The judge reportedly also ordered that the Facebook-owned Instagram and Whatsapp be blocked. Bans for these two applications have already been blocked in recent weeks, with at least one of the orders citing their ownership by the “American Zionist” Zuckerberg as a justification. Apparently neither ban has yet been executed, but Facebook itself is already blocked throughout the country, along with Twitter, YouTube, and other sites and applications.
There is no extradition treaty between the United States and Iran, meaning that there is no way to enforce the order that Zuckerberg, an American citizen, appear in Iran. The judge in this case is certainly aware of that fact, meaning that his statement cannot be reasonably interpreted as anything other than another in a long line of empty threats and shows of force directed against the United States.
Several representatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have issued statements suggesting that Iran is prepared for war and capable of defeating the United States military in combat. Iran’s oil ministry has rejected oil export limits required under the terms of nuclear negotiations, while Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Rouhani have both declared the nation to be effectively impervious to Western-led economic sanctions. Khamenei has also declared that Iran would continue to expand its ballistic missile stockpiles, and on Sunday he declared that conflict with the United States would continue until “the oppressors’ front” can be eliminated.
All of these gestures are similar to the court order regarding Zuckerberg, in that they serve to express the hardline attitudes that hold so much sway in the Iranian government. They also function as propaganda, encouraging Iranian citizens to perceive the government as more powerful than it is, and thus helping to silence dissent.
The hardline attitude towards the internet and social media, however, demonstrates some strategic differences among different Iranian policymakers. It contradicts the cooperative façade that the current administration has been trying to portray to the West, in order to secure sanctions relief and an easing of conflict over the Iranian nuclear program.
The very same social media that Iranian officials criticize and ban has been useful to President Rouhani and his cabinet in their pragmatic efforts to reach out to the West with one hand. While Iran’s citizens are banned from accessing those applications, Rouhani, Khamenei, and others maintain their own Facebook and Twitter applications and use them to communicate with foreign audiences, often delivering messages that are quite at odds with the anti-Western rhetoric that circulates within the country.