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Tehran’s Support For Hamas Sharply Divides Opinion At Home

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The Islamic Republic’s unwavering support for Hamas has led many Iranians to adopt a contrasting stance, favoring Israel in its military actions, according to pundits.

These opposing views, the result of economic hardships, widespread poverty, political impasses, and a negative approach by policy-making institutions toward Iranian culture and lifestyle, are contributing to a broader shift in attitudes among the opposition. 

Former government spokesman Ali Rabiei, in a commentary published by the reformist Etemad newspaper on Saturday, highlighted that this perspective on the Gaza situation extends beyond “some among the masses” to include “some intellectuals and writers” who either remain silent on the Gaza issue or express support for Israel.

Ahmad Bokharai, head of the political sociology department of Iran’s Sociological Association also told Didban-e Iran (Iran Monitor] news website Saturday that “the proxy wars Iran has waged in the past few years” are not acceptable to the majority of the Iranians. 

Highlighting that Iranians who lived through the eight-year war with Iraq (1980-88) and witnessed its devastating aftermath tend to favor peace, Bokharai argued that those dissatisfied with the government’s stance lean towards supporting Israel over the Palestinians. He pointed out that the “majority in Iran” expressing support for Israel is a reaction to the minority who misuse government resources to suggest that Iranians are pleased with Hamas’s attacks on Israel.

Ahmad Bokharai, head of the political sociology department of Iran’s Sociological Association

Judging from social media comments, many ordinary Iranians are supporting Israel, blaming Hamas for starting the recent war, and condemning the atrocities it has allegedly committed against Israelis. Pounding Gaza and driving the residents out of the Palestinian enclave, they say, is only a response to Hamas’ atrocities and photos and footage that has emerged of their actions is proof of its barbarism. 

In contrast to other regional countries like Turkey and Pakistan, there have been no significant pro-Gazan protests in Iran, aside from small, state-sponsored rallies that were organized to “celebrate the Palestinian victory” in Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Storm Operations last week and after Friday prayers this week.

The level of support shown for Israel on social media these past few days has no precedent even in the past few years when anti-government protesters often chanted against the regime’s financial support of militants in other countries, particularly in Gaza and Lebanon.

“Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, I will sacrifice my life for Iran” was first chanted by anti-government protesters on Quds Day in 2009 in reaction to the government-sponsored demonstrations and again during the anti-government protests of 2017, 2019, and 2022-23. In a speech on October 13, 2021, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said those who chanted the slogan were “deluded” and “would even not defend Iran”.

Khamenei and other officials have fervently praised Hamas for initiating the recent attack on Israel and their goal of eradicating the Jewish state. However, they deny any direct involvement by the Islamic Republic in the attack. “This was carried out by Palestinians themselves,” Khamenei stated in a speech on Tuesday during a military event in Tehran.

Many Iranians consider it unacceptable that the country’s resources are directed toward supporting proxy forces in the region, including those in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen. These actions provoke the international community against Iran and Iranians. This happens while the pressing needs of the Iranian people, whose livelihoods are significantly impacted by these policies, are being neglected.

Most expatriate opposition figures including former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi have condemned Hamas and expressed solidarity with Israel while in Iran some opposition figures such as the reformist former President Mohammad Khatami have called the Hamas attack a result of years of Israeli oppression and occupation but urged the Islamic Republic to take a cautious stance. 

Others, such as outspoken Sunni leader Mowlavi Abdolhamid are arguing that the regime’s enmity with Israel is pointless and should be abandoned in favor of a solution that accepts the existence of two states for Israelis and Palestinians.