Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has a new term for US policy in the Middle East: "Netanyahu Firsters," he writes on Twitter. In his latest claim, he alleges that even though the US Congress wants to stop blaming Israel for the US support of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, this charge represents a new stretch, even for the Iranian regime. US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, the "petrofinanced #NetanyahuFirsters and their enabler in the White House will continue – with American lives and against US interests – to push for forever wars," Zarif wrote.
Zarif coined the hashtag to play into recent controversial antisemitic innuendos in the US that attempt to blame Israel for US policies. For instance, on April 13 he wrote, "It's not about the money: [US President] Donald Trump confessed US has spent $7 trillion here, only to worsen the situation, it's Netanyahu Firsters always making the wrong choice in his service." The "not about the money" quote is supposed to conjure up memories of US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's controversial "it's about the Benjamins" tweet.
Iran increasingly wants to take advantage of discussions in the US in which Netanyahu has been condemned for his policies by Democratic presidential candidates. With discussions about "foreign allegiance" and "dual loyalty" already percolating, Iran hopes to present the US administration as having a "Netanyahu First" policy, which is supposed to be in contrast to an "America first" policy that Trump had once promised.
In an April 8 tweet, Zarif blamed the US decision to label Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group on "Netanyahu Firsters who have long agitated for FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organization] designation of the IRGC." Zarif posted a photo of Trump with Sheldon Adelson, a well-known pro-Israel philanthropist.
The Zarif term doesn't seem to be catching on yet, at least in part because it is difficult to pronounce and not particularly easy to remember or write. Nevertheless, it illustrates the Iranian regime's careful study of US politics and its attempt to design its messaging mostly for a US audience. Posting photos of Adelson and referencing the "all about the Benjamins" tweet doesn't resonate anywhere else in the world except in the US. This shows that Iran must be concerned about the Trump administration's recent moves. It also shows that the Islamic republic hopes it can find support in Congress, particularly in its latest tweet alleging that while Congress wants to end the war in Yemen, Trump and his "Netanyahu first" policy want to continue it.
Blaming Israel for the US support of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen represents a new stretch, even for the Iranian regime. It shows how Tehran no longer even wants to pretend to blame those directly involved, such as the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran has supplied missile technology to the Houthis who target Saudi Arabia. But it wants to distract from this by blaming the war on Israel backers. It thinks that Israel is such a toxic issue in US politics that blaming the Jewish state for everything will resonate. So far few have bought into the Zarif line, but Iran is clearly studying the US political landscape and hoping to become part of US partisan politics.
Seth Frantzman is The Jerusalem Post's op-ed editor, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.