Hostility towards Israel continues to be a fundamental element of Iranian foreign policy – Dr. Raz Zimmt

An Anti-Israeli Iranian poster (IRNA, July 1, 2015).
An Anti-Israeli Iranian poster (IRNA, July 1, 2015).


1. Iran's diplomatic charm offensive, which began in the summer of 2013 with the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president, and the nuclear agreement signed with the Western powers in the summer of 2015, raised the question of whether Iran's foreign policy towards Israel had become more moderate. Generally speaking, Iranian policy is predicated on a revolutionary ideological vision, but in the past the Iranian regime has been pragmatic concerning its national and political interests. However, its foreign policy towards Israel remains unchanged.

2. President Rouhani's rhetoric towards Israel is more moderate than that of his predecessors and the issue of Israel does not seem to be one of his administration's high priorities. However, he is not the Iranian political system's final authority, and Iran's policies towards Israel, dictated by the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), have clearly not changed. Senior Iranian officials have reacted harshly to hints of a change towards Israel, indicating that Iran's basic, uncompromising hostility to Israel remains a consistent element of the Islamic Republic's official foreign policy. During the past yearthe Iranian leadership, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, continually voiced strong anti-Israel statements, openly advocating the destruction of the State of Israel.


3. Hostility to Israel continues to be a major component of the Iranian regime's worldview and enjoys an almost total political consensus. Explicit threats against Israel are also made by senior members of the Iranian military establishment. On the sidelines of Iranian public discourse it is possible to discern the beginnings of change. This change, however, is limited to circles without substantial influence on Iranian foreign policy, among them pro-reform academics.

4. Iran's hostility towards Israel is not limited to propaganda but is also translated into action. Iran continues to encourage, promote and support anti-Israel terrorist activity, which is carried out by the Palestinian terrorist organizations and Hezbollah. Recent developments in Iraq and Syria have nevertheless compelled Iran to invest most of its effort in halting the spread of ISIS and in supporting and defending the Assad regime. To a great extent that has limited the Qods Force's ability to advance the Iranian regime's objectives for the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Iran continues, however, to promote terrorist activity against Israel, although not particularly extensively at this point.

5. Despite the crisis in Iran-Hamas relations which began with the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Iran is still committed to supporting the Palestinian military-terrorist campaign against Israel. During the past year senior Iranian officials reiterated Iran's commitment to supporting the Palestinians, especially in view of the renewed Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. Iran's financial aid to the Palestinians continues as well, and Iran has stated its intention to provide funds for Palestinian families whose members were killed by Israel. In the meantime, Iran also provides extensive support to Hezbollah, some of which is diverted to Hezbollah's military infrastructure in Lebanon, especially its rocket arsenal, earmarked for use at a future date in accordance with Iranian interests. Iran gives Hezbollah an estimated $200 million a year. It also provides Hezbollah with weapons, intelligence, logistic support and support for Hezbollah's extensive social welfare system (on June 24, 2016, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed that "Hezbollah's budget, salaries, funds, food, drink, arms, all come from Iran…as long as Iran has money, we will have money").

6. In Syria Iran uses local terrorist networks to foster anti-Israeli terrorism in the Golan Heights, exploiting the vacuum left by the Syrian regime's loss of control over the region. So far, Iran has failed to establish a significant terrorist network in the Golan Heights, due to Israel's ongoing counterterrorism efforts and Iran's need to concentrate the IRGC and its auxiliary Shi'ite forces on the campaign for Aleppo, currently Iran's top priority.

7. Not only did the nuclear agreementmake no change in Iran's policies toward Israel, to a great degree it encouraged Tehran to be more overtly hostile, proof of its ongoing adherence to the Islamic Revolution's ideology. Moreover, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides Iran with opportunities to bolster its regional hegemony and use hostility to Israel to enlist the support of public opinion, both at home and abroad. It is a win-win situation for Iran, which does not have to pay a price for its anti-Israel stance. Thus opposition to Israel can be expected to remain a central tenet of Iranian foreign policy. However, Iran's ability to promote its anti-Israel objectives depends on geostrategic circumstances, the future of its relations with the Palestinian terrorist organizations, especially Hamas, and on developments in combat zones where Iran is involved, especially Syria and Iraq.