Thursday, February 22, 2024

Iran Uses October 7 Pogrom to Ramp Up Influence Operations in U.S.

NewsIran Uses October 7 Pogrom to Ramp Up Influence Operations in U.S.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, a clerical regime facing intense challenges from its own citizens intent on freeing themselves from the yoke of Islamist oppression, is taking full advantage of the war in Gaza in its campaign to promote its Islamist agenda in the United States.

By promoting journalists who portray Hamas as a “resistance” or “liberation” group and Israel’s response to the October 7 massacre as an act of “genocide,” the Iranian regime has discouraged progressives in the West from aligning with the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protest movement that seeks to remove the theocrats in Tehran from power. In addition to distracting Western progressives from Tehran’s crimes, the regime has helped fuel a growing wave of antisemitism in American society that serves to disrupt and divide the Americans during a time of international crisis.

A key element of this strategy is to provide Islamists and their far-leftist allies in the United States with ample airtime on Press TV, an English-language news outlet controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a bureaucracy notorious for promoting anti-Western propaganda among Muslim audiences living in Europe and North America.

By disseminating propaganda that aligns with the regime’s agenda, Press TV isolates its viewers in the West from the mainstream culture of the societies in which they reside.

Lawdan Bazargan

The IRIB has a monopoly over radio and television broadcasts in Iran and operates several channels, including English (Press TV), Spanish (Hispan TV), and Arabic (Al-Alam), Saeed Ghasseminejad, a senior Iran and financial economics advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Focus on Western Islamism (FWI). “Over the years, around 15 percent of the IRIB’s budget has been allocated to its foreign broadcasting,” he noted.

Lawdan Bazargan, an Iranian-American human rights activist and founder of the Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists (AAIRIA), said that Iran spends “millions of dollars every year to spread its hateful propaganda against the U.S. and Israel around the world.”

Iran’s Press TV appears to target Western viewers, particularly Muslims, with the intent of isolating them from their societies and undermining their faith in democratic rules. “By disseminating propaganda that aligns with the regime’s agenda, Press TV isolates its viewers in the West from the mainstream culture of the societies in which they reside,” the Iranian-American human rights activist stressed. “This isolation can foster a sense of ideological separation and distance, undermining the multicultural and diverse fabric that Western democracies aim to cultivate.”

Press TV is one of the Iran-linked news sites taken down by the U.S. government in June 2021 for spreading disinformation. The channel currently maintains 321,000 followers on X, formerly known as Twitter. The Iranian propaganda arm also has affiliated accounts, Palestine Highlights (20K followers on X and 16K followers on Facebook) and Palestine Declassified (12.5K followers), created with the purported goal of offering “an in-depth look at the Palestine issue.”

“Press TV is highly influential,” Bazargan said, highlighting that this influence is particularly notable among ordinary Muslims residing in the U.S. who take pride in Iran and its “resistance” to the U.S. imperialism.

Experts also believe that Iran’s foreign influence campaign is conducted under the guise of media operations. “IRIB’s foreign-language channels offer the Tehran regime a path to create a network of operatives and fellow travelers in the West and around the globe under the umbrella of media operation,” Ghasseminejad said.

Since Hamas’s October 7, 2023 rampage, Press TV hosted several journalists and activists who portrayed the Iranian Palestinian Islamist proxy’s genocidal violence as an act of “liberation” and parroted the clerical regime’s vibrant anti-U.S. narrative.

Iran’s Press TV promotes the rantings of Minneapolis-based American Palestinian journalist Mnar Adley, founder of MintPress News.

On October 25, 2023, the Minneapolis-based American Palestinian journalist Mnar Adley, founder and editor-in-chief of MintPress News (MPN), appeared on Press TV and ignored Hamas’s massacre while attributing “the root cause” of the current crisis to the support provided by the U.S. and UK to Israel.

The pro-Iran apologist, who applauded Hamas’s October 7 massacre of Israelis, also vigorously defended the Iranian Islamist proxy by promoting the preposterous assertion that Israeli civilians “were actually shot at by Israeli military and police, and not by Hamas.” She further justified the massacre, saying “so, far from being unprovoked then, as the media claim, this current wave of violence was made all but inevitable.”

Adley’s MPN, founded in 2012, portrays Iran-backed Islamist proxies as “resistance” groups. No surprise that the Lebanese Iran-aligned Al Mayadeen English website defended MPN as “resistance media” in a September 5, 2023 article by American Syrian investigative journalist Hekmat Aboukhater, who himself celebrated Hamas’s attacks.

Moreover, Adley is a staunch advocate of Iran. She unabashedly described Iran in an online conversation as “a true friend of the world to those who are directly targeted by the U.S. imperialism.”

Another apologist for Iran, hosted by Press TV, is Shabbir Rizvi. “If I see someone sitting at a table with a Zionist, I’m looking at two Zionists,” Rizvi, who was presented as “a Chicago-based political analyst focusing on U.S. internal security and foreign policy,” said in an October 25, 2023 interview. He also portrayed Hamas as a “resistance” group which “has a right to exist” and labeled the U.S. as “a bad actor.”

Like Adley, Rizvi celebrated Hamas’s rampage. Rizvi, whose allegiance to the clerical regime is unambiguous, also wished that Hamas’s “liberation operation” would be a lesson to Saudi Arabia amid ongoing U.S.-brokered negotiations between the Gulf country and Israel to establish formal ties. Rizvi is a contributor to both Press TV and the Lebanese Iran-aligned Al Mayadeen English website. In his writings, he fiercely defends Iran and its Islamist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon. He recently celebrated “the titanic rise of ‘Axis of Resistance,’ (sic) in 2023” highlighting how the evolving of Iran’s Islamist proxies is “bad news” for the U.S. and Israel.

And yet another American promoted by Press TV is Abbas Muntaqim, an Oakland, California-based pro-Iran Islamist activist. “The Zionist regime has no historical or legal reason to exist,” Muntaqim told Press TV on October 18, 2023.

Just like Adley and Rizvi, Muntaqim celebrated Hamas’s October 7 “historic” attacks, saying they “would not be possible without the help and support of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” “He also wrote, “The Palestinian mujahideen are fighting for Islam and their homeland.”

The pro-Iran Islamist activist also argued on October 19, 2023, that the unity of Muslims — Sunnis and Shiites — is paving the way for the end of “Western imperialism.”

The appearance of U.S.-based journalists and activists on Press TV may seem inconspicuous, yet it shows how Iran conducts a media influence operation targeting Muslims in the West and extremists on both the far-left and far-right in the U.S. While the extent of recruitment of operatives in the U.S. is unclear, but it is undeniable that Iran is ramping up its campaign to shape domestic discourse in the U.S., specifically around its Islamist proxies, and sow divisions. To avoid being caught off guard, Washington should proactively counter Iran’s influence which promotes its Islamist agenda and remain vigilant regarding potential covert operatives.

Romany Shaker is a research analyst monitoring global jihadi and terrorist groups.

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