Spotlight on Iran* (March 26 – April 9, 2017)

March 26 – April 9, 2017

editor : Dr. Raz Zimmt
Overview
  • During the past two weeks at least eight Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fighters were killed in the region of Hama, Syria in the ongoing battles between the rebels and the forces of the Syrian regime. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, paid a visit to the area.
  • Iran condemned the chemical weapons attack on Idlib, Syria, but without accusing the Syrian regime of responsibility. The Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement that any use of chemical weapons had to be condemned regardless of who used them or who their victims were, and that Iran demanded the terrorist groups in Syria be disarmed of such weapons.
  • Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, who accompanied Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on his visit to Russia at the end of March, said Russia would again be permitted to use Iranian military bases to attack in Syria, according to necessity and on a case to case basis.
  • A senior Iranian foreign ministry official, interviewed by an Iranian diplomatic website, said Iran did not have a Syrian exit strategy. He said that despite Iran's military support of Syria, Russia was more important to the Syrian regime than Iran, and therefore Assad preferred to seek rapprochement with Moscow at the expense of Tehran.
  • In response to the final communiqué issued by the Arab League summit condemning Iranian intervention in the internal affairs of Arab states, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said Iran had no need to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries.
  • Iran supported the position of the Iraqi government in its dispute with the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq over flying the Kurdistan flag in the city of Kirkuk. A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said flying the flag of Kurdistan was unacceptable, violated the Iraqi constitution and fomented tension

 

