The Saudi Arabia embassy in Tehran in flames (Tweet, January 2, 2016).
The American crew members in Iran (Asr-e Iran, January 13, 2016).
Abdollah Qorbani, one of the IRGC fighters killed in Syria (Facebook page affiliated with the IRGC, January 6, 2016).
Representatives from Iran, Syria and Switzerland meet to discuss humanitarian assistance for Syria (Mehr News Agency, January 6, 2016).
Ali Asghar Gorjizadeh, commander of the IRGC's security unit (Mehr News Agency, January 6, 2016).
The Iranian minister of the interior meets with Bashar Assad (ABNA News, January 13, 2016).
Nasrallah meets with an Iranian ministry of health delegation (IRNA, January 7, 2016).
Statements from Senior Iranian Officials about Iran's Regional Involvement
- Mohammad-Ali Ja'fari, commander of the IRGC, said that a positive result of recent regional developments was the recruiting [by implication, by the IRGC] of almost 200 thousand young armed men in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. He made the statement at a memorial service held for Hamid Reza Assadollahi, recently killed in Syria (Fars News, January 12, 2016).
- Ali Larijani, chairman of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), said that without the IRGC's Qods Force to confront the terrorists in the Middle East, there would have been dozens of attacks in the West like the one in Paris. Speaking before the Majlis, he called the CIA a "terrorist organization" collaborating with terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq (ICANA.ir, January 10, 2016).
Crisis in Relations between Iran and the Arab States
- The relations between Iran and some of the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, deteriorated to an unprecedented low during the past two weeks in the wake of the execution of Nimr Baqer al-Nimr, a prominent Shi'ite cleric, and the subsequent attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad. Although Iran strongly condemned the rioters who attacked the Saudi legations and Iranian President Rouhani demanded bringing the perpetrators to trial, diplomatic relations between the two countries were cut off. Commercial relations were later also cut off and civilian travel was banned.
- Senior Iranian officials strongly condemned the execution of the Shi'ite cleric, who had studied in Shi'ite religious institutions for many years in Iran and Syria, and was often critical of the Saudi royal house. Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, not only condemned the execution but also warned the Saudi regime that "divine vengeance" would be meted out to Saudi politicians (Fars News, January 3, 2016).
- Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the IRGC, warned Saudi Arabia that unless it mended its ways it would collapse in the coming years. He said the Saudis were following the path of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who had attacked Iran and executed prominent Shi'ite clerics. Salami called Riyadh's decision to cut off diplomatic relations with Tehran "hasty and unreasonable," and said the bloodshed in Iraq and Syria was the direct result of Saudi Arabia's regional policies (Sepah News, January 7, 2016).
- In the wake of the dramatic deterioration in Iranian-Saudi relations, other Arab states joined the confrontation. Bahrain, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and the Comoro Islands followed suit and severed diplomatic relations with Iran as well. The UAE lowered the status of its relations with Iran and the governments of Qatar and Kuwait recalled their ambassadors for consultation.
- Jordan joined the protest against Iran after the attack on the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. The Jordanian foreign ministry summoned Mojtaba Ferdowsipour, the Iranian ambassador, to Amman for clarifications. The Jordanians issued an announcement condemning the attacks on the Saudi legations in Iran and Iran's interference in the internal affairs of Arab states (ISNA, January 7, 2016).
- In the meantime, Bahrain revealed it had exposed a terrorist cell with ties to the IRGC and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Bahraini ministry of the interior said in an announcement that several members of the cell had been arrested after planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the country. According to Bahrain's claims, the main suspect in the affair, Ali Ahmad Fakhrawi, had received $20,000 from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah while on a visit to Lebanon (Fararu, January 6, 2016).
- It was not the first time in recent months that Bahrain announced the exposure of terrorist attacks planned with Iranian involvement. In August 2015 the Bahraini police reported the discovery of a direct link between Iran and Hezbollah in the attack on July 28, 2015, in which two security force personnel were killed when a bomb exploded. In October 2015 Bahrain reported it had recalled its ambassador from Tehran and expelled the Iran attaché from Manama in protest of Iran's involvement in a plan to carry out terrorist attacks on Bahraini soil. The announcement was made a short time after the Bahraini ministry of the interior announced its security forces had uncovered a large facility in the southern part of Manama where explosives were being manufactured, and had arrested several suspects with connections to the IRGC. The facility held about 1.5 tons of explosives and had a network of underground bunkers where bombs were made. Iran denied any connection to terrorist attacks carried out in Bahrain.
- A court in Kuwait handed down a death sentence for two men accused of spying for Iran and Hezbollah. They were also convicted of the illegal possession of weapons. One of them was an Iranian national convicted in absentia and the other was a Kuwaiti (Tasnim News, January 12, 2016).
American Sailors Arrested by the IRGC in the Persian Gulf
- On January 13, 2016, the IRGC took over two American navy boats in the Persian Gulf and arrested their crews of ten sailors (nine men and one woman). The sailors were released after 12 hours during which they were held at an IRGC base on Farsi Island in the center of the Persian Gulf. The American boats had entered Iran's territorial waters due to a malfunction of their navigational system. The release of the American sailors was made possible through diplomatic contacts between Iran and the United States. The IRGC said in a statement that the United States had apologized to Iran for entering its territorial waters and promised not to do it again (Fars News, January 13, 2016).
