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Iran's Hardline Media Play Down Tensions With U.S.

Iranians burn U.S. flag as they take part in an anti-U.S. rally after Friday Prayers to show their support of Iran's revolutionary guards corps (IRGC), in Tehran, April 12, 2019

Tehran appears to be attempting to show that the U.S.-Iranian tensions are ebbing following a series of attacks on Saudi and UAE targets during the week. Iranian media have been observed to be displaying a less bellicose rhetoric regarding tensions between Tehran and Washington.

The Revolutionary Guard media and its commanders have also been keeping a lower profile since the U.S. dispatched more of its forces to the region. Senior commanders have generally refrained from issuing threats and making blustery statements.

However, there is still little indication to show whether the shift in attitude is genuine or it is a move to garner domestic political support. The Iranian regime might also be trying to assure its population that war is not imminent and the United Sates is not so unified in its position on Iran.

Iran - First page of Khorasan daily saying John Bolton will lose his post. May 16, 2019
Iran - First page of Khorasan daily saying John Bolton will lose his post. May 16, 2019

In one example, on Thursday May 16, several Iranian newspapers speculated that White House national Security Adviser John Bolton would soon be replaced.

Two examples can show the shift in attitudes in the Iranian media landscape. Instead of attacking the United States and labelling it simply as the "enemy", hardliner daily Khorasan carried the title, "Possibility of Bolton's Dismissal" as its banner headline on its front page.

Iran-- Front page of Javan daily saying there is disagreement in the Trump team on Iran. May 16, 2019
Iran-- Front page of Javan daily saying there is disagreement in the Trump team on Iran. May 16, 2019

And IRGC-linked newspaper Javan's main headline and picture on the same day was about "Discord in Trump's Team."

The official news agency IRNA on Friday carried a report which said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, characterized by the agency as "a key member of Team B," has made a U-turn from his previous positions and has said that he will do everything he can to prevent tensions in the Persian Gulf region.

Meanwhile, Iranian agencies carried Persian translations of U.S. media reports that indicated a decline in the tensions between Tehran and Washington, particularly those reports that distanced Iran from the mysterious blasts affecting shipping in the Gulf area and the drone attack on Saudi oil installations..

The official news agency also did an analysis in-house to prove that "Militarization of the Persian Gulf threatened peace and stability in the Middle East."

In this commentary, IRNA defiantly maintained that, the experiences of the past 40 years show that "The policy of isolating Iran will be costly for America. Neither the U.S. policy of balance of power during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, nor Clinton's dual harness policy, or George Bush's strategy of Axis of Evil or Obama's international sanctions or Trump's maximum pressure can change Iran's behavior or lead to a regime change altogether."

Playing down the tensions between Tehran and Washington can be partly news fabrication to curb the negative impact of sanctions and tensions on the country's ailing economy, and partly to cater to pacifist opinion in America in order to promote the idea of the regime's strength and stability and rule out Iran's vulnerability as a result of ongoing developments.

On the other hand, it is not uncommon in Iranian media to twist the Persian translation of foreign reports in order to address concerns about the regime image.

At the same time, Tehran continues sending mixed messages to Washington as Foreign Minister Zarif has ruled out any negotiations, and IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem Suleimani has reportedly been preparing Iraqi militia to further Iran's proxy war against the United States in Iraq.