By Toby Harnden, Chief Foreign Correspondent
Iranian state television has broadcast a cartoon that glorifies suicide bombings against Israelis, depicting a young boy blowing himself up after being told: “Go and show the Zionists how brave and heroic are the children of Palestine.”
The cartoon, one of a series shown by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on “Jerusalem Day” nine days ago, presents the actions of a boy who kills himself to strike back against Israelis as a noble example for children to follow.
The cartoon follows the story of Abd who dies in a suicide attack
More professionally produced and graphic than previous Iranian propaganda aimed at children, the cartoon appears to be part of a campaign led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to elevate the issue of the destruction of Israel. The day before the cartoon was shown, he declared at a World Without Zionism conference: “This stain of disgrace [Israel] will be wiped off the face of the world — and this is attainable.”
His comments were greeted with outrage in the West and prompted Tony Blair to suggest that military action might be required against Iran if progress towards a nuclear bomb continued.
At the start of the 10-minute animated film, translated into English by the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri), Abd al-Rahman, a Palestinian youth, watches as Israeli soldiers murder his family.
They are depicted laughing as they strike his mother in the face with a rifle butt and then shoot his father, whose blood splashes the oranges on the trees he cultivated.
Abd comforts his sister and weeps, declaring: “Oh God, I must take revenge upon these bloodthirsty aggressors, who murdered my father, mother and brother.” His cousin Karim introduces him to a neighbour’s son, Jassem, who is a member of a “resistance group”.
Jassem instructs the boys to take part in an attack against Israeli soldiers, applauding their “deep faith” and telling them that they “may become martyrs”. Abd’s aunt bids the boys a tearful farewell. “God willing, you’ll be successful,” she says. “Go, my children. Go and show the Zionists how brave and heroic are the children of Palestine.”
As he lies in wait, Abd ties a string of grenades around his waist. The convoy approaches and the cartoon shows satanic-faced Israeli soldiers sitting in a lorry around an ammunition box decorated with a Star of David.
Abd shouts, “I place my trust in God. Allah Akbar”, pulls the grenade pins and leaps onto the lorry. When the smoke clears, the bodies of Abd, the Israeli troops and the attackers are strewn around the road.
A young Palestinian boy then walks over to Abd’s body, takes his bloodstained keffiyeh head-dress, drapes it over his own shoulders and walks off into the sunset.
Dan Shaham, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London, said: “This phenomenon of inciting children to commit suicide attacks is revolting. It corrupts young minds and makes sure conflict continues. President Ahmadinejad is not only dangerous in the here-and-now but the Iranian extremist ideology is affecting future generations. Something needs to be done today.”
The Iranian embassy declined to comment. Last week, it emerged that Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Iran’s ambassador to Britain, was being recalled to Teheran in a worldwide purge of about 40 Iranian diplomats ordered by Mr Ahmadinejad.
Ali Ansari, an Iranian analyst at St Andrew’s University, said the cartoon was “gory stuff” and different from previous anti-Israeli propaganda. “It’s interesting they’ve gone to these lengths to develop a cartoon like this that is obviously directed towards kids.
“Anti-Zionism is one of the ideological pillars of the Islamic republic. But Ahmadinejad’s comments went beyond the standard ideological diet, because by implication they applauded suicide bombers and condemned anyone who makes peace with Israel.”
This was the equivalent of trying to be “more Catholic than the Pope”, he said, because the Palestinians now accepted that there must be a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict — in contrast to President Ahmadinejad’s policy of destroying Israel and replacing it with a new Palestinian state.
A spokesman for Memri said that the cartoon was one of 10 being translated. In another, Palestinian children throw aubergines at Israeli soldiers who think they are being attacked with grenades and flee.
Such naive propaganda fits in with Mr Ahmadinejad’s simplistic world view and is likely to alienate most ordinary Iranians who, as Shia Persians, rather than Sunni Arabs, are far from fixated on the Palestinian issue.
“Ahmadinejad is not a shrewd political operator,” said Dr Ansari. “Most Iranians want to focus on domestic problems and this [his anti-Israeli stance] is alarming the international community and creating huge anxiety in Iran.”
A British diplomat in London said: “The increase in anti-Israeli propaganda and Ahmadinejad’s dangerous rhetoric will only serve to alienate him from his people and further isolate Iran. For the West, as well as Israel, the prospect of this man having his finger on a nuclear button is truly horrifying.”