Tag Archives: Hezbollah

Spotlight on Iran

April 23 – May 7, 2017 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
Hamed Bafandeh and Ahmad Gholami, who were killed fighting in Syria (defapress.ir, April 24, 2017).

Hamed Bafandeh and Ahmad Gholami, who were killed fighting in Syria (defapress.ir, April 24, 2017).

Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the IRGC's ground forces  (Fars, May 2, 2017).

Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the IRGC's ground forces (Fars, May 2, 2017).

Javad Tork Abadi (second from left) presents his credentials to the Syrian foreign minister (Mehr, April 26, 2017).

Javad Tork Abadi (second from left) presents his credentials to the Syrian foreign minister (Mehr, April 26, 2017).

The Syrian chief of staff (left) meets with the Iran defense minister  (IRNA, May 1, 2017).

The Syrian chief of staff (left) meets with the Iran defense minister (IRNA, May 1, 2017).

The defense ministers of Russia, Iran and Syria meet in Moscow (Tasnim, April 27, 2017).

The defense ministers of Russia, Iran and Syria meet in Moscow (Tasnim, April 27, 2017).

Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, former mayor of Tehran (Tasnim, May 1, 2017).

Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, former mayor of Tehran (Tasnim, May 1, 2017).

Iranian ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi (second from left) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi (right) (ABNA, April 24, 2017).

Iranian ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi (second from left) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi (right) (ABNA, April 24, 2017).

Overview
  • Two Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fighters were killed in the region of Hama, Syria.
  • The commander of the IRGC's ground forces said his fighters would continue to serve as advisors in Syria alongside the Qods Force. He said Iranian support for Syria, which included advice on fighting techniques and tactics, demanded its advisors' presence in the field.
  • Javad Tork Abadi has assumed his position as the new Iranian ambassador to Damascus. He replaced Mohammad-Reza Raouf-Sheibani, whose term as ambassador ended in October 2016.
  • At the beginning of May, Ali Ayoub, the chief of staff of the Syrian army, paid a visit to Tehran and met with Mohammad Bagheri, his Iranian counterpart, and Hossein Dehqan, the Iranian defense minister. They discussed recent developments in Syria and ways to strengthen Iranian-Syrian military ties.
  • Iran denounced the April 27, 2017 attack on Hezbollah arms storehouses near the Damascus airfield, attributed to Israel. The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman claimed the objective of the Israeli attacks was to weaken the Syrian government.
  • Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, former mayor of Tehran, caused an uproar in Iran by publicly criticizing Iranian's military involvement in Syria. The attorney general of Isfahan said the judiciary planned to bring him to trial.
  • Iraj Masjedi, the new Iranian ambassador to Iraq and former senior advisor to the commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, assumed his position at the end of April. He met with senior Iraqi officials and held a reception at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad for representatives of the Iraqi public.
  • Iran denounced Turkey's aerial attacks on targets in northern Iraq affiliated with the Turkish underground on April 26, 2017.
  • Iran and the Palestinian Authority (PA) fiercely criticized one another after an advisor to the Iranian foreign minister accused the PA chairman of committing "crimes" in the service of the United States and Israel by cutting both the salaries of public servants in the Gaza Strip and fuel subsidies to the Strip's power plant.
  • The Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat reported that Iran increased its funding for Hamas' military-terrorist wing following Yahya al-Sinwar's election as the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. 

 

