Editor’s note: The heightened tensions with Iran offer an opportunity to examine the ups and downs of an undeclared conflict that has been going on for over 40 years. This falls into the light category. 

When propaganda efforts go wrong, the effect can be hilarious indeed.

Last year, as the Iranian government was celebrating the nation’s struggle against the invading Iraqi forces during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, something went wrong.

Throughout the country festivities and parades were organized and performed. Row upon row of waving Iranian flags and humongous billboards with patriotic signs and mottos engulfed the Iranian urban centers.  People everywhere celebrated the “The Sacred Defense,” as the war is known in Iran.

In the city of Shiraz, however, not everything went as planned. The city council erected a huge billboard in the city’s main plaza. The billboard depicted three soldiers standing on a hilltop and bowing their heads; they were accompanied by patriotic mottos. But something was amiss. The soldiers carried M-16 rifles. They wore foreign fatigues. Indeed, they didn’t look Iranian at all. And the reason was simple: they were Israeli.

It appears that someone used the wrong photograph for the billboard. What’s more surprising, however, is the fact that it was done so knowingly. To the great embarrassment of everyone involved in the festivities, the image had also been edited to omit a female Israeli soldier from the final product.

The contentious billboard (Twitter). 

Seyyed Ahmad Dastgheyb, the head of the city council, had said that indeed the soldiers depicted were Israeli and part of the “usurper Zionist regime.” He added that the authorities would “deal seriously with those responsible.”

The city’s mayor was even more apologetic. “This mistake of putting up such a despicable banner during the Sacred Defense Week is unforgivable. In addition to apologizing to Shiraz’s pious and noble people, I ask the authorities to investigate the roots of this suspicious act and promptly report to the people,” had said Mayor Heydar Eskandarpour.

The Iran-Iraq War lasted for eight bloody years (1980-1988). Hundreds of thousands from both sides perished in the battlefield; a million others were wounded — the limited medical facilities ensured that the combatants’ wounds would be debilitating for life. In an ironic — but realistic — move, the United States supported the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein with arms and intelligence.

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has targeted Israel and promised its complete destruction. The Iranian government has used proxies in its efforts to punish the “usurper Zionist regime.” The Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas have both received financial, military, and intelligence support from Iran. Israel, for its part, has been actively undermining Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon, both through overt (lobbying the U.S. and U.N). and covert (assassinating Iranian scientists) means.