Iran's responses to 'Deal of the Century'
Updated: Feb 2, 2020
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
During Friday prayers on January 31 Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani condemned US President Donald Trump's "Deal of the Century." he said it was the "betrayal and a scandal of the century." The plan is a unilateral decision by Israel, the US and several Arab states, he argued. "The plan has been protested by freedom-loving people in the region and around the world. Mahmoud Abbas says they sold Quds [Jerusalem]. The Palestinian people will certainly reject this treacherous plan and will fight for the end of the occupation in a serious and permanent way. We defuse the conspiracies by protecting the world's freedoms. We are against terrorism."
Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani continued to slam the deal. "The shameful deal is the result of betrayal by some Arab governments. No conspiracy and treason can violate the rights of the Palestinian people. Resistance groups, Ayatollah Sistani, prominent personalities, and others have condemned the plan." This seeks to show Iran is mobilizing allies across the region. "The enemies are seeking to disarm and push the resistance. The Americans know that they are going to bury this dream, and Palestine will be liberated."
Using Palestinian Islamic Jihad
Iran is concerned about US President Donald Trump’s push for a “deal of the century” and his invitations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz. Iranian regime media has reported on the potential “deal” and Palestinian attempts to prevent it.
On the face of it Iran’s media had reported the “deal” initially in a strait-forward manner. Mehr News notes that Netanyahu says this deal is a historic opportunity and that Trump has asserted that it will benefit Palestinians. Iran’s IRNA news agency says that Jordan is maneuvering to accept the deal as well, portraying the Jordanian government as abandoning the wishes of Palestinians and its own people. However the report notes that local media see the deal as a disgraceful plan that involves the annexation of Jerusalem and settlements “to the Zionist regime” and the complete “destruction of the right of return of refugees.”
Evidence for Iran’s intentions comes from Tasnim news media that reports in detail on Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s plans to disrupt the process. The report notes that PIJ, which fought a brief conflict with Israel in November, has called for an uprising or Intifada. “The Palestinian people will never allow anyone to take Jerusalem from us,” a PIJ statement said. The political bureau of PIJ, which is in regular contact with Iranian officials, says that it will work to reject the plan and commit measures to stop it. It says Palestinians should no longer trust the West. PIJ has been in contact with Iran’s Javad Zarif and other officials over the last months, including attending the funeral for IRGC General Qasem Soleimani.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad is seeking to play a major role against US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” At the same time the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force has issued a message calling for resistance against the plan and praising the Palestinians for “standing alone” against it.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei slammed the Trump administration’s peace plan as “satanic” and evil on Wednesday, January 29. “It will never bear fruit” he wrote, claiming that Jerusalem must not be “in the hands of the Jews.” Khamenei’s comments went out as his advisors scrambled to work on a full-court press against Israel and the plan, leveraging regional anger over it to Iran’s benefit. Iran may now work with Palestinian groups and seek to thwart the plan through political and military means, hoping to use the plan as a way to jump-start Iran’s stalled influence peddling operations in the Middle East.
Towards that end Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that Iran will work throughout “West Asia” to confront the Deal of the Century. “It threatens the Islamic community,” he said. Iran refers to the Middle East as “West Asia.” While Iran’s Foreign Minister bashed the plan as a “so-called vision for peace” and a “nightmare for the region,” the foreign ministry in Tehran said that it would work with other countries in the region “at all levels to unite the Muslim world to confront the great conspiracy.”
Iran wants to make this an “Islamic” issue by emphasizing Jerusalem. A survey of Iranian media and political reactions, as well as reactions of Iran’s IRGC, illustrate this. An article at Iran’s IRNA media noted that while Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and even Qatar may be considering normalization with Israel, that Tehran will be working with other countries to undermine the deal. Qatar is usually considered close to Iran, and the linking of Qatar and other Gulf states represents a new trend in Tehran.
A deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps told Tasnim News in Iran that this deal marks a “new chapter in the struggle of the Palestinian people.” Yadollah Javani, a Brig. Gen. and member of the political bureau of the IRGC, said the plan was one-sided and that it was the “betrayal of the century.” He argued that the Palestinians were not included and that such a plan would fail. “This great treachery of Trump has been unveiled, but when we look at the history of the plans given for Palestine we see that the past plans by the Zionists and reactionary Arab governments in the region are supported by Zionists against Palestinian groups.” He hoped the Palestinians would unify in the face of the plan. Iran backs Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas and now wants to bring them to Ramallah to work more closely with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Painful and embarrassing,” was how a professor described the plan to ISNA media in Iran. The report slammed Bahrain, the UAE and Oman for appearing to endorse the plan and noted that even France and Germany had not supported it. “These countries are in a sensitive area in the Gulf and the plan will increase hostility to the US and the region will experience anew level of insecurity.” The article asserted that the Gulf states that support the US plan could be undermined by popular or regional anger against it. Iran launched a drone and cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabia in September and the article appears to insinuate that Iran could stir up trouble in Bahrain or neighboring states to punish them. “Those who choose Israel will be left with damaging consequences.” ISNA media was more careful with Qatar, noting that Qatar had released a statement arguing the plan must be in an international framework to be legitimate.