Iranian Intervention in Syria
  • Two IRGC fighters were killed in the region of Hama, Syria.
  • On May 2, 2017, Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the IRGC's ground forces, told the Fars news agency that his fighters would remain as advisors in Syria, alongside the IRGC's Qods Force. He said the advisors were experienced fighters whose support included advice on fighting techniques and tactics, and that demanded their presence in the field. He said advisors from the Saberin special forces brigade were also operating in Syria. According to Pakpour, deploying advisors was sufficient and there was no need for regular army forces because the number of terrorists operating in Syria was not exceptionally large and the Syrian forces could deal with them by themselves.
  • Pakpour said Syria was particularly important because it was at the forefront of the resistance to Israel. If Hezbollah, which should be in readiness to fight Israel, were not today fighting the terrorists in Syria, Syria would fall to the supporters of the Zionists, and that would weaken the struggle against Israel. He said that if all the groups fighting against the Syrian regime joined forces to fight against Israel, Israel's situation was not as good as it currently was.
  • Javad Tork Abadi, Iran's new ambassador to Damascus, assumed his position at the end of April. On April 26, 2017, he presented his credentials to Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, and on May 2 to President Assad. Javad Tork Abadi, who was formerly Iranian ambassador to Sudan, Bahrain and Nigeria, as well as Iranian chargé d'affaires in Kuwait, replaced Mohammad-Reza Raouf-Sheibani, who ended his term as ambassador in October 2016 (Mehr, April 26, 2017). In recent months the delay in appointing a new ambassador to Damascus led to strong criticism in Iranian political circles, especially in view of the ongoing civil war in Syria. In December 2016 several members of the Majlis (Iranian parliament) appealed to Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, with an urgent demand that he appoint a new ambassador to Damascus immediately.
  • On May 1, 2017, Ali Ayoub, the Syrian chief of staff, paid a visit to Tehran and met with Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian chief of staff, and with Hossein Dehqan, the Iranian defense minister. They discussed recent developments in Syria and strengthening Damascus-Tehran military ties. The Iranian chief of staff praised the resistance of the Syrian army and people to the "takfiri terrorists" operating in the country, and condemned the aerial attacks recently carried out in Syria by the United States and Israel. Ali Ayoub thanked Iran for its military support and said it played a definitive role in Syria's continuing resistance and victories over the terrorists (IRNA, May 1, 2017).
  • On April 27, 2017, the defense ministers of Iran, Russia and Syria met on the sidelines of the Sixth Moscow Conference on International Security and discussed recent developments in Syria. Sergey Shoygu, the Russian minister; Hossein Dehqan, the Iranian minister, and Fahd Jassem al-Freij, the Syrian minister, noted that their countries would continue their joint efforts in the ongoing military campaign in Syria. They criticized the April 6, 2017 American attack on the Syrian air force base in Homs (western Syria). At a previous meeting of the Iranian and Russian defense ministers, Shoygu said Russia was pleased with Iranian-Russian cooperation in the "struggle against terrorism" in Syria (Tasnim, April 27, 2017).
  • On May 3, 2017, peace talks recommenced in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, attended by representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey. The Iranian delegation was headed by Hossein Jaberi Ansari, deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs. As part of ongoing Iranian-Russian consultations about Syria, on May 3, 2017, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, spoke on the phone with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia's Security Council. They discussed recent Syrian political and security developments, and their countries' cooperation in Syria (Asr-e Iran, May 3, 2017).
  • Iran strongly condemned the April 27, 2017 attack on Hezbollah arms storehouses near the Damascus airfield, allegedly carried out by Israel. Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, claimed Israel's ongoing aggression was a violation of Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and of international law. He said the objective of Israel's attacks was to weaken the Syrian government and called on the UN to keep Israel from attacking again (ISNA, April 28, 2017).
  • Writing to Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi, Iran's minister of health, Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, thanked him for his ministry's support of the IRGC fighters in Syria. That included, he wrote, guidance, supplying medicine and medical equipment, and medical treatment for the wounded. In reply Hashemi wrote to Soleimani, thanking him for the activity of the IRGC in Syria against the "takfiri groups." He said the Iranian people would never forget the IRGC fighters who had sacrificed their lives in Syria, fighting for the sake of Iran's security (Fars, April 28, 2017).
  • Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, former mayor of Tehran and affiliated with Iran's reformist camp, was strongly criticized by conservatives in Iran when he publicly spoke against Iran's military involvement in Syria. At the end of April a video of a speech made by Karbaschi at a conference of President Rouhani's supporters in Isfahan circulated on social media. Karbaschi said that restoring peace in Syria did not require military involvement and that the crisis could be resolved through diplomacy. He said no one contested the need to bring peace to Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and to support the Shi'ites in those countries, but there were other ways to do it besides sending money, selling arms and killing (Tasnim, May 1, 2017). Supporters of the Iranian regime were enraged by his speech, accusing him of being an enemy of Iran. The attorney general of Isfahan said his judiciary was planning to bring Karbaschi to trial because of the speech.
  • It is not the first time Iran's support for the Assad regime has been the subject of public criticism. In recent years criticism of Iran's continuing support of the Assad regime has increased among political circles affiliated with the reformist movement in Iran. It has had, however, no practical influence on Iran's policies in Syria.
Iranian Intervention in Iraq
  • On April 24, 2017, Iraj Masjedi, Iran's new ambassador to Iraq, met with Iraqi President Fouad Masoum to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation. Masjedi stressed Iran's support for Iraq in its fight against ISIS (ISNA, April 24, 2017). The following day Masjedi met with Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for the first time. They discussed Iran-Iraq relations, regional developments and Iran's support for Iraq in its fight against ISIS (Fars, April 25, 2017). On April 28 Masjedi held a reception at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, attended by members of the Iraqi parliament and local councils, representatives of the various ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, newspaper correspondents, academics, community activists, religious figures and commanders of the Iraqi militias (Tasnim, April 28, 2017).
  • Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, condemned the aerial strikes carried out by Turkey on April 26, 2017, on targets affiliated with the Kurdish underground (PKK) in northern Iraq. He said the attacks in the region of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq were a violation of Iraq's national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and increased regional destabilization (Fars, April 26, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
  • Hossein Sheikholeslam, advisor to the Iranian foreign minister for international affairs, strongly attacked the Palestinian Authority (PA), saying that its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, had committed crimes in the Gaza Strip in the service of the United States and Israel. His statement came in the wake of the PA's decision to cut both the salaries of workers in the public sector in the Gaza Strip and fuel subsidies for the Strip's power plant. Interviewed by Hamas' al-Risalah, he said the PA was waging an unjust war on the Gaza Strip, and called on the PA chairman to change his current policy which, said Hossein Sheikholeslam, served Israel and worked against the interests of the Palestinians.
  • Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, angrily replied to Iran, saying that those who had signed the nuclear agreement [with the West] and been a partner in the creation and continuation of two Palestines, one in the Gaza Strip and the other in the West Bank, had no right to talk about Palestine, interfere in its internal affairs or insult the PA chairman. Nabil Abu Rudeina criticized Iran's regional policies, saying Iran helped wage internal wars throughout the Arab world. He said Hossein Sheikholeslam's remarks served only the interests of Israel and the enemies of the Arab nation (Asr-e Iran, May 1, 2017).
  • On May 2, 2017, the daily newspaper al-Hayat reported that Iran had increased its support for Hamas' military wing and that there had been a significant improvement in Iranian-Hamas relations. Palestinian sources told the paper that Yahya al-Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas' political bureau in the Gaza Strip, had played a major role in the improvement. Iran-Hamas relations had reached an impasse over the civil war in Syria and Hamas' decision not to side with the Assad regime. Iranian support for Hamas' military-terrorist wing has continued, however, even in recent years.

* 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.

Spotlight on Iran

March 12 – 26, 2017 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
Hojjat-ul-Islam Ali Saidi, representative of the supreme leader to the IRGC  (Sepah News, March 15, 2017).

Hojjat-ul-Islam Ali Saidi, representative of the supreme leader to the IRGC (Sepah News, March 15, 2017).

Rasoul Sanaeirad (Tasnim, March 12, 2017).

Rasoul Sanaeirad (Tasnim, March 12, 2017).

Mahmoud Alavi, Iranian minister of intelligence (Tasnim, March 14, 2017).

Mahmoud Alavi, Iranian minister of intelligence (Tasnim, March 14, 2017).

Members of the Tasnim News delegation to Lebanon visit the graves of Imad and Jihad Mughnieh (Tasnim, March 14, 2017).

Members of the Tasnim News delegation to Lebanon visit the graves of Imad and Jihad Mughnieh (Tasnim, March 14, 2017).

Mojtaba Sardad IRGC fighter killed at Tel Afar (Twitter, March 19).

Mojtaba Sardad IRGC fighter killed at Tel Afar (Twitter, March 19).

Main Points
  • The political deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) rejected reports published following Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's visit to Moscow that Iran was planning to construct a naval base in Latakia, Syria. The deputy commander claimed that the reports were intended to incite the countries of the region against Iran and justify the deployment of American forces in Syria.
  • Mahmoud Alavi, Iranian minister of intelligence, said Iran had sent equipment to Syria to collect information about terrorists operating in the country.
  • Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, warned the United States and Saudi Arabia against deploying military forces to Syria.
  • Iran strongly condemned the Israeli attack in Syria on the night of March 17, 2017, and called on the UN to prevent further attacks.
  • A delegation of the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency visited Lebanon and Syria, and met with senior Hezbollah officials, including Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general.
  • An IRGC fighter was killed near Tel Afar, west of Mosul, Iraq.

 

General Information

1.   Hojjat-ul-Islam Ali Saidi, representative of the supreme leader to the IRGC, said the Islamic Revolution in Iran was a prelude to the internationalizing of Islam. He said the revolution faced both internal and external threats, especially from the "arrogance front" led by the United States and secular liberals within Iran. Speaking at a conference in Tehran, he said the might of the Islamic Revolution had so far succeeded in thwarting American plots and plans. He added that the United States itself considered Iran as one of the most influential powers in the world and that its influence could be seen in the regional balance of power. The American strategy of providing the Zionists with security had not only failed, but the "Zionist occupiers," who in the past pursued a strategy of "from the Nile to the Euphrates," were not secure even within the borders of the "occupied territories" (Sepah News, March 15, 2017).

