Veteran Iranian football coach under fire for criticizing Tehran’s stance on Israel

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A veteran, Iranian football coach has come under fire for implicitly criticizing Tehran’s animosity toward Israel in a video that circulated across social media in recent days.

Mohammad Mayeli-Kohan, a retired Iranian footballer and current coach, said in the video that Iran could not call for the destruction of other countries, which was interpreted as criticism of the Iranian regime’s animosity toward Tel Aviv.

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“We cannot live in isolation in the world. Do we believe in the United Nations? If we do, we have to recognize its members. We cannot say this or that country must be destroyed,” Mayeli-Kohan said during an online sports talk show.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has refused to recognize Israel and has backed multiple militant Palestinian groups. Iranian officials openly call for Israel’s annihilation, and Iranian athletes are banned from competing against their Israeli counterparts.

Mayeli-Kohan has since been at the receiving end of insults from angry regime supporters on social media.

The sports arm of Iran’s Basij – a paramilitary force under the command of the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guards –released a statement on Thursday castigating Mayeli-Kohan and demanding a public apology from him.

Mayeli-Kohan is an “irrelevant” individual who is “seeking attention,” the statement, carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency, said.

Other Iranians on social media have praised Mayeli-Kohan and said that they share his views.

The Persian Twitter account of the Israeli foreign ministry also praised Mayeli-Kohan, describing his remarks as “courageous truth-telling.”

Some Iranian users said such remarks are influenced by the peace agreement announced last week by the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Tehran has been critical of the deal.

“Mayeli-Kohan’s remarks are a consequence of the peace deal between the UAE and Israel,” one user tweeted in Persian.

Many Iranians who oppose the regime have welcomed the peace agreement between the UAE and Israel and hope to restore relations with Israel in the future.

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