Khomeini declared that the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan -- 28 October this year -- would be marked as Qods Day (Jerusalem Day). Qods Day has been celebrated faithfully since then, not only in Iran but in countries with sizable Shi'a Muslim minorities, and it has become a ritualized outpouring of hatred directed at Israel. If this hatred was restricted to an annual rally, it could be dismissed as a meaningless display. However, because of Iran's alleged support for terrorist organizations and suspicions that it is developing nuclear weapons, many in the international community are concerned.
Against Normal Relations With Israel
According to state radio, in his 21 October sermon at the Tehran Friday prayers, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Qods Day is especially important this year for several reasons, one of which is that some Islamic states are normalizing their relations with Israel -- he described this as "the conspiracy instigated by the Americans, the Zionists, and some of their allies." Khamenei discouraged this normalization process and suggested that countries do this just to please the United States.
Khamenei is not the only Iranian official to speak out recently against normalized relations with Israel. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told his cabinet in Tehran on 24 October that Israel's effort to normalize relations with Muslim countries is a "new Zionist plot," state radio reported. Ahmadinejad said that "Muslim nations will not let it do so on international Qods Day." Two days later, Ahmadinejad told a conference on "A World Without Zionism" in Tehran that any government that normalizes its ties with Israel will encounter the wrath of the Islamic umma (community), the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and state television reported. Former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in a 25 October speech at Ayatollah Khomeini's shrine that Iranians should participate in Qods Day rallies to show their solidarity with the Palestinians and to protest "the great oppression of our time," Mehr News Agency reported. Khatami said Palestinians are the biggest victims of state-sponsored terrorism at the hands of Israel.
Also on 25 October, the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of 86 clerics, encouraged Muslims to participate in the Qods Day events and show their adherence to the ideals of Ayatollah Khomeini, Mehr News Agency reported. The Assembly of Experts statement discouraged Muslim states from normalizing relations with Israel. Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, secretary-general of the International Conference to Support the Palestinian Uprising (Intifada) series and a founder of Lebanese Hizballah, said in a 22 October interview in Tehran that Islamic countries' establishment of links with "the Zionist regime" (presumably Israel) is a crime, Mehr News Agency reported. He referred specifically to Bahrain, Pakistan, Qatar, and Turkey as being in the process of normalizing their relations with Israel. He said Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque are under threat, and Islamic countries should be holding a summit on this issue.
More Than Just Talk?
Tehran is doing more, however, than just talking tough. According to the U.S. State Department, which designated Iran a state sponsor of terrorism in January 1984, Iran helps terrorist groups secure funding, weapons, and materials, and it provides them with safe areas from which they conduct operations. The State Department identifies Iran as the most active state sponsor of terrorism in its most recent annual report -- "Country Reports on Terrorism," released by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism on 27 April 2005. That report notes Iranian interference in Iraq and Tehran's refusal to identify Al-Qaeda members it claims to have in custody. The State Department report notes Iran's "high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli terrorist activity," and it notes Tehran's support for "Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups -- notably HAMAS, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command."
Iranian officials acknowledge helping these organizations, and Tehran sees them as liberation movements. The help Iranian officials admit to is only of the political and moral kind, and when accused of supporting terrorism they level counteraccusations and claim that Iran is the biggest victim of this phenomenon.
Moreover, representatives of Hizballah, Hamas, and similar organizations sometimes participate in Qods Day rallies and other events in Iran, and Iranian officials sometimes meet with them in Beirut, Damascus, and elsewhere. For example, Hamas representative Abu Osama Abd-al-Moti said at the 26 October "A World Without Zionism" event in Tehran, "With your help and support and the support of the entire Islamic nation, our people can remain steadfast and confront Israel and America until this cancerous gland is removed," Al-Manar television reported.
Not only does Iran provide assistance to terrorist organizations, it has encouraged its own citizens to become suicide bombers. In May 2004, an organization called the Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement began recruiting suicide bombers in Iranian cities. This organization is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and in December 2004 it commemorated the 1983 suicide bombing of a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, in which 241 Americans were killed. According to the martyrs' headquarters, the prospective suicide bombers would operate in Iraq and Palestine.
There is, however, no evidence to date of any actions by Iranian suicide bombers. That is not because suicide bombings -- which are referred to as martyrdom operations -- are being discouraged by Iranian officials. During a 1 May 2002 speech, Supreme Leader Khamenei said, "It is the zenith of honor for a man, a young person, boy or girl, to be prepared to sacrifice his life in order to serve the interests of his nation and his religion. This is the zenith of courage and bravery.... [M]artyrdom-seeking operations demonstrate the pinnacle of a nation's honor," state radio reported. In a 24 August speech at the headquarters of the paramilitary Basij, Khamenei said this organization is a model for the rest of the Islamic world. He added, "That is why America and its agents are trying to defame jihad and martyrdom and question such supreme values," state television reported.
Contributing further to concern about Iranian intentions are suspicions of Tehran's nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, which were described by U.S. intelligence community leaders in testimony before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in February and the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. Iran's missile inventory -- particularly the Shihab-3 medium-range ballistic missile, which has a 1300-kilometer range, and the development of a 2000-kilometer version -- are also cause for concern.
Given this record, the comments of President Ahmadinejad on 26 October are especially worrisome. He described Israel as a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." One could perhaps dismiss the president's statement as bluster or rhetoric as he was paraphrasing Ayatollah Khomeini's previous comments on Israel. But Ahmadinejad's comments came shortly before a suicide bomber in the Israeli town of Hadera killed five people. Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- one of the groups sponsored by Iran -- took credit for the bombing.