2.   Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, strongly rejected American claims that Iran supported terrorism. He claimed the American accusations of Iranian involvement in terrorism were fabricated, baseless and entirely political. He made the statement in response to the decision of the American State Department to designate the Bahraini al-Ashtar Brigades, which are supported by Iran, as a terrorist organization and impose sanctions on the organization's activists (Tasnim, March 18, 2017).

Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon

3.   Rasoul Sanaei-Rad, IRGC commander's political deputy, rejected reports published in the media following Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's visit to Moscow, according to which Iran was planning to construct a naval base in Latakia, Syria. He claimed the reports were baseless and that their objectives were to accuse Iran of establishing a permanent presence in an Islamic state, incite the countries of the region against Iran and justify the deployment of American forces in Syria. Rasoul Sanaeirad said Iran had no interest in constructing a naval base in Latakia, where the Russians have a military base, and that Iran's presence in Syria was based exclusively on advisors, who were there at the official request of the Syrian government (Tasnim, March 12, 2017).

4.   Mahmoud Alavi, Iranian minister of intelligence, said Iran has sent equipment to Syria to collect information about terrorists operating in the country. At a conference in Isfahan he said a technical crew from the ministry of intelligence had installed powerful surveillance devices in Syria to monitor activity at terrorist bases (Fars, March 14, 2017).

5.   Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, warned the United States and Saudi Arabia not to deploy military forces to Syria. He said the presence of foreign forces in Syria without its government's authorization was "occupation" and support for terrorist elements in the country. He accused the American administration and the Saudi Arabian regime of ongoing support for the terrorists operating in Syria (IRNA, March 17, 2017). His remarks were in response to statements made by Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud, minister of defense and deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who, after having met with James Mattis, the American secretary of defense, said Riyadh might consider deploying forces to fight in Syria.

6.   Iran strongly condemned the Israeli attack in Syria on the night of March 17, 2017. Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, called on the UN to condemn the attack and act to prevent the "Zionist regime" from further attacks, which undermined peace and security. He said the Israel attack proved that Israel was interested in strengthening the "Zionist-infidel terrorists" (Fars, march 18, 2017).

7.   A delegation of the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency visited Lebanon and Syria, and met with senior Hezbollah officials, including Hassan Nasrallah, the organization's secretary general. Meeting with Nasrallah, Majid Qolizadeh, Tasnim News managing director, said his agency had invested large sums of money in its foreign bureau to provide the best possible coverage of international news for its regional audience. The delegation also met with Sheikh Na'im Qassem, Hezbollah deputy secretary general, and with the head of Hezbollah's operational committee, Hashem Safi al-Din (Tasnim, March 14, 2017).

Iranian Intervention in Iraq

8.   Mojtaba Sardad, an IRGC fighter, was killed at Tel Afar, west of Mosul, Iraq.

[*]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.

The head of the Iranian Martyrs Foundation admits that 2,100 fighters sent by Iran to Syria and Iraq have been killed so far

Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the prominent figure in the Iranian involvement in Syria, at the grave of an IRGC fighter killed in Syria (afsaran.ir, April 14, 2015)

Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the prominent figure in the Iranian involvement in Syria, at the grave of an IRGC fighter killed in Syria (afsaran.ir, April 14, 2015)

Hojjatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Ali Shahidi, the head of the Iranian Martyrs Foundation (Mehr, March 6, 2017).

Hojjatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Ali Shahidi, the head of the Iranian Martyrs Foundation (Mehr, March 6, 2017).

Hossein Hamedani, killed in the Aleppo area in October 2015 (Tasnim News, October 9, 2016)

Hossein Hamedani, killed in the Aleppo area in October 2015 (Tasnim News, October 9, 2016)

Joint Syrian-Iranian operations room set up in Aleppo before the Syrian Army attack in October 2015, with the participation of Iranian fighters. The poster in the upper left-hand corner shows Khomeini, Khamenei and an unidentified person. The Iranian correspondent who reported about the activity of the operations room is seen on the right (Fars, October 22, 2015)

Joint Syrian-Iranian operations room set up in Aleppo before the Syrian Army attack in October 2015, with the participation of Iranian fighters. The poster in the upper left-hand corner shows Khomeini, Khamenei and an unidentified person. The Iranian correspondent who reported about the activity of the operations room is seen on the right (Fars, October 22, 2015)

Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani briefing fighters, apparently in the Latakia area in Syria (Facebook, October 13, 2015)

Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani briefing fighters, apparently in the Latakia area in Syria (Facebook, October 13, 2015)

http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/20909Overview

1.   In a conference held on March 6, 2017, to commemorate the Martyr Day in Tehran, the head of the Martyrs Foundation Hojjatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Ali Shahidi said that the number of fatalities among the fighters sent by Iran to Syria and Iraq had reached 2,100 (Mehr, March 6, 2017).[1] The number of fatalities announced by the Foundation director does not refer only to fighters of Iranian nationality, but to all fighters sent on behalf of Iran to Syria and Iraq. These fighters include Lebanese Hezbollah operatives as well as Shiites of Afghan, Pakistani and Iraqi descent, handled by the IRGC.[2]

2.   Ali Alfoneh, IRGC researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who monitors the involvement of Iran and its proxies in Syria and Iraq, has so far identified 2,603 fatalities (thus, there is a discrepancy of 503 dead between his findings and the figure cited by the head of the Martyrs Foundation). From Ali Alfoneh’s findings we learn that:

a.   In Syria, 473 Iranian fighters, 1,045 Hezbollah operatives, and 801 operatives of the Shiite militias operating in Syria (Pakistanis, Afghans, and Iraqis)were killed. Thus, the total of fatalities among the Iranian forces and Iran’s proxy organizations in Syria has reached 2,319.

b.   In Iraq, Alfoneh identified 38 Iranian fighters and 246 operatives of the Iraqi Shiite militias. Thus, the total of fatalities in Iraq has reached 248.

c.   The total of fatalities in Syria and Iraq is 2,603. Thus, there is a discrepancy of 503 dead between this figure and the figure cited by the head of the Martyrs Foundation, which, in the ITIC's assessment, stems from different database and methodologies for counting the dead (for instance, maybe the head of the Martyrs Foundation doesn’t count the Iranian fatalities in Iraq).

