The Iranians are Shiite while most of the Arabs around us (with the exception of the south Lebanon population) are Sunni. And so, why are the Iranians regularly declaring their desire to eliminate our state? What do they want from us?
I presented this exact question about four years ago to a man who at the time served as the head of the reformist party in the Iranian parliament, Dr. Reza Khatami. At the time of our meeting, somewhere in Europe, his brother was Iran’s president. After several days of conversations with him and based on what I read and learned since then, I reached the conclusion that what feeds the hatred to Israel among the leaders of Iran (both conservatives and reformists) does not stem from Israel’s policy or its actions, but rather, from the threat posed to their desired way of life by Western culture.
The current Iranian regime attempts to close off society vis-à-vis the infiltration of ideas from the outside, which it views as threatening the current order. According to authorities in Tehran, the right lifestyle is the ones outlined by ancient religious tradition based on Holy Scripture. The desire to maintain the current order requires an all-out war against elements that aspire to change it, headed by the “Western culture” that offers a different agenda and lauds the notion of free choice.
This culture was shaped via revolutions and it prefers change and innovation over tradition and religion. It started with the religious revolution (the Reformation) of the 16th century, continued with the scientific revolution of the 17th century and with the industrial revolution in the 18th century, and culminated with the political revolution in France that carried the banner of equality and civil rights.
The real struggle
Young Iranians are confused, said supreme leader Khamenei last week in response to the riots on Tehran’s streets, adding that they need “more spirituality.” These “young people” (more than half of Iranians living today were born in the wake of the Khomeini revolution) want to live like their counterparts in the West. They too wish to enjoy the innovations of science and technology; the freedom to live without fear of the government and express their views on every subject, without censorship by the old authorities.
Western culture is the greatest enemy of the Iranian regime, and for that reason they hate the West’s leader – the United States, and the country they perceive as its agent in the Middle East, Israel. This is why they refer to the former as “Great Satan” and to us as “Little Satan.” The US is not hated in Iran because of Israel’s conduct. The opposite is true: Israel is the target of Iranian hatred because it represents American culture.
The real struggle is between the ruling elite and the young people born in the wake of the Khomeini revolution. The former group wishes to “seal off” Iran and prevent the permeation of new and damaging ideas from outside. The latter group wishes to live in an open free society similar to the one in place in the West.