Iran is using new methods of recruiting and training children through its paramilitary militia group, Basij, one of the five branches of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The children, as young as eight years old, are trained to hate the US and Israel and to attack their enemies in the West, as well as to oppose Western values.
One of Iran's tactics has been to air promotional video clips on its state media outlets to seduce children. One of the most recent jihadist promotional clips is titled, "Martyrs who defend the sacred shrine."
The translation of the video clip, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), goes:
"Let us rise up to save the sacred shrine.
I have joined [Imam] Hossein's army division.
... I have a warrant from the [Imam Ali] to defend the sacred shrine.
On my leader [Ali Khamenei's] orders I am ready to give my life.
The goal is not just to free Iraq and Syria;
My path is through the sacred shrine [in Syria], but my goal is to reach Jerusalem.
... I do not regret parting from my country;
In this just path I am wearing my martyrdom shroud.
... From Mashhad [north-east Iran], I will walk on foot to Damascus.
I am like the bird who flocks to the sacred shrine."
The training and teachings inspire hatred in these young children, through rampant anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, and focus on damaging the national security of the Unites States ("the Great Satan") and Israel ("the Little Satan").
At Mashad's theme park, "City of Games for Revolutionary Children," children are trained to engage in wars against the US and Israel. They fire bullets through US and Israeli flags or at effigies such as that of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to Israel National News:
"After registering, children don military uniforms and split up into groups of 8-10. They are accompanied by a 'commander' whom they pledge to obey. They then go through 12 activity stations, which include simulations of the Iran-Iraq war, a 'Revolution chamber,' defending various holy shrines, and traversing a minefield with barbed wire. Along the way, they are told about the directives of the Imam (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini and Supreme Leader Khamenei."
The "commander" teaches the children about Islamist values. The Middle East Research Media Research Institute (MEMRI) quotes Hamid Sadeghi, director of Iran's Child and the Future Cultural Center (which runs the theme park):
"One of [our] cultural experts guides the children at the City of Games. First they are brought into the stations of the Ghadir [Shi'ite holiday honoring Imam 'Ali's succession to the Prophet Muhammad] and of the Lovers of Ahl Al-Bayt [the family of the Prophet Muhammad descended from 'Ali], and [the guide] explains to them about the Mahdi [the Shi'ite messiah]. Then they reach the station of the Rule of the Jurisprudent [Velayat-e Faqih], and then the station of the Revolution, where the guide explains about the Islamic Revolution ...An explanation is also provided about the directives of the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini and [Supreme] Leader Khamenei."
At the "City of Games for Revolutionary Children" theme park in Mashad, Iran, children are trained to engage in wars against the US and Israel. (Image source: Courtesy Raja News Agency, via Al Arabiya)
"At the City of Games, we are trying to convey to the children messages about fighting, the Holy Defense and current global issues, through games, amusements, and group activities."
Iran is not only seducing children, but has actually repeatedly used children in wars, for example, assigning them tasks such as clearing minefields.
Iran's actions are a direct violation of international humanitarian law that is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. According to the United Nations:
"Human rights law declares 18 as the minimum legal age for recruitment and use of children in hostilities. Recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law – treaty and custom – and is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. Parties to conflict that recruit and use children are listed by the Secretary-General in the annexes of his annual report on children and armed conflict."
Several Iranian institutions play a crucial role in this matter: the Office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Ministry of Intelligence (Etela'at), and the militia group Basij.
Finally, these institutions that recruit children for war, in violation of the international humanitarian law, are the main beneficiaries of the sanctions relief and billions of dollars being poured into the Islamic republic as a result of the nuclear deal.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, political scientists and Harvard University scholar is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He can be reached at Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org.