This type of rhetoric is nothing new for either Hatami or for the Iranian regime more generally. Officials routinely preside over military parades and ceremonies claiming to unveil new and advanced weapons technology, but international media routinely exposes these propaganda displays as involving non-working mock-ups or outmoded technology dressed up with superficial additions or alterations.
Hatami’s statement pointed directly to one of these instances of false-unveiling, in the form of the domestically designed and manufactured Kowsar 88 training jet. Iranian propaganda networks had proudly shown footage of a supposed runway demonstration of this aircraft last year, but thereby gave military analysts an opportunity to identify it as nothing more than a reproduction of an outdated F-5F.
An article published by the National Interest at the time declared the incident to be another in a long line of examples of the “casual dishonest of Tehran’s propagandists,” insofar as the deception was easy to expose on the international stage. Of course, Iran maintains a tight control over domestic media, leaving open the possibility that some citizens might take Hatami’s declarations seriously, if they are not among the many Iranians who routinely evade the regime’s restrictions on internet communication.
But among those who do so, many are likely aware that the reality of Iran’s air power is that most of it still dates back to before the 1979 Islamic revolution, making it fundamentally unsuitable to engagement with Iran’s leading adversaries such as the American-backed Israeli and Saudi Arabian militaries, or the United States itself.
Yet Tehran continues to make public statements specifically asserting that the Islamic Republic would win a war with the US, or that it is capable of effectively blockading the Strait of Hormuz in response to threats against Iranian oil exports.
In July, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani famously elicited a strong warning, delivered in all capital letters via Twitter, from his American counterpart when he said that the US would find war with Iran to be “the mother of all wars.”
A major purpose of this militaristic rhetoric is, of course, to mask the appearance of the regime’s vulnerability, especially at a time when it is coping with the dual pressures of renewed US sanctions and far-reaching domestic unrest. But part of the purpose is also ideological, as was made clear byIWanalysis of a speech delivered by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei before an October 4 gathering of members of the Basij civilian paramilitary.
The speech was apparently part of Khamenei’s ongoing effort to elevate religion over other aspects of national identity, thereby reinforcing the system of absolute rule by himself and other clerical authorities. Toward that end, the supreme leader attempted to underscore military officials’ exaggerated claims about the country’s strength, to which he added his own exaggeration by literally declaring the Iranian nation to be invincible.
Khamenei added that this invincibility “is, of course, because of Islam,” before going on to encourage the paramilitary attendees to expand their mission of enforcing the regime’s religious identity at home while also exporting the principles of the Islamic revolution abroad.