It’s an all-out war between Iran and Israel – in cartoon form. And Iran is winning, at least according to a string of explosion-filled propaganda films the country continues to release. Though Hassan Rohani’s government has sought to somewhat assuage tensions with Israel, these 3D animated films, which first appeared under his predecessor’s reign, keep on coming.
During former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rule, the government started promoting cultural productions – including poems, paintings, novels, and animated films – with the theme of annihilating Israel. Ahmadinejad created international scandals by denying the Holocaust and saying that Israel should be “wiped off the map”. Rohani has a very different style: he wished the Jewish people of the world a happy Rosh Hashana, and his foreign minister, in a tweet to former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, reassured her that “the man who [denied the Holocaust] is now gone”.
However, the president does not hold all the power in Iran. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is a hardliner, has the power to make numerous appointments. He notably controls the Revolutionary Guard, a powerful branch of the army. This may explain the seeming contradiction between Rohani’s more measured approach toward Israel and the fact that these cartoons keep being produced. In one recently-released cartoon, titled “The message of Rachel Corrie” (a young American who was run over by an Israeli tank in Gaza in 2003), the word “Holocaust” is even trampled underfoot.
A trailer for "The message of Rachel Corrie".
It is unclear exactly who is behind these high-budget films, which are broadcast on online TV stations with hardliner tendencies. There have been about a dozen produced so far, varying in quality; in most of them, Israel has attacked Iran but is now on the verge of complete invasion or annihilation by Iran. However, those with knowledge of Iran’s film world have some theories.

"It seems they’ve decided to make 3D animations in response to Western video games attacking Iran"

Iranian filmmaker Ali Fatehi lives in Paris. He fled Iran after the contested 2009 elections and the repression that followed.
These videos starting to appear about five years ago, after Western countries started making more video games about attacking Iran. Since Iran lacks the technology to make advanced video games like those, it seems they’ve decided to make 3D animations in response to them. In one scene from “The message of Rachel Corrie”, you can even see an Iranian tank in Tel Aviv crushing an advertisement for Battlefield 3 [a video game which features the US military fighting in several countries, including Iran].
These films, which seemed geared toward children and young people, don’t just mention Iran – they mention “the united army of Islam”. And in “The message of Rachel Corrie”, they’ve renamed the Tel Aviv airport the “Martyr Rachel Corrie airport”. These details show that it’s not just about defending Iran; it’s about Islam and holy war. It seems to me that the hardliner faction is trying to promote the Jihadi mentality among young people.
There is very little information about who is behind these animated films. The names listed in the credits are very obscure figures in the Iranian film and animation industry. Some of them claim to be students making these for fun, but that’s hard to believe, since they would need a ton of money. Moreover, they’ve set up extremely professional websites in Arabic, Persian, English and French.
It’s interesting to note that some of the animation companies who are credited with making these films appear to have connections with the Hezbollah in Lebanon. For instance, one of them, Nasr TV, has a Facebook page in Arabic, which is full of videos about Hezbollah. They also mention that one of their anti-Israel animations was screened in Lebanon and praised by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [which is charge of much of the country’s propaganda] is a likely culprit – they have enough funds to make such animations, and have close ties to Hezbollah. However, these are just observations – we have no tangible proof of their involvement.
What’s certain is that these films are propagandist in nature; they are weak both artistically and in plot and dialogue. Iran’s most talented directors don’t do propaganda – this is clearly the work of untalented companies that are ideologically aligned with the hardliners in power and can thus get access to large amounts of funds.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ershad Alijani (@ErshadAlijani).