 

3.   Among the dead in Syria, particularly high is the percentage of Hezbollah operatives (about 40 percent of the total number of fatalities). In the ITIC's assessment, this stems from the fact that Hezbollah operatives are a quality, available force,which has been involved in the most important, deadly battles (such as the battle for Aleppo), and therefore sustained a large number of fatalities. The number of the Iranian fatalities, relative to the limited scope of the Iranian force in Syria, is also relatively high (with more than ten high-ranking officers of the rank equivalent to a brigadier general). The percentage of the Shiite militias in the total number of fatalities is small as they mainly serve as an auxiliary force rather than a quality military force sent to the front line in the important battle zones.

4.   What is the impact of the Iranian fatalities on the decision makers in Tehran?In the ITIC's assessment, decision makers in Iran are highly sensitive to fatalities. At least in the past, this sensitivity drew internal criticism and raised questions as to whether the campaign in Syria is worthwhile. The Iranian fatalities, which were high relatively to the scope of the force stationed in Syria, required the Iranian leadership to provide explanations as to the benefit and legitimacy of the Iranian involvement in Syria. These explanations included the use of Shiite religious symbols, glorification of the value of sacrifice and defending the Shiite holy sites, and emphasizing the importance of involvement in Syria for protecting Iran’s interests and national security. On the other hand, the level of sensitivity in Tehran to Hezbollah’s fatalities and all the more so to fatalities of the Shiite militias is much lower.


 

5.   The large numberof fatalities among the Iranian fighters and the concern that the fatalities would draw criticism of the involvement in Syria were apparently what led to a significant decrease of the Iranian order of battle in Syria. The order of battle decreased from about 1,500-2,000 at its peak to several hundred fighters and advisors at present. Today, the Iranians prefer to conduct their involvement in the fighting by proxy organizations, among which Hezbollah is the most prominent in its performance (see Appendix: Milestones of the Iranian involvement in the civil war in Syria). The modus operandi of a widespread use of proxies and limited direct Iranian involvement also characterizes the network of subversion and terror which Iran employs in the Middle East for promoting its interests and regional influence.[3]

Affiliation of the fatalities of Iran and its proxy organizations in Syria and Iraq

6.   As a rule, the Iranian media does not refrain from reporting on fatalities among the Iranian fighters and the forces operating on behalf of Iran in Syria and Iraq. These reports also include details of senior officers who died in the fighting. Yet, the Iranian media does not always provide full information regarding the identity, rank and organizational affiliation of the dead.

7.   Ali Alfoneh, an IRGC researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been closely monitoring the IRGC fatalities in Syria and Iraq. His findings are based on official reports published in Iranian media regarding the dead as well as on media reports about funerals of fighters killed in Syria and Iraq. Until mid-February 2017, Alfoneh estimated that 473 Iranian fighters had been killed in Syria since the beginning of 2012, of which 466 belonged to the IRGC and seven to the Iranian regular army. In addition, since April 2014, a total of 38 IRGC fighters had been killed in Iraq. Thus, the total of Iranian fatalities in Syria and Iraq, according to Alfoneh, reaches 511.

 

8.   According to Alfoneh's findings, the number of fatalities among Iran’s proxy organizations in Syria and Iraq has reached 2,092 fighters. Following is their breakdown:

a.   1,045 Hezbollah operatives have been killed in Syria since October 2012.

b.   584 Afghan fighters, operating in Syria as part of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, have been killed in Syria since September 2013.

c.   136 Pakistani fighters, operating in Syria as part of the Zainabiyoun Brigade, have been killed in Syria since November 2014.

d.   81 Iraqi fighters, from among the Shiite pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, have been killed in Syria since October 2012

e.   246 Iraqi fighters, from among the Shiite pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, have been killed in Iraq since July 2014.

9.   Among the Iranian fighters killed since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, there are more than ten senior Iranian officers in a rank equivalent to brigadier general. Among the dead, there is a senior officer who was killed at the Syrian-Lebanese border (in an attack attributed to Israel), and another officer killed in the Golan Heights (also in an attack attributed to Israel). Several other officers were killed innorthern Syria (in the areas of Aleppo and Hama), where the Iranian and their proxies sustained the heaviest losses.

10.    Following are details on the senior Iranian officers killed:

a.   Hassan Shateri – killed in February 2013 at the Syrian-Lebanese border in an attack attributed to Israel.

b.   Abdollah Eskandari –former head of the Martyrs Foundation in Fars Province, killed in May 2014.

c.   Mohammad Ali Allahodadi – killedin an airstrike attributed to the Israeli Air Force in the Quneitra area, in January 2015.

d.   Hadi Kajbaf –killed in April 2015 in the Daraa area

e.   Hossein Hamedani –served as a senior military advisor in Syria, on behalf of the IRGC, and was killed in the Aleppo area in October 2015.

f.     Reza Khavari – killed in the Hama area in October 2015.

g.   Farshad Hassounizadeh – former commander of the Saberin Special Forces Brigade, killed in October 2015.

h.   Hamid Mokhtarband – former commander of the IRGC Brigade in Ahvaz, killed in October 2015.

i.     Sa’id Sayyah Taheri – killed in January 2016 in the Aleppo area.

j.     Hassan Ali Shamsabadi – killed in March 2016.

k.   Gholam-Reza Samaei– killed in October 2016.

l.     Gholam-Reza Qollizadeh– killed in January 2017.

Appendix
Milestones of the Iranian involvement in the civil war in Syria
1.   Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, the IRGC’s Qods Force under the command of Qassem Soleimani has led the Iranian involvement in Syria. In the first stage of the civil war, when the existence of the Assad regime was in jeopardy, the Iranian involvement was intended to prevent the fall of Damascus and strategic outposts in northern Syria in the hands of the rebels and the collapse of the Syrian regime. Subsequently, the involvement of Iran and its proxies was intended to assist the Syrian regime to expand its control territories, stabilize its rule in the areas taken over, defend Shiite population and Shiite holy sites, secure the Syrian-Lebanese border area, and prevent the “spillover” of the global jihad to Lebanon. In the long run, the Iranian involvement was intended to secure Iran’s hold on Syria and its influence on the Syrian regime, and allow the use of Syrian territory as a launching pad for Iranian presence and activity in the Middle East.

 

2.   The Iranian involvement in the various stages of the civil war in Syria has been expressed in several ways: At first, in the transfer of weapons, providing economic assistance and sending Iranian advisors, who operated in close coordination with the Syrian Army and the Syrian security forces. Then, the indirect Iranian involvement has turned into direct involvement through an Iranian force which was dispatched to Syria. Side by side with this force, Iran employed proxy organizations. Among these proxy organizations, the most professional has been the Lebanese Hezbollah, while organizations of lesser quality have been units of Shiite fighters of Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani descent.

