Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei marked the 21st anniversary of the death of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Friday with sharp words for Israel and the U.S. The event appears to be a warning to Iran's opposition movement which plans to celebrate to commemorate last year's disputed presidential election.
Iran's top political and religious leaders attended the ceremony Friday to mark the 21st anniversary of the passing of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Iranian TV reported that two million people in 50,000 buses converged on Tehran for the ceremony.
Hardline supporters of the government sat in the front row of Imam Khomeini's mausoleum as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presided over the prayer service. Ayatollah Khamenei praised the late Ayatollah while claiming that he alone was the true defender of Khomeini's ideals.
The supreme leader appeared to focus his criticism on opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, by arguing that one "cannot claim to be a supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini, while aligning himself with his enemies and opponents of his beliefs."
Ayatollah Khamenei denounced a long litany of those enemies, including monarchists, the People's Mujahideen (PMOI), the United States, Britain, and Israel. He called Israel a "cancer" and claimed that its days were numbered:
He says that the (Israeli) Zionists will pay for their mistakes, of which they make many. He singles out Israel's 2006 campaign against Lebanon's Hezbollah, the conflict in Gaza, last year, and the recent storming of an aid flotilla bound for Gaza. These mistakes, he claims, indicate that Israel is reaching the end of its existence as a state.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also addressed the crowd, seeking, like the supreme leader, to claim the political mantle of Ayatollah Khomeini. He recalled that Ayatollah Khomeini referred to the U.S. as the "Great Satan":
He says that one can observe the power of (Ayatollah Khomeini's) theory and his belief in that illustrious phrase that America is the "Great Satan," and the chief oppressor of other nations, while proclaiming that it can do no wrong.
Iran analyst Meir Javedanfar of the MEEPAS Center in Tel Aviv argues that Ayatollah Khamenei is using Friday's ceremony in honor of Ayatollah Khomeini to re-establish his revolutionary credentials and isolate his reformist opponents:
"Khamenei is trying to reinstate his credibility with the Iranian population and trying to isolate the reformists by saying that 'I'm the one who's truly following Khomeini's line,"' said Meir Javedanfar. "'The others are deviants they're following deviant ideologies which do not meet with what Khomeini wanted, with his goals.' 'I'm the one who is truly carrying the torch, so I'm the one who has to be followed."
Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have applied for permits to demonstrate next week on the anniversary of last year's disputed June 12 presidential election. The government hopes to discourage popular protests, insisting that they will not be tolerated.