Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi’s visit to Israel in April 2023 was a historical event. He is the highest Iranian official to ever visit Israel, and the context of the Crown Prince’s visit is important.
Due to the anti-Israel policy in the Islamic republic, Israel has been one of the main topics of Iranian politics, both within the regime and in the opposition. Since the emergence of Iran’s Green Movement in 2009, the Islamic regime’s anti-Israel policies has been a main concern of Iranian protesters. Whenever protesters take to the streets, one of their recurring slogans is “neither Gaza, nor Lebanon; I sacrifice my life for Iran”—a slogan that can face a harsh punishment from the Islamic regime.
Reza Pahlavi’s visit took place after a months-long nationwide uprising following the brutal killing of Mahsa Amini when she was in the regime’s custody on Sept. 16, 2022, in Tehran. The protest broke out outside the building where she was hospitalized. The demonstrations quickly turned into an anti-regime uprising aimed at overthrowing the Islamic republic.
This aim was clear from the slogans that people chanted and the level of anger and frustration of the protesters. Many demonstrators demanded that the world hear their voices. However, since hundreds of thousands of protesters could not communicate with the world directly, they demanded that the world listen to their respected and trusted figures and leaders.
It was in this context that the crown prince was invited to Israel to convey the Iranians’ voices to Israelis. The main message of his visit was the possibility and urgency of peace between the two ancient nations of Israel and Iran. However, this will not happen unless the Iranian people can succeed in overthrowing the Islamic republic, the common enemy that cements the relationship between a majority of Iranians and Israel.
Israel’s invitation to the crown prince had several clear and strong messages: The first was that Israel recognizes Iranians’ demand to overthrow the brutal religious dictatorship of the Islamic republic. The second message was that Israel recognizes Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi as the main leader of the Iranian opposition. The third message was that there is a broad political consensus among Israeli officials about these messages.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog met with the crown prince publicly. A prominent aspect of the visit was the presence of Israel’s Minister of Intelligence Gila Gamliel, who accompanied Reza Pahlavi during his visit in Israel, sending a strong message to Islamic republic leaders that Israel’s decision to invite Pahlavi will be a long-term policy of Israel.
Many Iranians view their dream of peace with Israel as within reach
The Iranian state-run media viewed Pahlavi’s visit to Israel with shock and anger. As an example, and not an isolated instance, the Tasnim news agency, an organization under Islamic Revolutionary Guards control, hosted an event in which some of the regime’s propagandists attacked Israel and Pahlavi for visiting Israel. The language used to cover Pahlavi’s visit is telling: One of its website’s news pages declared, “With the official welcoming of the Zionist-occupied regime’s Ministry of Intelligence, Pahlavi arrived in Israel.”
One of the speakers about the event was Mojtaba Ferdosipoor, the Islamic Republic’s former ambassador to Jordan. He stated, “Whoever wants to become president in the United States should gain the Zionists’ approvals and secure their interests. The Zionists, by taking Pahlavi to Israel, wanted to make him obey governance in the Zionist framework.”
Hossein Kanaani Moghadam, a high-ranking IRGC general, stated that “Pahlavi visiting Israel was the last nail in his coffin.”
Regime supporters also reacted to Pahlavi’s visit with rage and humiliation. Ata’ollah Mohajerani, the regime’s former minister of Islamic guidance and culture, used derogatory language in a tweet, calling Pahlavi “shazde,” which is a deformed form of shahzadeh, meaning crown prince: “No one told shazdeh that it is not a good time to travel to Israel?”
All the reactions of the regime’s officials to the visit were negative. Even the so-called reformists’ reactions to this historic event were negative, which shows the deep-rooted anti-Israel sentiments among the regime supporters, including the extremists and reformists.
The visit was seen in a positive light among a majority of the Iranian opposition. Many Iranians view the Islamic republic’s hostility toward Israel as unprovoked and unjustified, used as a tool for maintaining power.
The antagonism toward Israel is viewed by a majority of Iranians as a costly enterprise that drains Iran’s resources. They are tired of aggression towards Israel and want to have a constructive and peaceful relationship with Israel based on mutual respect and interests.
In the eyes of many Iranians, the crown prince’s invitation to Israel was perceived as a positive trend in Israel’s strategy towards Iran. One of the Islamic republic’s propaganda themes to justify its own hostility toward Israel is to paint Israel as a force for causing civil unrest and provoking ethnic conflicts within Iran.
The regime, familiar with one of the greatest fears of the Iranian people—that is, civil war and secession within their country—portrays Israel as a country that tries to tear Iran apart. The regime tries to convince the Iranian people that Israel is not an enemy of only the regime, but an enemy of Iran as a whole.
The goal of this message is to make the Iranian people believe that Israel opposes a strong, Islamic Iran, and that a weak democratic Iran in the future would serve Israel’s interests.
The crown prince’s visit to Israel and his meetings with the highest Israeli officials sent a strong message to Iranians that Israel is, in fact, in favor of a strong, democratic Iran in the future, and a friendly Iran that shares the same values with Israel also serves Israel’s long-term interests.
Pahlavi’s invitation to Israel, as brave a breakthrough as it was, revived Iranians’ hope that someday Iran and Israel will be friends, and the two nations will benefit from mutual partnership.
As Pahlavi said during his visit to Israel, “The biblical relationship we have with Israel was long before it became a state.” In fact, the Iran-Israel relationship does not only have a biblical anchor, but it also has a precedence in recent history, before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Today, for a majority of Iran’s new generation, the revolution has lost popularity and is increasingly seen as a point of digression from a right path that former generations could not appreciate.
For many young Iranians, the revival of the Iran-Israel relationship is rooted in two nostalgic eras: Cyrus the Great’s era and the pre-revolutionary era. After Pahlavi’s visit, many Iranians view their dream of peace with Israel as within reach. Israelis and Iranians already have a name for that dream: The Cyrus Accords.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.