3.   Until September 2015, the Iranian involvement in Syria had been conducted by several hundred Iranian advisors and several thousand Shiite fighters belonging to military frameworks handled by the Qods Force. The IRGC’s military presence on Syrian soil was intended in the first place mainly for advisory missions. At that stage, the Iranians refrained from employing organic army units against the rebel organizations, and usually were not directly involved in the fighting. However, the IRGC operatives were caught from time to time in the crossfire between the Syrian forces and the rebel organizations and thus died in the fighting.

4.   The cumulative achievements of ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations in northwestern Syria during 2014-2015 raised doubts among the Iranians as to President Bashar Assad’s ability to remain in power in the long run. This required Iran to substantially increase its support of the Assad regime and change its modus operandi in Syria. In view of the Syrian regime’s predicament, in mid-September 2015 Iran reinforced its troops in Syria, apparently adding 1,500-2,000 fighters, some of whom took an active part in the fighting. The Iranian reinforcement, which consisted of IRGC operatives and Shiite fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, was intended to assist the Syrian Army in the attack started in northern Syria in early October 2015. At the same time, the scope of Hezbollah’s force operating in Syria increased, as did its involvement in the various fighting zones.

5.   The fierce battles in northwestern Syria in late 2015 caused heavy losses to the Iranian fighters, who were at the front lines of the attack. During the first months of the attack, over a hundred Iranian fighters were killed, with a large number of officers, including senior officers. The majority of the dead belonged to the IRGC’s regular combatant units. Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani led the attack in northwestern Syria, coordinating the activity of the Syrian Army, the IRGC, and Hezbollah. Most of the military effort was based on fighters who belonged to the IRGC’s regular units (infantry, armor, and Special Forces). The relative size of these units (compared to the Qods Force, relatively limited in scope) allowed them to send larger numbers of fighters to the battlefield and address Iran’s constraint at that time in Syria.[4]

6.   In the spring of 2016, Iran sent to Syria forces of the Iranian regular army limited in scope (probably several hundred fighters), with the objective of reinforcing the IRGC forces. This was the first time since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) that fighters belonging to the Iranian regular army were sent to a military campaign outside the borders of Iran. Within a short while, the regular army troops also sustained losses.

7.   The heavy losses among the Iranian fighters required the Iranian leadership to reassess the deployment of Iranian troops in Syria. In late 2015, there were widespread Western media reports that Iran had started to withdraw its military troops from Syria due to its heavy losses. These reports were denied by senior Iranian officials, who stressed that Iran’s “military advisors” continued to operate along with the Syrian regime to assist it in its campaign against terrorism. The ITIC believes that even though Iran had not withdrawn its forces from Syria, it significantly decreased its order of battle in Syria, which is currently estimated at several hundred advisors and fighters.

8.   The military achievements of the Syrian forces with Russian support during the recent year, which culminated in the takeover of Aleppo once again from the rebel organizations in late 2016, allowed Iran to once again rely mainly on Hezbollah fighters and the Shiite foreign fighters operating along with the Syrian Army, and content itself with a limited cadre of advisors.The return to the previous modus operandi reduced Iranian fatalities. However, in the ITIC's assessment, it also compromised Iran’s ability to impact events on the ground and Iran’s political influence in Syria. Iran’s role as the main superpower on which the Syrian regime relies was now taken by Russia, while Iran had to content itself with a secondary role in the military and political moves that took place during recent months.

 

[1]The Iranian Martyrs Foundation was established in the early 1980s on the order of Revolution Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Its purpose is to assist families of the martyrs of the Islamic Revolution and the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War that broke out in September 1980. Today, the Foundation also supports the families of fighters who died in the course of the Iranian involvement in Syria and Iraq. The Foundation also has a Lebanese branch, which supports the families of Hezbollah martyrs, and a Palestinian branch, which also operates from Lebanon, supporting families of Palestinian martyrs.
[2]It is not the first time that Shahidi cites the number of fatalities among the troops sent by Iran (referred to by Iran as the “Defenders of the Holy Sites”). In November 2016, Shahidi said that the number of fatalities among the Iranian forces in Syria alone exceeded 1,000 (Tasnim News, November 22, 2016). In both cases, Shahidi did not specify the breakdown of the fatalities and did not refer to their national affiliation. In the ITIC's assessment, this may partially account for the discrepancy between the two figures. It seems that the current figure also includes operatives of the proxy organizations handled by Iran in Syria and Iraq.
[3]Iran employs proxy organizations in the various arenas in the Middle East: In Lebanon, it operates through Hezbollah; In Iraq, through Shiite pro-Iranian militias; In Yemen, through the Houthi rebels; In the Palestinian arena, the organization which is most clearly affiliated with Iran is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
[4]For further details, see the ITIC's Information Bulletin from November 16, 2015: “Profile of IRGC fighters Killed in Syria during the Past Month (Updated to November 16, 2015)”, www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/20909.

An analysis of threats against Israel made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah

Hassan Nasrallah in a speech on the annual memorial day for the three high-ranking Hezbollah shahids (“the shahid commanders”) Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Abbas Mussawi, and Imad Mughniyeh. The figures of the three shahids, whom Hezbollah has turned into symbols of sacrifice, appear on the left (Al-Manar, February 16, 2017)
Hassan Nasrallah in a speech on the annual memorial day for the three high-ranking Hezbollah shahids (“the shahid commanders”) Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Abbas Mussawi, and Imad Mughniyeh. The figures of the three shahids, whom Hezbollah has turned into symbols of sacrifice, appear on the left (Al-Manar, February 16, 2017)

Overview

1.   In his speech on the anniversary of the killing of Hezbollah’s three high-ranking shahids (Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Abbas Mussawi, and Imad Mughniyeh), and in an interview with an Iranian TV channel, Hassan Nasrallah referred at great length to the issues of war with Israel. According to Nasrallah, Israel considers Hezbollah a paramount strategic threat, and therefore it often threats with war and elaborates on the heavy damage that will be caused to Lebanese infrastructures in that war (the so-called Dahiya doctrine). Nasrallah says that threats of this kind have been made in the past, but they recently increased in number after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Nasrallah notes that he doesn’t believe that Israel intends to go to war. He says once again that Israel is deterred from going to war because it is well aware of Hezbollah’s military capabilities, which will prevent it from achieving a decisive victory in the next war.

