January 22, 2024 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1743

With Its ICJ Genocide Lawsuit Against Israel, South Africa Is Serving Iran

January 22, 2024 | By A. Savyon*
Iran, Palestinians, Africa | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1743


Since its establishment in 1979, Iran's Islamic Revolution regime has placed the elimination of Israel – which it terms "the little satan" and a "cancerous growth" that must be removed – at the center of its ideology, articulating this objective both openly and emphatically. In order to achieve this goal the regime acts in several arenas and on various levels, including the media-propaganda level, the military and political-diplomatic levels, and even the legal level, using various players from among its array of proxies.

On the military level in the Middle East, Iran acts through its resistance axis, which comprises Hizbullah in Lebanon; the Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) organizations in the Palestinian territories; Shi'ite militias, such as the Popular Mobilization Units, in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthis in Yemen.[1]

Iran does not hide its desire to blacken Israel's image in the political arena and in public opinion. To this end it promotes in public discourse the claim that Israel is an alien corn that was planted in the region to oppress the Palestinians and that it is a violent, occupying colonial force that subjects the Palestinians to an apartheid regime. For example, on January 1, 2024, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told his British counterpart David Cameron in a phone conversation that "Iran regards Hamas as a resistance movement [fighting] occupation and apartheid, just like the movement that fought apartheid in South Africa for many years."[2]

Kamal Kharazi, the head of Iran's Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, told Al-Jazeera on July 19, 2022 that "Israel is an apartheid regime, just like the apartheid regime of South Africa, which was eventually compelled to change its structure. Israel too is an apartheid regime that commits all kinds of atrocities against the Palestinians, and, as long as this is the case, one of the main goals of the resistance forces [led by Iran] will be to act against Israel. If Israel's apartheid regime disperses and a democratic government arises there based on the votes of the indigenous people of the land[3] – that will be a different matter. In that case the Palestinian problem will be resolved. Iran's policy is based on the need to  establish in that part of the world a democratic government that will respect the rights of the Palestinians, the Jews and the Christians. This is of course conditional upon the Palestinian refugees returning to their homes, [because] the government must be elected by the indigenous people of the land. As long as Israel objects to that development and maintains its apartheid regime, it is naturally the right of the Palestinians, and the inalienable right of the freedom-seekers and resistance forces, to continue their resistance against Israel."[4]

On the diplomatic-legal level, the South African government, which presents itself as the flagbearer of the fight against racism and apartheid, seems to be serving the Iranian regime[5] by instituting proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the grounds that it is committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei: Israel Should Be Prosecuted For Genocide

In a meeting with top academics on October 17, 2023, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians and must be taken to court for this. He said: "Researchers and scientists must not tolerate the greed of the oppressor [Israel] nor the hunger of the oppressed [Palestinians]. We must react. Let us react. Today, in the case of Gaza, the responsibility to react rests with all of us. We must react… The usurping Zionist government must be taken to court. In the context of Palestine, the entire world is witnessing the crime of genocide being committed by the usurping regime. The entire world sees it. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the last few days. This is a crime committed in front of all the world's people. The usurping Zionist regime must be prosecuted for it today…" [6] 

In an October 16, 2023 meeting with Hamas' representative in Tehran. Khaled Qadoumi, Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei's advisor for international affairs and head of the World Forum for Islamic Awareness, called for the Palestinian resistance "to continue full force," and added: "Iran stands with the oppressed people of Palestine, and we will continue to provide [them] with moral support. The Supreme Leader is very serious about the Palestinian issue and you should continue with all your might. We know that this move will cause other Islamic and Arab countries to lean towards you and support you…"[7]

Already on October 7, 2023, the day of Hamas' attack, Khamenei's advisor Yahya Safavi expressed the regime's pride in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and support for it. Speaking at the Sixth International Summit for Solidarity with Palestinian Children and Youth, he said that Iran will stand with the Palestinian fighters until Palestine and Jerusalem are liberated, and called to establish Islamic and international bodies to counter Israel's narrative in which it presents itself as the victim of murderous acts by Palestinians and Muslims. Calling to consider compiling special dossiers for supporting the rights of Palestinian children, and to form an international body of legal experts from the Islamic countries and the world to  promote the cause of Palestinian children, he added: "It is also important to formulate a comprehensive multi-stage media plan to inform global public opinion about the crimes committed by the Zionist regime against the Palestinian people, including children, so that the Zionists will not be able to present the oppressors as oppressed, and vice versa, [when they address] the world public opinion."[8] 

Iran – South Africa Relations

Iran's relations with South Africa are warm and are developing on the political and economic levels. South Africa pushed to accept Iran as a permanent member of the BRICS group – an intergovernmental organization comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and several other countries and aimed at enhancing their economic cooperation – and shares Iran's anti-Western orientation. On the economic level, Iran exports oil to South Africa, and South African companies are involved in telecommunication and petrochemical mega-projects in Iran.   

