"Janus Faced" - Iran’s Two Faces

As an antithesis to the face smiling at the West, Iran still pursues its anti-western activities and continues to support terrorism - which face represents the real Iran?

Iranian Revulotionary Guard (Photo: AP)

Janus was a god in ancient Rome and in Roman mythology. He was the God of gates and doors, among other things. His image was depicted as having two faces, indicating that doors and gates face in two directions at the same time. Janus was highly regarded in ancient Rome, and his two-faced image was carved into the entrance gates of the city as well as on Roman coins.

In some ancient depictions, one of Janus’ two faces appears to be bearded while the other is clean shaven. Apparently, the meaning of the expression “Janus faced” is hypocritical and deceitful – which perfectly suits the character of the villain Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello. In any case, the first person in reference to whom this expression had been used was the Roman Emperor Constantine I (“The Great”) who lived in the fourth century A.D and introduced Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. He won this nickname for his ambivalent religious policy: toward the Roman church, he presented himself as a Christian to all intents and purposes, but externally he still conducted himself as a pagan.

The same can be said about the two faces of Iran. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, and his foreign minister Mohammad Zarif present an appeased, smiling face to the West. This apparently clean-shaven face creates the impression of moderation and openness in the West. On the other hand, the Iranian leader Ali Khamenei and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards represent the fanatical face of Shia Islam.

Iran’s radical policy has been reflected through two recent events.

The first event – according to a report by the Reuters news agency – involves the agreement Iran finalized last November with Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, to sell to Iraq arms and ammunition worth US$ 195 million. The very existence of this agreement has been denied by the authorities in Tehran, but in Baghdad it was not denied – although it was not confirmed. In any case, officials in Washington expressed their concern regarding that agreement. Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the US State Department, even said: “If (those reports are) true, this would raise serious concerns… Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UN embargo.”

If the report by the Reuters agency is confirmed, it will further enhance the feeling that Iraq is gradually evolving into a satellite of Iran, as I pointed out recently in my article “A Black Hole in the Islamic Space” (Israel Defense #18 issue).

The second event (March 5, 2014) was the capture, by the IDF Navy 13th Flotilla (Naval Commandos) and vessels, of the cargo ship Klos-C, steaming under the Panamanian flag, off the coast of Sudan. The ship was carrying a cargo of long-range rockets, hidden behind bags of cement, from Iran. The cargo was intended for the Islamic Jihad organization in the Gaza Strip. Through this arms shipment, Iran demonstrated that it has not forsaken its policy of supporting terrorism. Indeed, a successful military operation prevented the delivery of weapons possessing the potential of imposing a strategic threat on the State of Israel to the hands of an extremist terrorist organization. Additionally, this operation can significantly enhance Israeli deterrence, with regard to both the intelligence and operational aspects. At the same time, the decision by the Israeli government to fully disclose the operation to the world media was intended to undermine the deception efforts of the Tehran regime, intended to obtain the West’s legitimacy for the Iranian nuclear program.

Apparently, the USA was a partner in the planning of this operation. According to Jen Psaki, “We were closely coordinated, our intelligence and military activities, with our Israeli counterparts, who ultimately chose to take the lead with this case.” Both Jen Psaki and Jay Carney, White House spokesman, addressed the issue of the negotiations with Iran, saying that “… even as we continue our efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, we will continue to stand up to Iran’s support for destabilizing activities in the region…”

However, Tehran’s duplicity could be clearly seen in the days following President Rouhani’s visit to the USA and his attendance at the last UN general assembly (September 2013), in view of the “Death to America” chants by the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, and the speech by Khamenei in which he referred to Israel as a “rabid dog”, but Obama and the West chose to ignore these facts.

It should also be noted that during his presidential elections campaign, Rouhani had promised more liberalism and freedom of speech in Iran. However, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has recently stated, since Rouhani’s election as President more than six months ago, the rate of executions in Iran has increased significantly, with the total number of people executed amounting to 529 thus far.

Accordingly, the question should be asked even more emphatically: which is the real Iran – the one Rouhani and Zarif wish to present or the one of the Revolutionary Guards? Apparently, it may be argued that two simultaneous currents run through the Iranian regime: a moderate one and an extremist one. It would appear, however, that this argument is groundless, as the Iranian regime still allows itself to ruthlessly suppress its opponents in its own country. Evidently, the facts suggest that Shiite fanaticism is dominant within the Shiite regime in Tehran, and the smiles toward the West are nothing but a deception. 

Lt. Col.  (res.) Dr. Rafael Ofek is an expert in the physics and technology of nuclear power. He had served in the Israeli intelligence community as a senior researcher and analyst.