2.   To demonstrate these capabilities, thereby strengthening the message of deterrence, Nasrallah emphasizes the ability of Hezbollah’s precision missiles to inflict heavy damage on Israel. He points out his own “contribution” to the transfer of the ammonia tank from Haifa Bay, and boasts (based on monitoring Israeli media) that even if the ammonia tank is transferred to another site, Hezbollah will hit it.Nasrallah adds that Hezbollah is able to hit the ship the carries the ammonia to Haifa Bay. In addition, he notes that Hezbollah is able to hit the nuclear reactor in Dimona and inflict heavy damage on Israel. As he points out, Israel is aware of the fact that “if [Hezbollah’s] missiles hit this reactor, it [i.e., Israel] will be hit, their entity will be hit”. To the Iranian interviewer’s question whether Hezbollah will really attack Dimona, Nasrallah replies, “We are ready to carry it out and we have the courage to do so…”


Analysis of the background and the significance of Nasrallah’s statements

3.   In the ITIC's assessment, at the background of Nasrallah’s statements are the regional and international developments, which raised the level of fears of Hezbollah (and Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsor). In the United States, a new president came to power, who is perceived as pro-Israel and as one who may resort to a more vehement policy towards Iran. In Syria, Hezbollah carries on with its deep involvement in the civil war, while investing a lot of resources in it and sustaining many casualties,[1] and is harshly criticized in Lebanon and in the Arab world. In the regional arena, a struggle is going on between the Shiite axis under the leadership of Iran and the Sunni axis led by Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah, which is Iran’s “long arm”, is involved in supporting Iran’s proxies in the various arenas (Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen).

4.   In the ITIC's assessment, the rising level of fear has caused Nasrallah once again to send messages of deterrence against Israel. Nasrallah’s statements on the heavy damage that Hezbollah is capable of inflicting on Israel, which he has repeated over and over again during the recent years, are based on the upgrade of Hezbollah’s military capabilities after the Second Lebanon War. Part of this upgrade is the supply of state-of-the-art weapons by Iran, including long-range precision missiles. In addition, Hezbollah possesses drones that can be launched against pinpoint targets in Israel. These capabilities allow Hezbollah to seriously hit strategic targets inside Israel, causing many losses among civilians in wartime.

5.    The availability of these capabilities in Hezbollah’s hands allows Hassan Nasrallah in recent years to threat Israel over and over again in order todeter it from a military move against Hezbollah. In his statements he points out that Hezbollah has a pool of targets, the hitting of which “can turn the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis into hell.” This pool of targets includes, according to Nasrallah, targets of civilian, economic and industrial nature, including power stations and nuclear facilities (Al-Mayadeen Channel, September 3, 2012). One such statement was Nasrallah’s speech about a year ago, in which he threatened hitting the ammonia tank in Haifa, claiming that the effect of such hit will be similar to a “nuclear bomb”.[2]   

Cartoon of Hassan Nasrallah standing on coffins of Hezbollah’s operatives while saying, “We are in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria” (Twitter account of someone calling himself in Arabic “ex-Hezbollah member”, February 16, 2016)
Cartoon of Hassan Nasrallah standing on coffins of Hezbollah’s operatives while saying, “We are in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria” (Twitter account of someone calling himself in Arabic “ex-Hezbollah member”, February 16, 2016)

6.   The ITIC believes that, given the regional and international developments, Nasrallah wishes to strengthen once again the message of deterrence against Israel. This message, from Hezbollah’s perspective, relies on Hezbollah’s advanced military capabilities, mainly its arsenal of rockets and missiles, which creates an “equation of deterrence” between Hezbollah and Israel.The main point of this equation is that both sides refrain from military initiatives against each other for fear from the damage that the other side can cause them. This “equation of deterrence”, from Nasrallah’s perspective, is the basis for the calm in the Israeli-Lebanese border, which allows Hezbollah to deepen its involvement in the war in Syria without having to fear that Israel would seize this opportunity to engage in an offensive initiative against Hezbollah in the Lebanese arena.

Appendices

7.   This document includes three appendices:

a.   Appendix A:Reference to Israel in Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on the annual memorial day for the three high-ranking shahids of Hezbollah (February 16, 2017)

b.   Appendix B:Reference to Israel in Hassan Nasrallah's interview with Iranian TV, Channel 1 (IRIB1) (February 20, 2017)

c.   Appendix C:Commentary in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, expressing Hezbollah’s positions (February 24, 2017)

[1]According to an article in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot said in the Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Relations and Defense Committee that Hezbollah had had 1,700 dead and over 6,000 wounded in the war in Syria (article by Amos Harel, Haaretz, February 24, 2017).
[2]See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from February 25, 2016: “Hassan Nasrallah’s “Ammonia Speech:” The Threat for Israel and its Significance.”

Spotlight on Iran

February 12-26, 2017 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
Qasem Soleimani (center) at a memorial service for Hassan Shateri (Defa Press, February 16, 2017).

Qasem Soleimani (center) at a memorial service for Hassan Shateri (Defa Press, February 16, 2017).

Mostafa Zalnejad (left) with Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Qasem Soleimani (ABNA, February 14, 2017).

Mostafa Zalnejad (left) with Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Qasem Soleimani (ABNA, February 14, 2017).

Hassan Rouhani meets with Hadiya Abbas (Website of the Iranian president, February 22, 2017).

Hassan Rouhani meets with Hadiya Abbas (Website of the Iranian president, February 22, 2017).

Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Munich conference (IRNA, February 18, 2017).

Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Munich conference (IRNA, February 18, 2017).

Iraqi president Fuad Masum interviewed by Tasnim News, February 12, 2017

Iraqi president Fuad Masum interviewed by Tasnim News, February 12, 2017

Velayati meets with Bahaeddin (Tasnim, February 15, 2017)

Velayati meets with Bahaeddin (Tasnim, February 15, 2017)

Khamenei speaking at the conference (Tasnim News, February 21, 2017)

Khamenei speaking at the conference (Tasnim News, February 21, 2017)

Main Points

Fox News reported that during the second half of February 2017, Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, paid a visit to Moscow. He met with senior officials in the Russian administration to express Iran's dissatisfaction with the improvement in Russia's relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

  • Tension has surfaced between Iran and Turkey. The Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to Tehran for clarifications after senior Turkish officials criticized Iran's regional policies and accused Iran of Shi'ite subversion.
  • Two Iranian fighters were killed in Syria during the past two weeks.
  • Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, said Iran would continue to allow Russian planes to use Iranian airspace to attack in Syria.
  • In the middle of February 2017, another round of talks was held between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime. The talks were held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, under the aegis of Russia, Iran and Turkey.
  • Na'im Qassem, Hezbollah deputy secretary general, said his organization was proud of its relations with Iran, and called on other regional countries to strengthen their relations with Iran which, he claimed, had changed the face of the Middle East.
  • Interviewed by the Iranian news agency Tasnim News, Fuad Masum, president of Iraq, defended the presence of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, in Iraq. He claimed it his presence natural, and that there were other foreignmilitary advisors in Iraq.
  • On February 21-22, 2017, the Sixth International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada was held in Tehran.

