DUBAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians marched and some burned US flags to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the revolution on Monday, when Tehran fended off ballistic missiles despite US efforts to restrict its military power.
Soldiers, students, clerics, and black-clad women with small children throng the streets of Iran, many with portraits of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shiite cleric who overthrew the Shah in an Islamic uprising that still persecutes the West.
On February 11, 1979, the Iranian army declared its neutrality and paved the way for the overthrow of US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
State television showed that crowds drifted despite cold rain and carried Iranian flags as they shouted "Death to Israel, death to America" - trademark of the revolution.
After decades of hostility to the United States, the Islamic Republic promised to increase its military strength despite increasing pressure from Western countries.
During the main march, ballistic missile capabilities were demonstrated, including the Qadr F, a ground-to-ground missile with a range of 1,950 km, Tasnim News Agency said.
"We have not asked for permission and will not ask for permission to develop different types of … missiles, and will continue our path and our military might," said President Hassan Rouhani in a speech on Tehran's Azadi Square (freedom) ,
ECONOMIC "HARDSHIPS AND CIRCLES"
US National Security Advisor Bolton, who has expressed hope in 2017 that the Iranian "revolution will not reach its 40th birthday," tweeted on Monday that the "Islamic Republic of Iran" is keeping its promises to uphold its citizens' rights to uphold, did not fulfill ".
The heavy involvement in state-sponsored rallies that burned US and Israeli flags came at a time when Iranians were facing increasing economic difficulties, with much to blame for the country's clerical leaders.
Pictures in the social media showed that some people also demonstrated against corruption, unemployment and high prices.
"We are present on the 40th anniversary of the revolution to show our support for the Islamic Republic," said a protester. "But it does not mean that we support the corruption of some officials and their betrayal of the oppressed."
Reuters was unable to independently verify the images.
Last year, Iran held protests against the poor standard of living that has left the clerical elite with the greatest challenge since a 2009 uprising over controversial elections.
Staple food prices have risen since last year, when Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the world-wide nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 and imposed sanctions on Tehran.
"I bow admiringly to the resilient people in Iran who have taken to the streets today despite the hardships and abuses of the 40th anniversary of their Islamic revolution, some of which in the US have wanted them to never come," he wrote Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
"The US should pay attention: REAL Iranians never succumb to dictation."
In January, Rouhani said Iran has been struggling with its worst economic crisis ever since the Shah crashed.
Nevertheless, he remained defiant on Monday, as the Iranians remembered the end of a monarch, who took care of the rich. "The Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties, but we will overcome the problems by helping each other," he said.
USA AND ISRAELIC HAZARDS
Yadollah Javani, deputy head of the Iranian Revolutionary Revolutionary Guards for Political Affairs, said Iran would tear down cities in Israel if the United States attacks.
"The United States does not have the guts to fire a single bullet at us, in spite of all its defenses and military supplies. But if they attack us, we will crash Tel Aviv and Haifa, "Javani told the state news agency IRNA.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the threat. "I do not ignore the Iranian regime's threats, but I'm not impressed either," he said.
"If this regime made the terrible mistake of destroying Tel Aviv and Haifa, that would not be successful, but it would mean that they had celebrated their last day of revolution. You are wise to consider this. "
Khomeini returned from exile in France two weeks after fleeing to Aswan (Egypt). He was greeted by millions of supporters in Tehran. Later, revolutionaries began executing supporters of the Shah, including four top generals.
Khomeini died in 1989 and was succeeded by the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Washington and the Arab world have viewed Iran with great distrust since the Islamic Revolution, fearing that Khomeini's radical ideology would inspire militants in the Middle East.
Today, the United States, its Arab Allies and Israel are trying to counteract the growing influence of Tehran in the Middle East, where they have representation in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Iran also has a huge impact in Iraq, where Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign armies, was frequently photographed to lead Shiite militias in the war against Sunni Islamists.
Additional coverage by Bozorgmore Sharafeddin in London, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Letter from Michael Georgy; Arrangement by Andrew Cawthorne and William Maclean / Mark Heinrich