Iran marked 45 years since its Islamic Revolution with a ceremony Sunday in which President Ebrahim Raisi condemned arch-foe Israel over the Gaza war and demanded it be expelled from the United Nations.
Since Iran’s 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the region’s main Shiite Muslim power has had deeply hostile relations with Israel, the United States, and Britain.
Tensions have spiraled further since the Gaza war erupted on October 7 with the Palestinian terror group Hamas’s devastating attack on Israel, in turn sparking violence between Iran-backed terror groups and US forces.
Support for the Palestinian cause and harsh criticism of the United States — often dubbed the “Great Satan” in Iran — and Israel dominated ceremonies marking the anniversary.
In Tehran, Raisi accused the “Zionist entity,” Iran’s term for Israel, of committing “genocide” in Gaza with the support of the United States and other Western countries.
Supporters chanted “Down with the United States,” “Down with Israel” and “Down with the United Kingdom” at the square, where Iranian-made missiles and other military hardware were on display.
Raisi demanded that the “bombing of Gaza should be stopped as soon as possible” and declared that “the death of the Zionist regime has come,” in his speech to thousands at Azadi Square in western Tehran.
“We believe that one of the important steps that should be taken is the expulsion of the Zionist regime from the United Nations,” he said.
Drones, missiles on display
Iran has presented itself as one of the main supporters of Hamas in the war triggered by the terror group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed, most of them civilians, and 253 people were taken hostage.
Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas and launched a military offensive to topple the terror group’s regime in Gaza and free the hostages.
Iran has hailed Hamas’s attack as a “success” but denied any direct involvement.
During Sunday’s celebrations, a paratrooper jumped from a plane while displaying a Palestinian flag.
Crowds waved Iranian flags, chanted slogans, and carried placards with the traditional “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” written on them. Some burned US and Israeli flags, a common practice in pro-government rallies.
Celebrants in Azadi Square held up portraits of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as of the founder of the Islamic Republic, ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and popular general Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US strike in January 2020.
Processions started out from several points, converging at Azadi Square in the capital. State TV showed crowds in many cities and towns, claiming that “millions participated in the rallies” across the country.
The commander of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Mohammad Salami and Gen. Esmail Ghaani, the head of the expeditionary force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, also took part in the celebrations, while the head of the Judiciary body, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, was at the rally in the central city of Isfahan.
There was a heavy security presence in the major cities across the country.
The celebrations come ahead of the March 1 legislative elections, the first national vote since a large-scale protest movement shook Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022.
Amini, 22, died after being arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Tensions are gripping the wider Middle East over attacks by Iran-backed regional groups.
The day after the Hamas attack, the Hezbollah terror group, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, began to fire into northern Israel claiming it was acting in support of Gaza. There have been almost-daily exchanges of fire ever since, with deaths and damage on both sides of the border, fueling fears war could break out.
The Iranian anniversary also came a month after a deadly attack by the Islamic State terror group in the central city of Kerman that left at least 95 people dead during the commemoration for prominent Iranian general Qassem Soleimani whom the US killed in a 2020 drone strike.
Iran has tried to blame the US and Israel for the attack as the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip continued. The Islamic Republic launched missile attacks on Iraq and Syria. It then struck alleged anti-Iran Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl targets in nuclear-armed Pakistan, which responded with its own strikes on Iran, further raising tensions in a region inflamed by the Israel-Hamas war.
Earlier in January a drone attack killed three US troops in Jordan which an umbrella group for Iran-backed factions known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed. The US said it held Tehran responsible. Iran threatened to “decisively respond” to any US attack on the Islamic Republic.
Meanwhile, Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen have carried out attacks on ships sailing in the Red Sea, saying they too are supporting the Palestinians in Gaza. Though the Houthis claim to be targeting ships linked to Israel, vessels with no ties to the Jewish state have also been attacked. The US and UK have responded with strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen.
The US has accused Tehran of “actively facilitating” attacks on US forces in the Middle East and of backing the attacks on Red Sea shipping by Houthis, charges Iran has denied.
Iran has been under crippling US sanctions since Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from a landmark deal that granted it sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
Western countries have also accused Iran of supplying drones to Russia during the Ukraine war, which Tehran denies, and missiles to armed groups in the Middle East.
The Islamic Revolution began with widespread unrest in Iran over the rule of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah, terminally and secretly ill with cancer, fled the country in January 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini then returned from exile and the government fell on February 11, 1979, after days of mass demonstrations and confrontations between protesters and security forces.