 

General Information
  • Ali-Akbar Velayati, 1. On February 15, 2017, Fox News reported that on February 14 Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, had arrived in Moscow to meet with senior Russian administration officials. The report was based on Western intelligence sources, which reported that the visit lasted a number of days and that its objective was to express Iran's dissatisfaction with the improvement in Russia's relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Iran, according to the sources, was especially displeased by arms deals and increasing economic ties. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Paskov refused to comment. During the past two years Soleimani has gone to Moscow at least twice for broadening Iranian-Russian security and political cooperation in Syria.
  • On February 16, 2017, Soleimani attended a memorial service in Tehran for Hassan Shateri, a high-ranking IRGC officer killed in February 2013, when a convoy of weapons for Hezbollah was attacked on the Syrian-Lebanese border. At the time the attack was attributed to Israel.
  • The Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to Tehran for clarifications after senior Turkish officials criticized Iran's regional policies.
  • While on a visit to Bahrain, Turkish President Erdogan accused Iran of seeking to spread Persian nationalism in Syria and Iraq.
  • Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Turkish foreign minister, speaking at the security conference held in Munich last week, said Iran promoted regional Shi'ite separatism. Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, criticized the Turkish minister's statements, saying there was a limit to Iran's patience with Turkey's positions. He said that anyone who supported terrorist groups and caused bloodshed, escalation and regional destabilization could not point a finger and accuse others (Mehr, February 20, 2017).
  • Ali-Akbar Velayati, advisor to the Iranian supreme leader for international affairs, said those who entered Syria or Iraq without an invitation or authorization were aggressors and had to leave. They could leave of their own volition or be forced to leave by the Syrian or Iraqi people. He made the remark in response to the anti-Iranian statements of senior Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials at the Munich security conference. At a press conference held after he met with Hadiya Abbas, speaker of the Syrian parliament, Velayati said Turkey had not achieved any of its goals in Syria (IRNA, February 21, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
  • Two Iranian fighters were killed in Syria during the past two weeks. They were Mostafa Zalnejad from Mazandaran Province, killed on February 14, 2017, and Mehdi Na'maei Aali from Alborz Province, killed on February 11, 2017.
  • Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, said Iran would continue allowing Russian planes to use its airspace to attack in Syria because Iran and Russia enjoyed full bilateral cooperation. He said Iran was willing to coordinate with Russia in every respect regarding Syria, and that Russian flights in Iranian airspace were carried out after having been planned and coordinated with Tehran. He said Russian bombers had recently flown over Iran but had not conducted any refueling operations (Fars, February 11, 2017). In August 2016 Russian warplanes used the military airfield in Hamedan, Iran, for attacking targets in Syria. That stopped temporarily because of internal Iranian criticism, but senior Iranian officials have already announced that Iran may again allow the base to be used for operational needs.
  • Last week Hadiya Abbas, speaker of the Syrian parliament, paid a visit to Tehran on the eve of the conference supporting the "Palestinian intifada." She met with President Hassan Rouhani, who told her that Syria was in the front lines of the "resistance" to Israel and that Iran would support the Syrian people until the final victory over terrorism. Abbas thanked Rouhani for Iran's support of Syria, and said strengthening relations with Iran was of special importance to Syria (Fars, February 22, 2017).
  • Meeting with Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, on the sidelines of the conference, Rouhani said that had Iran and Lebanon not coordinated with Syria, Damascus would have turned into the capital of ISIS in the region (Tasnim, February 22, 2017).
  • On February 16, 2017, another round of talks was held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime, under the aegis of Russia, Iran and Turkey. The Iranian delegation was headed by Hossein Jaberi Ansari, deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs. He gave a speech in which he reiterated Iran's official position, which stressed the preservation of Syria's territorial integrity as a principle for the political resolution of the Syrian crisis (Mehr, February 16, 2017).
  • At the security conference held in Munich, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, met with Staffan de Mistura, UN envoy to Syria. He also met with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, with whom he discussed developments in Syria and bilateral relations (IRNA, February 18, 2017).
  • Na'im Qassem, Hezbollah deputy secretary general, said Hezbollah was proud of its ties to Iran, and called on other countries to strengthen their ties with Tehran to promote increased regional stability. At a conference in Beirut he said Iran had changed the face of the Middle East, breathed new life into the Palestinian cause and provided support for Hezbollah and Syria. He added that in 2000 Iranian support had made it possible for Hezbollah to achieve its first victory over the "Zionist enemy" and liberate south Lebanon (Fars, February 18, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in Iraq and the Gulf
  • Interviewed by Tasnim News on February 12, 2017, Iraqi president Fuad Masum defended the presence of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, in Iraq. He claimed Soleimani's presence was "natural" and that there were other foreign military advisors in the country from the United States, Britain, France and other European countries. He said Iran could not be denied the right to deploy military advisors to Iraq. He also said that the historical ties between Iran and Iraq served Iraqi interests, adding that strategic relations with Iran were important and had to be fostered because of Iranian support for Iraq in various areas, including the supplying of arms and the deployment of military advisors.
  • Iraq's national consensus party accused Iran of violating the sovereignty of Iraq's territorial waters. On February 15, 2017, former Iraqi vice president Ayad Allawi said in a statement that Iran was seeking to take control of areas subject to a historical dispute between the two countries. They included the Shatt al-Arab waterway in the Persian Gulf and the al-Fao peninsula on the Iraqi side. The statement called on the Iraqi government and parliament to respond quickly and with determination to "Iran's aggression" and to reach agreements with Iran to prevent the loss of Iraqi access to international waters, which would endanger its security and economy (Baghdad Post, February 15).
  • In the middle of February, Saleheddin Bahaeddin, the secretary general of the Islamic Unity Party of Iraqi Kurdistan, paid a visit to Tehran where he met with senior Iranian officials. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Majlis (parliament), meeting with Bahaeddin, stressed the importance of preserving Iraq's territorial integrity. He called on the Kurdish parties in Iraq to reach an agreement among themselves, claiming that reducing disagreement in Kurdistan and increasing cooperation between Kurdistan and the central government in Baghdad would support stability and security in Iraq.
  • Bahaeddin also met with Ali-Akbar Velayati, advisor to the Iranian supreme leader for international affairs, who also stressed the need to preserve Iraq's territorial integrity. Velayati warned that splitting Iraq between Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds served the "plots of the enemies of the Iraqi people" and contradicted Baghdad's policies (IRNA and Tasnim, February 15, 2017).
  • On February 17, 2017, Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi, Tehran's provisional Friday Prayers Leader, said the defeat of the Bahraini regime was close, and that the fate of the rule of the House of Khalifa would be the same as the fate of the deposed Shah. As to the ongoing protests in Bahrain, Sedighi said the citizens of Bahrain wanted free elections and independence, and were not prepared to accept a dictator. There was no doubt, he said, of their victory (Fars, February 17, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
  • On February 21-22, 2017, the Sixth International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada was held in Tehran to express the support of Iran and the Muslim world for the Palestinian cause and the "liberation of Jerusalem." There were 700 participants from 80 countries, including representatives of parliaments, NGO activists, activists from pro-Palestinian organizations and leaders or Palestinian organizations. Ali Larijani presided over the conference, and the closing speech was given by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.
  • Heads of the Iranian regime gave speeches attacking Israel ("the cancerous tumor") and its policies towards the Palestinians, called for the continuation of the "resistance" until the complete liberation of Palestine, stressed Iran's commitment to its continued support of the Palestinians and their struggle, criticized the willingness of several Middle Eastern states to establish relations with Israel, and warned of distracting the attention of the Arab-Muslim world from the Palestinian cause to focusing on internal regional problems. In the opening speech, supreme leader Ali Khamenei said Palestine had to be the axis on which Muslim unity turned, despite the internal disagreements in the Muslim world. He said the path of "resistance" had curbed the expansion of the "Zionist regime" and kept it from realizing its plot to take over the Middle East (Tasnim, February 21, 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.

