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Iran: Journalist Discusses Iranian Opinions On Mideast Crisis

Iranians demonstrating against Israel in Tehran on July 18 (Fars) PRAGUE, July 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian journalist Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin says Iran could play a role in ending the current conflict between Israel and Hizballah. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari spoke to Shamsolvaezin from Tehran about the views of ordinary Iranians regarding the conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Hizballah.

RFE/RL: How widespread is the public support for Iran's official policies in the Middle East and it's position regarding the current Lebanese conflict?

Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin: We can't say with certainty what percentage of Iran's people support the official policies of their government and what percent oppose it because there haven't been any scientific polls. But, in general, we can say the Iranian people have shown in their history that they support oppressed people anywhere in the world from a sentimental point of view. And, especially in the current Israeli war against Lebanon, public opinion does not accept the destruction Israel is causing in Lebanon, and naturally a significant part of the Iranian people are with the Lebanese people. Therefore, they side with the official policy of their government. I have not seen any statements or any stance opposing it from political organizations or civic groups.

An anti-Israel demonstrator in Tehran on July 18 (Fars)

RFE/RL: Apart from the current conflict in Lebanon, which is also blamed on Hizballah, what are people's views about the government's support for the Palestinians? Is the Palestinian cause really one of the main concerns for Iranians, as some officials claim?

Shamsolvaezin: This is a question you can ask in all countries -- is the sending of troops to Iraq or Afghanistan to help bring peace and democracy really the main issue for the American or French people? Governments and politicians define a country's national interests, and even though this is a limited group of people it represents the country's reason in guiding national interests toward defined goals. Iran is not an exception to this rule.

RFE/RL: What are people's views on the Lebanese Hizballah? Is it a respected movement among ordinary Iranians and how do they react to Iran's support for Hizballah?

Shamsolvaezin: Iranians see a difference between it and similar movements that exist in Iran under the same name and are usually active in opposing intellectuals and disrupting democratic gatherings. They consider the Lebanese Hizballah a resistance force that has popular support -- this view is common among politicians and journalists. And this is partly because of its popularity, its actions and, to a certain degree, because its honesty in politics and on economic issues is respected. Of course, this doesn't prevent some groups in Iran from condemning and criticizing Iran's support for Hizballah, which deprives some poor parts of [Iran] from certain economic privileges and comfort. This [issue] does come up.

RFE/RL: Is it also the case with Iran's help to the Palestinians? Is that also being criticized?

Shamsolvaezin: Yes, it can be seen but not from political organizations or groups, [only] in informal public gatherings, family meetings, or in protests that are made against Iran's policies. People say the government should first make our country progress and improve people's lives and then help should be sent to other countries including Palestine and Lebanon. Iran's ideological connection or the ideological situation that prevails in Iran's establishment does not prevent Iranians from expressing their solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people. Iranians want to see peace in the Middle East, and they want the UN Security Council's resolutions to be applied to all equally.

RFE/RL: What are the views of Israeli policies? Iranian officials say there is public hatred and anger toward Israeli actions.

Shamsolvaezin: The extent of destruction Israel has started in Lebanon has brought to Iranians' minds the memories of vast Israeli attacks in many Mideast regions. The current generation, the new generation, has a more logical stance toward Israel and Arabs. By logical, I mean that young people believe there should be peace in the Middle East and the governments of Israel and Palestine should live side by side peacefully. But the Israeli actions -- for example its attacks on Lebanon's infrastructure; attacks on airports, bridges, and civilian houses -- have negatively influenced people's views on Israel. As a result, Israel is slowly losing Iranian public opinion, as it was lost before in the Middle East.

RFE/RL: Iran is being accused by Israel and some observers as being behind the current conflict in Lebanon. Iranian officials have denied that and said they only give moral and spiritual support to Hizballah. What is your view?

An anti-Israel banner hanging in Tehran on July 18 (Fars)

Shamsolvaezin: It is very clear that Lebanon's Hizballah is fighting by itself and it began its resistance [many, many years ago]. It is Hizballah that has the initiative in its hand; it is a local force and it is fighting Israel because Israel occupied the south of Lebanon for years.

RFE/RL: Do you think Iran can use its influence on Hizballah and play a role in ending the current conflict?

Shamsolvaezin: This is an important issue. If Iran's role in connection with Afghanistan and Iraq -- its constructive role -- is [positively] evaluated by the U.S. and, if Iran's position is considered as a whole -- its nuclear case, the crises in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current conflict -- if Iran's role is being recognized by the U.S., it seems Iran could use its political weight and [influence] to reduce this crisis and resolve it. Iran has officially expressed its readiness to resolve this crisis and now it's the turn of the U.S. and the EU to give a positive answer to Iran's position or its capability and bring Iran into this arena to use its political weight to reduce the crisis and put an end to it.

RFE/RL: But while Iran's foreign minister has suggested a few ways to end the conflict, including a cease-fire, other officials have used other terms. Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, on July 18 praised Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrollah and quoted him as saying that the war has just begun.

Shamsolvaezin: Hassan Nasrollah has become a symbol of resistance against Israel in the whole Middle East. He has turned into a courageous international figure. Therefore comments like that should not be considered the official policy of a country. Demonstrations and support for Palestinians and Lebanese has spread in the region, and Iran is not an exception to this rule. The difference between Iran and other countries in the region is that the Iranian government supports the Palestinians and Lebanese, and it has a clear anti-Israeli stance. Therefore the people do not feel that they need to act themselves.

Iraq And Iran

Iraq And Iran

Iranian Shi'a protesting the Golden Mosque Bombing in Iraq on February 24

WHAT IS GOING ON? On March 8, RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a roundtable discussion on relations between Iraq and Iran. Although most analysts agree that Iran has been actively involved in Iraq since the U.S.-led military operation to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, they continue to debate the nature, extent, and intent of that involvement.
The RFE/RL briefing featured WAYNE WHITE, former deputy director of the U.S. State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research's Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia, and A. WILLIAM SAMII, RFE/RL's regional analyst for Iran and editor of the "RFE/RL Iran Report."


Listen to the complete RFE/RL briefing (about 75 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


Iran/Iraq: Bilateral Ties Improving Despite U.S. Worries

Renewed Speculation About Tehran And Instability In Iraq

Iran/Iraq: Neighbors Mending Ties, But Outstanding Issues Remain


RFE/RL's coverage of Iran. RFE/RL's coverage of Iraq.