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That is not only because Raisi is worried about his external front. Early this month, Haaretz reported that “Iranian soccer fans in Tehran’s Aryamehr Stadium were asked to observe a minute of silence in honor of the seven members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, including top general Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who were killed in [the Israeli] airstrike on its consulate in Damascus. Instead, spectators began booing and blowing air horns in an apparent act of protest. In a video circulating on social media, fans can be seen loudly interrupting the moment of silence. … In one video that made the rounds on X, fans can be seen shouting, ‘Take that Palestinian flag and shove it up your ass!’” And this is not the first time it’s happened at football matches.

Many Iranians understand that the regime’s obsession with destroying the Jewish state is nothing but a costly way to divert the Iranian public’s attention from its murderous crackdown at home against its own people. As this soccer match story indicates, people are growing less afraid to say so in public — especially after the regime has killed an estimated 750 women, girls and men since a nationwide protest uprising started on Sept. 16, 2022, after the death of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iran’s morality police. Thousands more have been arrested.

One reason Iran supports the Hamas war and prefers that Israel remain stuck in Gaza and occupying the West Bank is that it keeps the world and many Americans focused on Israeli actions — rather than on the brutal crackdown against democracy protesters in Iran and on Iran’s imperialist influence in the region, where it uses proxies to control the politics of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen and uses those countries as military bases to attack Israel.

No one should think Iran is just a paper tiger. Tehran can still unleash thousands of shorter-range rockets against Israel through Hezbollah — and because such rockets have precision guidance, they could do significant damage to Israel’s infrastructure. Iran has bigger missiles in its arsenal, as well.

Still, what happened Saturday is ultimately a significant boost for what I call the Inclusion Network in the Middle East (more open, connected countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel and the NATO allies) and a real setback for the Resistance Network (the closed and autocratic systems represented by Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Iran’s Shiite militias in Iraq) and Russia. The sound within Iran and the Resistance Network on Sunday morning is that sound you hear from your car’s GPS after a wrong turn: “Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating.”


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