These official statements of course continued through the day itself, variously focusing on expressions of support for Palestinians, commenting on the political and strategic conditions in the Israel-Palestinian crisis to day, and boasting of Iran’s role as an organizing or supportive force in that conflict. In a Friday prayer sermon, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami credited Iran with slowing Israeli expansionism, claiming that the Gaza Strip would have been entirely occupied by now if not for “Iran’s proper supports.”
Comments like these call attention to the particular significance of this year’s Quds Day, which takes place amidst ongoing outright conflict between Israel and Hamas. While officials like Ayatollah Khatami vaguely acknowledge the Iranian role in that fighting, it is mainly international observers who have commented directly on the supportive relationship between Iran and Hamas, as well as other anti-Israeli terrorist organizations.
Earlier this month, it was reported that missiles fired into the Gaza Strip showed the hallmarks of having been supplied and/or modified by the Iranian regime. Amidst this and other types of evidence stretching back for many years of the Israel-Palestinian crisis, there is little question about the existence of Iranian military and financial support of Hamas. This fact may be confusing to some observers, however, because Hamas is a Sunni Muslim organization, whereas Iran is a strict Shiite theocracy.
But Iran also has a long history of supporting terrorist organizations on both sides of the Muslim sectarian divide, as long as the organization’s activities support broader Iranian goals. And in the case of Hamas, the very existence of Quds Day makes it clear that there are few regional goals closer to the heart of the Iranian regime than the effort to destroy the state of Israel.
Some Middle East analysts have claimed that this fixation on the Israeli issue is largely motivated by the desire of Iran, the world’s only modern theocracy, to be viewed as the unrivaled leader of the world’s Muslim population. The eager promotion of Quds Day by various Iranian figures, including the nation’s president and its supreme leader, provides evidence of this as well, and the virulent rhetoric attached to that day serves to draw attention from all extremist corners of the Muslim world.
No doubt some of the strongest rhetoric on Friday came from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself, who addressed a crowd of supporters by calling for the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and beyond. “The only way to deal with this savage regime is to continue resistance and armed struggle and extend it to the West Bank,” Khamenei said, adding that “the only solution is to destroy the regime.”
His comments also served as further tacit acknowledgement and justification of Iranian participation in terrorist actions against Israeli target. “Anyone who cares about the fate of Palestine … should provide arms to the people of the West Bank, too,” the supreme leader said.