Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei slammed the Trump administration's peace plan as "satanic" and evil on Wednesday. "It will never bear fruit" he wrote, claiming that Jerusalem must not be "in the hands of the Jews." Khamenei's comments went out as his advisors scrambled to work on a full-court press against Israel and the plan, leveraging regional anger over it to Iran's benefit. Iran may now work with Palestinian groups and seek to thwart the plan through political and military means, hoping to use the plan as a way to jump-start Iran's stalled influence peddling operations in the Middle East.
Towards that end Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that Iran will work throughout "West Asia" to confront the Deal of the Century. "It threatens the Islamic community," he said. Iran refers to the Middle East as "West Asia." While Iran's Foreign Minister bashed the plan as a "so-called vision for peace" and a "nightmare for the region," the foreign ministry in Tehran said that it would work with other countries in the region "at all levels to unite the Muslim world to confront the great conspiracy."
Iran wants to make this an "Islamic" issue by emphasizing Jerusalem. A survey of Iranian media and political reactions, as well as reactions of Iran's IRGC, illustrate this. An article at Iran's IRNA media noted that while Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and even Qatar may be considering normalization with Israel, that Tehran will be working with other countries to undermine the deal. Qatar is usually considered close to Iran, and the linking of Qatar and other Gulf states represents a new trend in Tehran.
A deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps told Tasnim News in Iran that this deal marks a "new chapter in the struggle of the Palestinian people." Yadollah Javani, a Brig. Gen. and member of the political bureau of the IRGC, said the plan was one-sided and that it was the "betrayal of the century." He argued that the Palestinians were not included and that such a plan would fail. "This great treachery of Trump has been unveiled, but when we look at the history of the plans given for Palestine we see that the past plans by the Zionists and reactionary Arab governments in the region are supported by Zionists against Palestinian groups." He hoped the Palestinians would unify in the face of the plan. Iran backs Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas and now wants to bring them to Ramallah to work more closely with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Painful and embarrassing," was how a professor described the plan to ISNA media in Iran. The report slammed Bahrain, the UAE and Oman for appearing to endorse the plan and noted that even France and Germany had not supported it. "These countries are in a sensitive area in the Gulf and the plan will increase hostility to the US and the region will experience anew level of insecurity." The article asserted that the Gulf states that support the US plan could be undermined by popular or regional anger against it. Iran launched a drone and cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabia in September and the article appears to insinuate that Iran could stir up trouble in Bahrain or neighboring states to punish them. "Those who choose Israel will be left with damaging consequences." ISNA media was more careful with Qatar, noting that Qatar had released a statement arguing the plan must be in an international framework to be legitimate.
Mehr News highlighted a speech by Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi, interim imam and Friday prayer leader of Tehran who has argued against the US and the deal. "Palestine is on the way to returning to its Islamic identity. The US president unveiling his plan for the Palestinians has caused support for Al-Aqsa." He argued that today pro-Iranian forces were working more closely together and referenced the Hashd al-Shaabi in Iran, Hassan Nasrallah's Hezbollah in Lebanon and their opposition to the "mercenary governments like the United States." This was the "fruit" of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 finally growing and Iran must fulfill its potential now, apparently a plea to leverage the new US policy to gather pro-Iranian forces against the US and Israel. The Hashd al-Shaabi are pro-Iranian militias in Iraq that are part of the security forces, such as the Badr Organization. They work with the IRGC and have been suppressing protesters and oppose the US presence in Iraq. The US targeted one of their leaders on January 3 alongside IRGC general Qasem Soleimani.
Iran is clearly preparing a larger push against Israel and the US in the context of Trump's push for a "Deal of the Century" and also because Iran wants "hard revenge" for the killing of Soleimani. The speeches on Wednesday reveal that Iran will use its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, and among the Palestinians. It will work to undermine Gulf states that appeared to support the plan. It will also push a religious crusade that will seek to argue that Trump's plan is "anti-Islamic." Through its various organs, from the Foreign Ministry to Friday prayers and the IRGC, Iran will oppose the plan. This is in line with Iran's usual rhetoric against Israel and the US. But Tehran wants to seize this opportunity to make itself seem more relevant.
Seth Frantzman, a Middle East Forum writing fellow, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting & Analysis.