Washington Bureau

09.24.13

Israel Trolls Iran With Parody Rouhani LinkedIn Account

While President Obama and President Rouhani consider what could be a historic handshake at the U.N. General Assembly, Israel is mocking the new Iranian president on social media. Eli Lake reports.

The Iranian-Israeli relationship since 1979 has been marked by terrorism, assassinations, and mutual denunciations. On Monday the Jewish state decided to try a new tactic: trolling.

At 6:15 p.m. Monday, Israel’s embassy in Washington tweeted a link to a parody LinkedIn account for Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani. While many have been heartened by Rouhani’s recent public statements expressing a desire to negotiate an end to his country’s nuclear standoff with the West, the Israelis at least are not buying it.

The parody LinkedIn page refers to Rouhani as “President of Iran, Expert Salesman, PR Professional and Nuclear Proliferation Advocate.” Among the president’s skills listed on the page are “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “Ballistics,” and “Military Justice.”

The bio for the Iranian president then goes on to say, “Since my election as President of Iran in 2013, I developed and executed an unprecedented PR campaign for the government of Iran. Through a series of statements, tweets, op-eds and smiles I have re-branded the human rights suppressing Ayatollah led regime as moderate and a source of hope among the international community.”

The parody was created by Noam Katz, the embassy’s minister of public diplomacy. He told The Daily Beast on Tuesday, “LinkedIn was our way to highlight Rouhani’s long history in Iranian politics and his true position as the leading PR face for the regime that the public is largely unaware of on a platform they’re familiar with.”

The parody from Israel reflects the Jewish state’s deep skepticism about the new Iranian president’s intentions. President Obama on Tuesday said he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to test the president’s new willingness to engage in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Rouhani for his part has said he is empowered by Iran’s Supreme Leader to negotiate as well.

Katz said Rouhani was using a “moderate tone and terminology of rights and liberties to hide the true nature of the regime and its pursuit of military nuclear capabilities.” Katz’s view is supported in part by the Islamic Republic’s own recent diplomatic style. For all but the last year of the Iran-Iraq War, Iran maintained an embassy in Baghdad. After the election in 1997 of Mohammed al-Khatami, who was considered by the West to be a reformer, Iran continued work on a secret nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz. The Iranians declared the facility to the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2003, but only after an Iranian opposition group known as the People’s Mujahadin released to the public satellite photos of the site.

“President of Iran, Expert Salesman, PR Professional and Nuclear Proliferation Advocate.”

Nonetheless, the Israel’s mocking of Rouhani is in contrast to the regime’s recent approach to Twitter diplomacy. A Twitter account associated with Rouhani’s office tweeted a Rosh Hashanah greeting to Jews earlier this month, though his office later disavowed the tweet. A similar Jewish new year greeting from Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was not rescinded.

Some pro-Israel groups are taking a more straightforward approach to express their doubts about the new Iranian president’s sincerity. On Tuesday the Emergency Committee for Israel, a pro-Israel group that has criticized President Obama’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, launched a new website, http://realrouhani.com, modeled on the “myths and facts” papers popular with political campaigns.

Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, was slightly dismissive of the new Israeli tactic. "I hope, if they become necessary, that the Israelis are as good at airstrikes as they are at trolling,” he said.

If not that, then perhaps the Israelis can be the first people to use Foursquare to check in to one of Iran’s nuclear reactors.