During his visit to South Africa in August 2023, in a joint press conference with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor, Iran's Foreign Minister Abdollahian hailed South Africa's "strong support" for Iran's inclusion in BRICS.[9] 

The bilateral political cooperation between the two countries is also manifested in the fact that the talks between the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia on the renewal of their relations and the expanding of their economic cooperation had been held not only in Beijing and Tehran but also in South Africa. This was disclosed by the spokesman of Iran's Foreign Ministry, Nasser Kanaani, on June 26, 2023.[10]

At an October 22, 2023 joint press conference in Tehran with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that they had "held important discussions about the bilateral relations and several international issues" and noted that the Joint Commission of Cooperation between South Africa and Iran had taken place not long before.

He added: "Mr. Mandela is known as a symbol of the fight against apartheid, and this is especially [relevant] today, when the world is witnessing the genocide committed by the Israeli apartheid regime against the oppressed and resisting people of Gaza. [Naledi Pandor and I] also discussed the ongoing war crimes of the [Israeli] regime. We are thankful for the strong positions of the people and government of South Africa in their support of Palestine and the fight against the [Israel's] apartheid. Tehran and Pretoria have joint positions and views on international matters. A South African delegation will visit Tehran next week. In addition, President Raisi will visit South Africa and the latest agreements will be signed by the relevant elements in the presence of the presidents of both [countries].

"What we see in Gaza [today] is a proxy war by Israel on behalf of America against the oppressed Palestinian nation.  It is a black day when Mr. Biden comes to Tel Aviv [and visits] a regime that directs its attacks at hospitals, churches, mosques and residential buildings, and at women and children, on the false pretext of [responding to] the Hamas attack. During his visit to Tel Aviv the American President announced that he would send [Israel] hundreds of planes and ships loaded with weapons… If America and the Israeli regime do not immediately stop their crimes against humanity, the region may spiral out of control at any moment…"

Iranian Foreign Minister Abdollahian with his South African counterpart Pandor at the press conference in Tehran (Image: Tasnim, Iran, October 22, 2023)

According to Iran's Tasnim news agency, Foreign Minister Pandor said at the press conference: "Today our partnership is stronger. We are partners in BRICS… A suitable domain for cooperation is agriculture, a domain in which South Africa is a top producer and has the world's best meat. We can also cooperate in the field of energy and Iran can help in this domain.  We can utilize our experience in the use of digital technology… We also want to strengthen our relations with Iran in the domain of science… We believe there is a need to fix the mechanism of the [UN] Security Council."

Addressing "the disgraceful attack on the Palestinian people," Pandor said: "We believe that greater focus should be placed on the Palestinian people, but [the issue of the Israeli] occupation is not addressed. There must be more activity and action against the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people… South Africa has constantly declared its support for Palestine. Nobody should suffer injustice. We must do more to support the Palestinian people… We attended the meeting yesterday in Egypt [the October 21, 2023 peace summit in Cairo] and we welcomed this meeting… Countries should act more decisively. We are eager to achieve these goals with Iran; this is a joint objective of Iran and South Africa."[11]

During her visit to Tehran Pandor met with President Ebrahim Raisi, who hailed the responsibility shown by the South African government and nation in supporting the Palestinian people and expressing hatred and loathing for the atrocities of the Zionist regime. Raisi also thanked South Africa for its efforts to include Iran in BRICS, and for its "responsible" position of opposing Israel's admission as an observer at the African Union due to "the Zionist crimes" against the Palestinians. Pandor said that South Africa was very interested in strengthening the cooperation with Iran, especially in the economic domain.[12]

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor in Tehran (Image:, October 22, 2023)

* A. Savyon is director of MEMRI's Iran Media Studies project.


[1] Over the years Iran's Islamic regime has consistently invested immense military efforts in fighting Israel, including by arming Hizbullah, funding its ongoing operations, training it and supplying it with over 100,000 rockets and missiles for use against Israel. Iran has also funded and trained the Hamas and PIJ organizations, providing them with military gear and rockets and occasionally activating them according to its agenda, and  supporting intifada operations – popular and armed resistance – in the West Bank and Gaza.

[2] Fars (Iran), January 1, 2024.

[3]According to Iran, this government should be elected by all the Palestinians worldwide and a small minority of Israelis  – those who lived in Mandatory Palestine before Israel's founding in 1948 and their descendants.

[4] ISNA (Iran), July 19, 2022.

[5] The Iranian regime divides the world population into two camps: "oppressed" and "oppressors." The latter camp includes the West, especially the U.S. and Israel. The camp of the oppressed includes the Muslims and other peoples who were under colonialist rule or who now subjected to imperialist rule or influence. Iran claims that Israel is a racist apartheid regime that oppresses the Palestinians, even though Israel has not ruled Gaza since 2005, and although Arabs within Israel enjoy full citizen rights.

[6] IRNA (Iran), October 17, 2023.

[7] Tasnim (Iran), October 16, 2023.

[8] ISNA (Iran), October 7, 2023.

[9] ISNA (Iran), August 10, 2023.

[10] ISNA (Iran), June 26, 2023.

[11] Tasnim (Iran), October 22, 2023.

[12]  Website of the Iranian President (, October 22, 2023.

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