In response to a letter sent by Israel to the UN Security Council Iran denied sending arms to Hezbollah

Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, at a press conference, falsely claiming that Hezbollah produced its own weapons and did not need to get them from Iran (Fars, January 23, 2017).
Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, at a press conference, falsely claiming that Hezbollah produced its own weapons and did not need to get them from Iran (Fars, January 23, 2017).

Overview

1.   On January 23, 2017, during his weekly press conference, Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, was asked to respond to Israeli accusations that Iran was smuggling weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. In response he raised false claims, saying Hezbollah did not need Iranian arms because it was self-sufficient when it came to producing all the weapons and equipment it needed. Hezbollah, he added, was a legitimate political organization in Lebanon and an important part of the "resistance," and had financial resources, equipment and weapons, and could provide for its own needs (Fars in English and Persian, January 23, 2017).

2.   Qasemi made the remarks in response to a letter sent by Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the UN, to the Security Council, two months earlier.[1] He had alerted the Security Council to the fact that Iran was sending arms and other related material enabling Hezbollah to enlarge its missile arsenal. The weapons and equipment, he said, were packed into suitcases by the Qods Force in Tehran and delivered to Hezbollah operatives on commercial Mahan Air flights to Beirut or Damascus. From there they were transferred overland to Lebanon. The smuggling activities are a serious violation of various UN Security Council resolutions (isicrc.org, January 9, 2017; The Times of Israel and the Facebook page of Danny Danon, November 22, 2016).

3.   The claim made by Bahram Qasemi, that Hezbollah manufactures its own weapons and equipment, has no basis in fact. Hezbollah in Lebanon has neither the technology, the manufacturing capabilities nor the trained manpower necessary to manufacture advanced weaponry of the sort Iran provides. The Iranians have been directly and primarily responsible for the construction of Hezbollah's military power, from the organization's inception in 1982 to the present day. Over the years Iran has continually increased both the quantity and quality of the weapons it supplies directly to Hezbollah(with increased range, precision, strength and destructive impact). The weapons are delivered to Hezbollah by Iran, in instances by air from Iran to Damascus, and from they there are sent overland to Lebanon.[2]

4.   With Iran's massive support, Hezbollah in Lebanon constructed an extensive military-terrorist infrastructure with a large arsenal of rockets, missiles and other advanced weapons. That was clearly revealed by Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the IRGC, in a speech he gave for Jerusalem Day on July 1, 2016. He said that there were more than 100,000 missiles ready to be fired at Israel. He said Lebanon alone had 100,000. In addition, he said, tens of thousands of long-range missiles were aimed at Israel from other locations in the Muslim world. All of them, he claimed, would "remove Israel from the political geography of the world once and for all" (Fars, July 1, 2016).

5.   Bahram Qasemi's claim that Hezbollah had financial resources and could provide for its own needs is patently untrue. His claim directly contradicts a speech made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on June 24, 2016, where he emphasized that American sanctions would have no effect on Hezbollah because all of its budget came from Iran. To illustrate the claim, in an exceptional statement, he described the financial support Iran gave Hezbollah. He said, "Hezbollah's budget, salaries, money, food, drink and weapons all come from Iran." He reiterated, saying that Hezbollah's entire budget came from Iranand that "as long as Iran has money, [Hezbollah] has money." He claimed that even when sanctions had been imposed on Iran, "the money allotted [from Iran] for Hezbollah continued to reach us."[3] He thanked Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for supporting Hezbollahthroughout the years of its existence, support, he claimed, which continued to the present day.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speaking on July 24, 2016, claims all Hezbollah's money comes from Iran (al-Ahed, June 24, 2017).
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speaking on July 24, 2016, claims all Hezbollah's money comes from Iran (al-Ahed, June 24, 2017).

6.   Iran's extensive military support and generous funding for Hezbollah are a fundamental part of Iran's regional strategy. Iran uses arms and money to support its proxies and armed militias in the countries where Iran has important interestsand where there are Shi'ite populations or ethnic groups close to Shi'a and Iran (such as the Alawites in Syria, the Zaydi-Shi'ites in Yemen). Iran puts the strategy into practice in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The IRGC's Qods Force, commanded by Qasem Soleimani, is responsible for distributing support, handling proxies and operating militias in various countries. The Qods Force played a central role in rebuilding Hezbollah's military infrastructure after the Second Lebanon War(2006). That included providing Hezbollah with precise missiles, advanced anti-aircraft systems and Yakhont anti-ship missiles. Hezbollah has an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon threatening Israel's military and civilian infrastructureand ready to be used, primarily when the considerations of Iranian strategy deem the time has come.

[1]Iran's immediate response was provided by Gholam-Hossein Dehqani, Iranian ambassador to the UN. He claimed Israel's accusations were "absurd" and baseless, and that Israel was the country involved in terrorism (Press TV, November 23, 2017). However, he did not directly respond to the accusations. Qasemi's remarks were Iran's formal, detailed response to the letter.
[2]Mahan Air is a Iranian commercial airline with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), although theoretically it is privately owned. It has dozens of weekly domestic and foreign flights. In 2011 "the American administration designated Mahan Air according to Executive Order 13224 for providing financial, material and technological support" to the IRGC's Qods Force." (https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1322.aspx). Throughout the past year it has flown flights from Iran to Syria through Abadan on the Persian Gulf coast, on which fighters, weapons and equipment for the Syrian regime and its supporters were seen (Defenddemocracy.org, February 3, 2016).
[3]For further information, see the July 10, 2016 bulletin, "Nasrallah's Speech: Hezbollah's Budget Is Entirely Funded by Iran, Including Weapons and Operatives' Salaries Analysis of Significance and Implications," at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/21033