- About two weeks ago there was also an incident in the Persian Gulf between Iran and the United States when the IRGC fired a missile at an American aircraft carrier and a French vessel in the Straits of Hormuz. Those incidents were probably meant by Iran to send a message of deterrence to the United States and the other Persian Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, in view of the upcoming implementation of the nuclear agreement and the current crisis between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
- During the past two weeks there was a decline in the number of IRGC fighters who died in Syria. The Iranian media reported the death of ten Iranian fighters and several from Pakistan who fought in the IRGC ranks in Syria. It is too early to determine whether the decline in the number of Iranians killed reflects a trend related to the decrease of Iranian forces in Syria and the efforts of the Syrian army to establish its control east of Aleppo.
- This past week senior officials in the Iranian foreign ministry noted the influence of the crisis in Iranian-Saudi relations on the international talks regarding Syria's future. At a meeting of representatives from Iran, Syria and Switzerland held to discuss humanitarian assistance for Syria, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, said cutting off diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia would influence the talks in Vienna and New York about Syria's future. He noted, however, that Iran was committed to continuing its participation in the talks (IRNA, January 6, 2016).
- Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, met with the UN secretary general's special envoy for seeking a resolution for the ongoing conflict in Syria, Staffan de Mistura. Zarif told him that Iran would not allow Saudi Arabia's tension-causing behavior to have a negative impact on finding a solution for the crisis in Syria (ILNA, January 10, 2016).
- Ali Asghar Gorjizadeh, commander of the IRGC's security unit, said that if Iran opened its gates to Iranian volunteers seeking to fight in Syria, many Iranians would leave to join the jihad, but that was not currently Iranian policy. He said that Iranian policy was based on providing the Syrian forces with advice and guidance so they could defend the country themselves. Gorijzadeh denied reports in Western media that Iran had promised financial aid to fighters in Syria, and claimed that those fighting terrorist groups in Syria did so only because of their religious obligation. He added that many of them had even given up status and left their families to defend the sites in Syria sacred to Shi'a (Mehr News Agency, January 6, 2016).
- In a newspaper interview, Mohammad Reza Raouf Shebiani, Iranian ambassador to Syria, referred to the central role of Qasem Soleimani, the IRGC Qods Force commander, in the campaign in Syria. Shebiani said there was no question but that Soleimani was the main person who had gone to the aid of the Syrians when Damascus was on the brink of collapse and being occupied by terrorists. He also said that Syrian president Bashar Assad regarded Soleimani as a "legend of success" for Syria and a "legend of fear" for his opponents.
- Shebiani also discussed the Iran-Russia-Syria-Iraq-Hezbollah coalition established to coordinate the campaign in Syria. He said Syria filled the main military function and that Hezbollah had sent forces to support the military campaign. Iraq, he said, had no direct military presence and had only an advisory role and a presence in the joint operations room. The Iranian military commanders were the chief advisors and provided the Syrian army and resistance forces with guidance in military matters, while the Russians were responsible for the aerial support of the ground offensive against the terrorists (ISNA, January 10, 2016).
- Last week Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, Iran's minister of the interior, paid a visit to Syria, meeting with senior Syrian administration officials, including Bashar Assad. He went to discuss expanding Iranian-Syrian relations and implementing the memorandum of understanding for collaboration their ministries of the interior had signed during the visit of the Syrian minister of the interior to Tehran in June 2015. The memorandum deals with Iranian-Syrian collaboration in the struggle against terrorism, organized crime and drugs, and the collaboration between the Syrian and Iranian police forces (Asr-e Iran, January 11, 2016).
- On January 7, 2016, a delegation headed by Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Iranian minister of health, met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The delegation included officials from the ministry of health and representatives of Iranian pharmaceutical companies (IRNA, January 7, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Iraq
- Farzad Zanganeh, A Basij member of the armed forces' general staff MIA unit, was killed along with another Basij member when an IED was detonated by ISIS in Iraqi Kurdistan (Tasnim News, January 11, 2016).
IranianIntervention in the Palestinian Arena
- The London-based Arabic language Al-Araby Al-Jadeed website reported that senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil had denied a report in the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, also published in London, that Iran had appealed to Hamas to adopt an attitude of hostility towards Saudi Arabia in return for Iran's renewed military and financial aid to the movement. According to the website, Salah al-Bardawil claimed Hamas had never received such an offer from Iran and was not prepared to join any coalition because it was focused on its struggle against Israel (Fars News, January 10, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Yemen
- The deterioration in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia led Iran to accuse Saudi Arabia of attacking the Yemeni capital city of Sana'a from the air, damaging the Iranian embassy. On January 7, 2016, Hossein Jaber Ansari, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, claimed the aerial attack carried out by Saudi warplanes had damaged the building and injured several security guards. He claimed the Saudi attack targeted the Iranian embassy and violated international conventions regarding the security of diplomatic missions. Hossein Amir Abdollahian, deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, also condemned the Saudi attack and said Saudi Arabia was responsible for the security of the Iranian embassy and Iranian diplomats in the Yemeni capital (ISNA, January 7, 2016).
- The coalition of Arab forces fighting the Shi'ite Houthi rebels in Yemen denied the Iranian claims about the attack on its embassy in Sana'a, stating that no aerial attack has been carried out in the vicinity of the embassy.
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.