Mehr News highlighted a speech by Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi, interim imam and Friday prayer leader of Tehran who has argued against the US and the deal. “Palestine is on the way to returning to its Islamic identity. The US president unveiling his plan for the Palestinians has caused support for Al-Aqsa.” He argued that today pro-Iranian forces were working more closely together and referenced the Hashd al-Shaabi in Iran, Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah in Lebanon and their opposition to the “mercenary governments like the United States.” This was the “fruit” of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 finally growing and Iran must fulfill its potential now, apparently a plea to leverage the new US policy to gather pro-Iranian forces against the US and Israel. The Hashd al-Shaabi are pro-Iranian militias in Iraq that are part of the security forces, such as the Badr Organization. They work with the IRGC and have been suppressing protesters and oppose the US presence in Iraq. The US targeted one of their leaders on January 3 alongside IRGC general Qasem Soleimani.
The speeches on Wednesday reveal that Iran will use its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, and among the Palestinians. It will work to undermine Gulf states that appeared to support the plan. It will also push a religious crusade that will seek to argue that Trump’s plan is “anti-Islamic.” Through its various organs, from the Foreign Ministry to Friday prayers and the IRGC, Iran will oppose the plan. This is in line with Iran’s usual rhetoric against Israel and the US. But Tehran wants to seize this opportunity to make itself seem more relevant.
In Gaza Iran covers protests
Iranian media reported on a speech by PIJ leader Khader Habib in Deir al-Balah in Gaza this week in which he said that the Palestinians must not give up one inch of territory to the “conspiracy” that is Trump’s deal. He slammed Jews and Zionists.
Islamic Jihad claims Jerusalem is a “purely Islamic city” and that all of the land from the “river to the sea” belongs to Palestinians. He argued that the “deal of the century” will fail. The first option for PIJ is resistance and to realize national unity. “We will continue to oppose the deal in all its forms and regain our rights and not surrender to the usurper, the Trump regime.”
Another PIJ member, Nafaz Azzam, called for Palestinian unity. “There is no place for neutrality in this fight.” Here Iran appears to see the possibility for cooperation with Hamas, as Tasnim media reports. It’s interesting because in November Israel launched a short conflict against Islamic Jihad and Hamas remained outside the fighting. This appeared to be Hamas seeking a long-term agreement with Israel while sidelining PIJ. But the deal proposed by Trump might have upset the decision making in these groups. Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah has given hints of working on national unity after more than a decade and a half of division. Iran would prefer that.
Hamas' Eight-Point proposal
Hamas has an eight-part proposal for opposing the “deal of the century.” Hamas wants all Palestinians to oppose the plan and to be hostile US government activities. It asks for complete withdrawal from the Oslo agreement and welcomes the Abbas initiative. But Hamas wants a clear vision and “practical steps.” It condemns Arab countries that have appeared more warm to Trump’s proposal. Hamas says it will destroy “Zionist settlements” in Haifa, Jaffa and Acre to “cleanse the country of Zionists.”
In a text published by the Quds Force the Iranian regime slams the deal and calls Palestinians “dear friends” who are fighting the “Zionist usurper.” It refers to Arab countries that supported the plan as “traitors” and refers to those opposing the plan as “mujahideen.” The Islamic Republic of Iran will stand with the Palestinians, the Quds Force says. The US killed Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike on January 3. The new deputy of the force is Mohammad Hejazi, who helped Iran traffic precision guidance to Lebanon for Hezbollah’s missiles.
Taken together the Quds Force comments and focus on Islamic Jihad working with Hamas illustrate Iran’s potential plans to oppose the Deal of the Century. The main goal for Tehran is to try to mobilize support in Palestinian areas and neighboring states. Iran wants to end Islamic Jihad’s isolation in Gaza and make it more relevant along with overall attempts to make the Quds Force appear capable after the death of Soleimani. This could cause Iran to support operations against Israel to show off PIJ’s capabilities. But Iran knows the response it has received in the past in Syria, and which PIJ has suffered in Gaza, creates an uphill struggle.
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Noori-Hamedani slammed the deal on February 2. He has a histry of anti-Israel statements. He said the US plan was a conspiracy to destroy the Palestinian cause and that the Islamic community and religious leaders must fight it. "Muslims of the world should not remain silent against the sedition of the enemies...The enemies are coming out with more and more equipment to fight the Muslims, the enemy is not quiet for a moment and there is always a program of disagreement among the Muslims."
Iran's IRGC Quds Force said on February 2 it is in touch with Palestinian factions and that the "deal of the century" is doomed to fail. Iran's Press TV highlights that Arab governments were deceived about the deal. Zarif compares the deal to apartheid South Africa. Zarif speaks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about the US plan.