" marking the period between the return of the Imam Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran from exile in Paris (February 1) to the proclamation of the revolution (February 10). During the ten days, the regime traditionally glorifies the principles of the revolution and its achievements, including military ones. This year, the regime presented an "appropriate Iranian answer" to the international sanctions – a large underground facility for manufacturing advanced missiles and a new ballistic missile named "Dezful".
Since its inception, the regime has preached for the destruction of Israel. The regime displays in military parades missiles with slogans that call for wiping Israel of the map. Senior members of the regime often cite Khomeini, who claimed that Israel is a cancer tumor that must be removed from the region. Khomeini's successor and current leader, Khamenei, went even further and predicted that Israel will cease to exist within 25 years.
The Iranian regime's calling for Israel's destruction might appear surprising and require explanation – the two countries do not share a border or a territorial dispute; most of the Iranian people are less hostile towards Israel, compared to public opinion in some Arab countries; and during the Shah's rule, both countries were strategic allies. Furthermore, the Iranian regime has never called for the destruction of any other enemy country, not even Iraq, with which it held a protracted war, during which Iranian citizens were subjected to missile and chemical weapons attacks.
So, why has the Iranian regime vowed to destroy Israel? Is it mere propaganda, as many presume, or is it a deeply embedded conviction?
The sea change in Iran's attitude towards Israel is based on the readings of Khomeini that continues to guide the Iranian leadership, all of which were Khomeini's students and followers. Khomeini's ideological hate of Zionism and Jews, well-documented in Prof. Meir Litvak's research, was a major pillar of his religious worldview and his conceptualization of Islam and its historical and religious destiny, in face of its crisis in the era of modernity.
At the ideological-religious level, Khomeini linked Jews and Zioinism with the processes of secularization and westernization in the 20th Century Middle East. He believed that the decline of the Islamic world – as it followers pursued material desires – is the result of broad-ranging plot of foreign powers, served by Zionism as its spearhead in the region. In Khomeini's thinking, once the West realized that it would not be capable of defeating Islam by military force, it sought to undermine it from within by advancing secular and material ideologies and ideas.
Khomeini became obsessed with Israel and its "malignant schemes" and sought to corroborate his convictions – the close ties between Israel and the Shah's regime that promoted secularization and the links between Israel and the Bahai religion, considered in Islamic Iran an infidel movement. Khomeini therefore, contended that Israel – in its very existence – is a real obstacle to Islam's human uplifting process, leads the Muslim believer to heredity preventing the realization of his spiritual destiny and redemption. From this point of departure, calling for the destruction of Israel requires only a short path.
At the theological level, Khomeini determined that Jews are impure infidels. In his writings, Khomeini listed Jews among the eleven things that contaminate the Muslim believer, along with dogs and pigs. According to the Islamic belief, Khomeini considered Jews as bearable "protectees" (Dhimmi) and asserted that they could not control Islamic religious sites. Thus, the Islamic regime's callings for the liberation of Jerusalem and its purification of Jews' contamination have become repeated slogans to this day.
At the political-historical level, Khomeini considered Israel's cooperation with the Shah's regime as a move to repress the Iranian people, persecute Islam in Iran and allow Israel to take control of the economy, the military and the society. Khomeini accused Israel of supplying torture equipment of the Shah's secret police (SAVAK) that persecuted the Islamic revolution movement, he headed. Khomeini therefore argued that the Israeli-imperialist control had become a question of life-and-death for Iran.
The religious-ideological hatred towards Israel became an inseparable part of the regime's identity. Anti-Israel hostility was one of the few elements the regime preserved over years, while as any other revolutionary movement coming to power, it was forced to compromise on many principles in governing domestic and foreign affairs.
The deep hostility towards Israel also shaped the strategic outlook of the regime viewing Israel as the principal threat to Iran's national security and the hegemonic position the regime is pursuing. In the regime's worldview, the link between the religious-ideological hostility and the strategic-security threat perception have made Israel a unique enemy, with which there is no room for compromise. The regime is therefore committed to do all within its power to weaken Israel and to promote its eventual demise in the longer-term.
"Spotlight: Israel & The Middle East" is a new weekly brief on topical strategic issues facing Israel and the Middle East. The brief shares the insights of the research team of IDC Herzliya's Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) and is authored by Col. (res.) Udi Evental, a senior research fellow at IPS.
If you wish to receive the weekly brief regularly, please follow the link to register.