Spotlight on Iran* (February 26 – March 12, 2017)

February 26 – March 12, 2017

editor : Dr. Raz Zimmt
Main Points
  • The chairman of the Iranian Shaheed Foundation said 2,100 fighters deployed from Iran to Syria and Iraq had been killed. The number does not relate only to Iranians, but to all the fighters deployed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to fight in Syria and Iraq, including Afghans and Pakistanis.
  • Despite the tension between Iran and Turkey, Iranian President Rouhani and Turkish President Erdogan met on the sidelines of the Economic Cooperation Organization summit meeting held in Pakistan. Rouhani noted that Iran objected to any action that harmed the territorial integrity of the countries in the region, especially Syria and Iraq.
  • Responding to reports that the American administration planned to designate it as a terrorist organization, senior Iranian officials declared their support for the IRGC.
  • An Iranian opposition website posted photos allegedly showing that planes belonging to the Iranian airline Mahan Air, which has ties to the IRGC, are used to transport Iranian, Syrian and Yemeni dead and wounded to Iran.
  • The military advisor to the commander of the IRGC's Qods Force threatened that Iran would "destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa" if Israel attacked Iran.
  • A Basij fighter was killed in Mosul, Iraq, at the end of February.
  • The authorities of Bahrain exposed an Iranian-supported terrorist network allegedly planning to carry out terrorist attacks against Bahrain's security forces. In the meantime, the Iranian broadcasting authority launched a radio station called "the Voice of Bahrain" to transmit "revolutionary messages" in support of a Shi'ite uprising against the Bahraini regime.

 

