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Viewpoint: Khamenei's Blistering Attack On U.S. And Israel -- Tactics Or Worldview?

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivering a speech on October 5 at the Military College of Tehran where he described the United States government as "untrustworthy."
Hours before the start of a fresh round of negotiations in Geneva between Iran and representatives of the 5+1 group of world powers, Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic republic came out swinging with a heavy bat against the United States and Israel.

It was the most vicious attack yet in his regular condemnations of Israel (which he described as a "vicious dog...that does not even deserve to be called an animal") and expressions of deep distrust toward Washington.

It seems that, in the absence of former Iranian hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the supreme leader feels obliged to step in and fill the void.

Is Iran trying to play good cop, bad cop with the West or is Khamenei signaling his unwillingness to make any more concessions and expressing his deep-rooted beliefs about what he perceives as the Islamic republic's eternal enemies?

The answer to this question could simply be that both are true. While there is no harm for Khamenei in taking a tough position while his new and moderate-sounding government constantly makes optimistic remarks about the chances of a deal with the West, Khamenei also takes into account the possibility of failure and caters to his domestic audience of regime supporters who are as accustomed to hearing his rigid worldview as a dose of regularly administered medication.

This assumption is supported by Mehdi Mahdavi Azad, a former aide to Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who drew a similar picture about Khamenei's intentions in an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda on November 20, but added an interesting twist, namely that Iran's leader is rattled by the tough position Israel has taken in the last few weeks regarding a partial compromise with Iran -- a position supported by France.

It's possible that Khamenei did not expect such a tough reaction and realizes that the stance of two important American allies is bound to influence President Barack Obama's administration. As a result, the tone of his speech has been extremely harsh – the harshest in more than two decades.

Aside from these diplomatic and day-to-day factors, one should not be too surprised by Khamenei's constant anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Israeli statements. Most native Iranian observers and experts believe that such views constitute the core of Mr. Khamenei's ideology and beliefs.

Akbar Ganji, a prominent Iranian thinker and writer who was a supporter of the Islamic republic in his youth and later became a dissident, traces Khamenei's ideology back to the political environment prevailing in Iran and generally in the Middle East in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

This was the era of anti-imperialism, popular among the youth. In Iran, in particular, the Shah was seen as an American puppet and all kinds of conspiracies were ascribed to the British and the Americans. Khamenei grew up and formed his worldview in this environment.

Ganji notes that Khamenei, who was a seminarian at the time had many contacts and ties with the secular opposition, which was firmly anti-American and anti-imperialist. We can add to this the fact that Muslim leftists of that era also considered Israel to be an intolerable manifestation and extension of Western imperialism. Without the West's support Jews could not have moved to the Middle East and formed a nation state.

In addition to this, Ganji notes that Khamenei was acquainted with the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood and even translated some works by Sayyid Qutb into Persian.

Anti-American statements are a permanent part of all Khamenei's speeches. Just recently, in a speech given at a meeting with army cadets on October 5, Khamenei made a reference to negotiations with the West, saying that Iran was "pessimistic about the Americans."

We do not trust them at all," he added. "We regard the government of the United States of America as an untrustworthy government…which is completely under the influence of the international Zionist network”.

Iran observers and experts have written and spoken frequently about the Islamic republic’s tendency to base its calls for unity and action on the constant presence of "enemies." Many observers believe that the regime is sustained by the need to create and speak about enemies.

This tendency, coupled with the anti-Americanism of the revolutionary generation provides the ideological base on which Khamanei and his increasingly isolated regime stand.

The author is RFE/RL's Regional Director for Iran and Iraq. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.