Netanyahu Uses Soccer, Social Media in Outreach to the Iranian People

By Patrick Goodenough | June 28, 2018 | 4:35am EDT
Iran’s goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand robs Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo of a penalty goal in the countries’ soccer World Cup game in Saransk, Russia. (Screen capture: YouTube)

( – The unlikely sight of an Iranian goal-keeper denying one of the world’s greatest goal-scorers a penalty in a soccer World Cup game this week gave Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a peg for his latest social media appeal to the Iranian people.

In doing so, he compared the courage of a national team generally regarded as an underdog in the global competition to the bravery of Iranians who’ve taken to the streets in protests against the clerical regime.

Playing in Saransk, Russia, Iran held Portugal to a 1-1 draw after soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo failed to beat Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, following a foul in the penalty area.

Although Portugal advances in the competition and Iran is now out, the result was unexpected. Portugal are current European champions and FIFA’s fourth-ranking national men’s team in the world. Iran is in 37th place.

Netanyahu used the opportunity for a new direct message to the Iranian people, one that touched on current anti-government protests and concerns about the regime’s controversial foreign policy – and appealed to the shared love of a game in the two soccer crazy countries.

“Can you imagine how hard it is to stop Ronaldo from scoring a goal?” he asked in an English-language video clip.

“I used to play soccer,” Netanyahu continued, demonstrating a bit of fancy footwork. “Let me tell you – it’s almost impossible.”

“But the Iranian team just did the impossible. To the Iranian people, I say, ‘You showed courage on the playing field and today you showed the same courage on the streets of Iran.’

“Iran has many problems – air pollution, water scarcity, billions wasted on terror,” Netanyahu said. “Can you imagine what would happen if the Iranian government, instead of wasting your money on Syria, in Yemen and unnecessary wars in the Middle East, would start investing it in solving these problems in Iran? The solution to all these problems is the Iranian people.”

Netanyahu went on to recall offering medical assistance to Iran after a deadly earthquake, and the recent launch of a Farsi-language channel on the popular messaging app Telegraph to give Iranian farmers advice on water conservation.

“And that’s why I’ll never stop advocating for peace with the Iranian people,” he added.

“One day – one day I hope to watch Iran’s soccer team go head-to-head with Israel in a free Tehran,” he concluded. “On that day, we’ll all be winners.”

The video was posted on Twitter and Facebook. On Twitter the clip was also posted with Farsi subtitles, on an Israeli foreign ministry Farsi account directed at Iranians. The account has 70,000 followers.

The regime in Tehran is Israel’s bitterest foe but Netanyahu, much like senior officials in the Trump administration, makes a point of engaging its people, highlighting the country’s history and heritage and predicting a future when under a different government warm relations of past years will be revived.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu released a video offering Israel’s world-leading water expertise to an Iran dogged by drought.

“Millions of Iranian children are suffering due to mismanagement, to incompetence, and the theft of vital resources by the Iranian regime,” he said in the clip, which included links to the new Farsi-language Telegram channel referenced in the soccer-themed video. (The channel already has more than 83,000 members.)

“Israel also has water challenges. We’ve developed cutting edge technologies to address them,” he said. “Israel has the know-how to prevent environmental catastrophe in Iran. I want to share this information with the people of Iran.”

Netanyahu contrasted Israel’s approach to that of the Israel-loathing regime ruling Iran.

“The Iranian regime shouts, ‘Death to Israel!’” he said. “In response, Israel shouts, ‘Life to the Iranian people!’”

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