General Information
  • Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said Iran had no need to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, and that honoring the sovereignty of other countries and not intervening in their affairs was a basic tenet of Iran's policy. He added that the three islands disputed by Iran and the UAE were Iranian and would remain Iranian, and that repeating lies would not change historical truths (Fars, March 30, 2017). Qasemi made the statements in response to the final communiqué issued by the Arab League summit that met in Jordan at the end of March 2017, where Arab leaders condemned Iran's intervention in the internal affairs of other countries and its attempts to incite sectarian fanaticism.
  • At a conference in Kashan, Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior military advisor to the supreme leader, said Iranian advisors in Iraq had organized more than 20 teams of Iraqi Shi'ite militias to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria (Tasnim, March 26, 2017).
  • Ahmad Salek, vice-chairman of the Majlis' cultural committee, warned that the United States was planning a "new offensive" against Syria and Iraq. He said the popular forces enlisting in Iraq and Syria terrified the plotters of the war in Syria, and they were now planning a new offensive and would send more forces to the region. Interviewed by ICANA, the news agency of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (i.e., the Iranian parliament) on April 2, 2017, Salek accused the intelligence services of the United States, Britain and Israel of deploying thousands of terrorists of various nationalities to Syria in order to topple the regime in Damascus. He claimed the United States had deployed thousands of fighters to the Middle East to besiege Iran, but had instead found itself besieged by the "resistance front."
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
  • During the past two weeks at least eight IRGC fighters were killed in the rural area north of Hama Syria in the ongoing battles between the rebel organizations and the Syrian forces.
  • Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, visited the Hama area at the end of March 2017. Arab sources reported that Soleimani, whose picture was circulated on social networks, went to Hama to consult with the commander of the regional Syrian forces in preparation for the large-scale attack soon to be waged against the forces of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Fateh al-Sham Front.
  • A video published by several Iranian and social network sites at the end of March showed Qasem Soleimani giving a speech on an undisclosed date. In it he said the defense of the Shi'ite shrines in Syria was as important as defending those in Karbala and Najaf in Iraq, and the Eighth Imam Reza's shrine in Mashhad. He said that if Syria fell to the enemy all the Shi'ite shrines would be destroyed (yjc.ir, April 1, 2017).
  • In response to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib, Syria, Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, condemned the use of chemical weapons but did not accuse the Syrian regime of using them. He said that anyone who used chemical weapons should be condemned, regardless who was responsible and who their victims were. He said it was not the first time such weapons had been used during the "Syrian crisis" and that it was important not to jump to conclusions and manipulate such incidents to benefit certain parties. He said Iran demanded that the armed terrorist groups be disarmed of their chemical weapons and that as a victim of their use [in the Iran-Iraq War], Iran was prepared to offer the medical treatment to the wounded (Fars, April 5, 2017).
  • Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, accompanied Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on his visit to Russia at the end of March 2017. He told Reuters that Russia would again be permitted to use Iran's military bases to attack Syria, according to necessity and on a case to case basis (Reuters, March 28, 2017). In August 2016 Russian war planes used the Iran army airfield in Hamedan to attack targets in Syria. That ended at the time because of internal Iranian criticism of allowing a foreign army to use Iranian military bases, but senior Iranian officials have already announced that Iran may renew permission, in accordance with operational needs
  • Hossein Sheykholeslam, advisor to the foreign minister, said Iran's decision to allow Russia to use its airfields to attack in Syria was "rational and vital for the struggle against terrorism in Syria." He said there was a need for a strong, effective air force to reduce the number of losses on the ground, and that the Syrian air force was not sufficiently equipped for the task. He claimed Iran had not turned over one of its bases to Russia but would allow Russia to use one on the condition that Syria, Russia and Iran had previously agreed on the targets that would be attack. He also said he believed Russia would continue to side with Iran and Syria until the complete defeat of the "axis of evil" seeking to divide the region (Fars, March 30, 2017).
  • On March 27, 2017, families of Afghan fighters killed fighting under the aegis of the IRGC forces in Syria met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Mashhad, Iran. At the meeting, held on the occasion of Norooz, the Iranian new year, Khamenei spoke with the families and thanked them. Afterwards he gave a speech praising the willingness of the fighters of the Fatemiyoun Brigade (the Afghan brigade in Syria under the aegis of the IRGC) to sacrifice their lives fighting in Syria (Tasnim, March 28, 2017).
  • On March 30, 2017, Mostafa Zahrani, head of policy planning and strategic issues at Iran's foreign ministry, told the "Iranian Diplomacy" website that in his opinion, Russia agreed with Israel and the United States not to permit an Iranian and/or Hezbollah presence along the Israel-Syria border. He said that despite the military aid Iran gave Syria, Russia's aerial support and the international advantages it could give Syria made Moscow more important to Bashar Assad than Tehran, and therefore he was leaning towards Russia and turning his back on Iran. Zahrani said that most of the actors in the Syrian arena, including Iran and Turkey, had gone into Syria without an exit strategy. Russia, on the other hand, did have such a strategy because its role was limited to aerial support.
Iranian Intervention in Iraq
  • Iran expressed its support for the central Iraqi government in the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq over the Kurds' decision to fly the flag of Kurdistan in Kirkuk. At the end of March the Kurds flew the flag over a local government building in Kirkuk. Haidar al-Abadi, Iraqi prime minister, strongly condemned the act and warned that any measure violating the constitution could lead to the dissolution of Iraq. This past week Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, expressed support for the position of the Iraqi government, saying that flying any flag in Kirkuk other than the Iraqi flag was unacceptable, violated the Iraqi constitution and fomented tension. He said Iran's fundamental position was support for Iraq's territorial integrity, and that flying the flag of Kurdistan in Kirkuk might distract the Iraqi government and people from the struggle against terrorism (Asr-e Iran, April 3, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
  • Hossein Amir Abdollahian, international affairs advisor to the speaker of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), who is also secretary of the international committee for the support of the Palestinian intifada, said that the only way to realize the rights of the Palestinians was to continue the intifada and the "resistance." In a declaration released for Palestinian Land Day, which falls on March 30 every year, he said that Land Day served as a reminder of the importance of "resistance" to the "illegitimate Zionist regime" and of the need for unity to liberate Jerusalem. Land Day, he said, was an opportunity for the Palestinian people to emphasize their resistance to the continuing existence of the "Zionist regime" on its historical land (IRNA, March 29, 2017).

[1]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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