General Information
  • Hojjat ul-Islam Seyyed Mohammad Ali Shahidi, chairman of the Iranian Shaheed Foundation, said 2,100 of the fighters deployed by Iran to Syria and Iraq, the so-called "defenders of the shrines," had been killed (Asr-e Iran, March 7, 2017). The number does not relate solely to Iranians, but also to fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who were deployed to Syria and Iraq by the IRGC. In November 2016 Shahidi said the number of Iranians killed in Syria had passed the 1,000 mark (Tasnim, November 22, 2016).
  • On March 1, 2017, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with Turkish President Erdogan on the sidelines of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit meeting held in Pakistan. Rouhani told Erdogan that Iran opposed any action that harmed the territorial integrity of the countries in the region, especially Syria and Iraq. The two discussed bilateral relations (Tasnim, March 1, 2017). The meeting was held under the cloud of tension following accusations made by Erdogan and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Turkish foreign minister, of Iran's regional subversion. The accusations resulted, at the end of February, in the Iranian foreign ministry's summoning the Turkish ambassador to Tehran for clarifications. A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement that there was a limit to Iran's patience in dealing with Turkey's positions.
  • Responding to reports that the American administration planned to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, senior Iranian officials declared their support for the IRGC. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said it was not in the United States' best interests to designate the Corps as a terrorist organization because the entire world knew the IRGC provided the most support to Middle Eastern countries fighting terrorism (Mehr, February 25, 2017). Ali Larijani, chairman of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), also defended the activities of the IRGC, claiming they defended the Islamic Revolution at home and Iranian interests abroad (Tasnim, February 27, 2017). Rasoul Sanaeirad, deputy commander of the IRGC for political affairs, also reacted to the possibility that the United States would designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, saying that the support and advice the IRGC gave Syria and Iraq was given at their governments' request . He said announcing the American intention to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a publicity stunt, and that Iran had exploited the sanctions imposed previously as an opportunity to increase its defensive capabilities (yrc.ir, March 5, 2017).
  • Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, Tehran's substitute Friday prayer leader warned in his March 3, 2017 sermon against attempts made by the enemy, especially the United States, to divide the countries of the Middle East. He said he opposed the West's intentions to establish no-flight zones in Syria, because, he claimed, that would facilitate the infiltration of terrorist operatives into Syria and lead to a division of the country. He claimed that without Iran, ISIS would already have established governments in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (IRNA, March 3, 2017).
  • 5. On February 25, 2017, the amadnews.com website, which is affiliated with the Iranian opposition, posted pictures allegedly documenting the use of planes belonging to the IRGC-affiliated Air Mahan airline to transport dead and wounded Iranian, Syrian and Yemeni fighters to Iran. The website claimed it had received the pictures from "a source within the IRGC," and that the airline had covered the seats to protect them from the blood of the wounded. During the past year Mahan Air has flown dozens of planes from Iran to Syria, used, according to Western intelligence sources, to routinely deliver weapons to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah.
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
  • At a memorial service for fighters of the Fatemiyoun Brigade killed in Syria, Esmail Qa'ani, deputy commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, praised the brigade, which fights under the supervision of the IRGC. He said the Fatemiyoun Brigade knew no boundaries and fought wherever it was necessary to defend the values of Islam. He added that the Brigade was fighting in Syria but its influence went far beyond Syria, and expressed the "culture of the resistance" against the West. Syria and Aleppo, he said, were only part of the goals of the fighters, and their main objective was to institute a global government lead by the "Hidden Imam." He added that today the Americans and Israelis mourned the regional blossoming of the culture of resistance and that the United States would not have agreed to negotiating the future of Syria had it not been for the might of the Fatemiyoun Brigade fighters on the battlefield (Tasnim, March 1, 2017).
  • Hossein Amir Abdollahian, special international affairs advisor to the speaker of the Majlis, issued in an announcement after the city of Palmyra had been retaken from ISIS by Syrian army forces. He said there was no doubt but that Iran would continue its strong support of Syria, which stood at the front of support for "the liberation of Jerusalem" (Mehr, March 3, 2017). Meeting with Adnan Mahmoud, the Syrian ambassador to Tehran, Abdollahian said the liberation of Palmyra from the control of terrorists was proof of the strong resistance and stance of the Syrian army and the "resistance forces" in the fight against ISIS terrorism. Regarding the conference for the support of the Palestinian intifada which met in Tehran at the end of February, Abdollahian said it showed the need for Muslim unity, the continued support of the Palestinian people, and preparing the ground for a condemnation in the international arena of the "inhuman, illegitimate actions of the Zionist regime" (ISNA, March 5, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in Iraq and the Gulf
  • An IRGC Basij fighter was killed in Mosul, Iraq, at the end of February.
  • Mohammad Kazem Choghazardi, general manager of the Sepah bank, in a meeting with Rajeh al-Mousavi, Iraqi ambassador to Tehran, said the bank was prepared to broaden its connections with banks in Iraq (banksepah.ir, February 27, 2017).
  • In view of the ongoing protest of Bahraini Shi'ites to the local authorities, the Iranian broadcasting authority launched a new radio station called the Voice of Bahrain to export the "message of the revolution" to Bahrain. The station will broadcast news, commentary on political and social issues, and provide information about confrontations between the authorities and the opposition. It will operate through the Internet, social networks and smartphone apps (Fars, March 4, 2017).
  • Bahrain authorities announced the exposure of a network of 54 terrorists who, with Iranian support, were planning to carry out attacks on the country's security forces. According to Bahrain's attorney general, the leader of the network, who lives in Germany, helped the group organize trips for its operatives from Bahrain to Iran and Iraq for training in IRGC camps (ABNA, March 4, 2017). A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry strongly rejected Bahrain's accusations. Since the outbreak of the popular uprising in Bahrain in 2011, the authorities have accused Iran of supporting the rebels and planning terrorist attacks. In the summer of 2015 Bahrain announced it had uncovered a direct connection between Iran and Hezbollah to an attack in which two member of the Bahraini security forces had been killed when an IED exploded. In October 2015 Bahrain announced it had recalled its ambassador from Tehran and expelled the Iranian chargé d'affaires from Manama in protest against the involvement of the IRGC in planning terrorist attacks in Bahrain.
  • Hossein Amir Abdollahian, special international affairs advisor to the speaker of the Majlis, meeting with Wolfgang Amadeus Bruelhart, assistant state secretary and head of the Middle East and North Africa division in the Swiss foreign ministry, said the claims that Iran was supplying weapons to Yemen by sea were baseless. He said that for Iran the only resolution for the crisis in Yemen was political talks and honoring the decisions of the Yemeni people (Mehr, March 8, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
  • Ahmad Karimpour, military advisor to the commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, warned that Iran would destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa in the case of Israeli "aggression" against Iran. At a memorial service for Iranian martyrs, Karimpour said Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had not been joking when he said that if necessary, Iran would turn Tel Aviv and Haifa into dust in seven seconds. He said the Iranian armed forces had identified all the important centers in Israel and could attack them with their Sijil and long-range Shehab-3 missiles within seven and a half minutes. He added that no one in the world had the courage to speak out against Israel, but that Supreme Leader Khamenei had made it plain Iran would support anyone who helped the Palestinians (dolatebahar.com, March 2, 2017).

[*]Spotlight on Iran is an Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center bulletin illuminating Iran's activities to establish its influence in the Middle East and beyond. It is based on reports in the Iranian media and written for the ITIC by Dr. Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iran's politics, society, foreign policy and social networks.

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