Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani visits an Iranian fighter wounded in Syria and hospitalized in Tehran (Telegram channel, affiliated with the IRGC, February 21, 2016).
Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the IRGC ground forces (Fars, February 18, 2016).
Iranian cartoon mocking Saudi Arabia's intention to expand its activity in Syria (Tasnim News, February 17, 2016).
Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, and a Russian soldier in Syria (Tabnak, February 19, 2016).
Qasem Soleimani and Ali Larijani (ISNA, February 23, 2016).
Ali Shamkhani (Fars, February 14, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
At least six IRGC fighters were killed in Syria during the past two weeks.
- Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the IRGC ground forces, confirmed that units from its Saberin special forces brigade had been deployed in Syria and Iraq. Speaking at a memorial ceremony held for operatives who had been killed, he said they had been deployed with other IRGC ground force units on "advisory" missions in Syria and Iraq to defend Shi'a shrines (Fars, February 18, 2016). The Saberin special forces were established in 1998 as a rapid response unit to deal with threats on Iran's borders. Since the beginning of the ground offensive in Syria in October 2015 its operatives have been fighting in Syria, and some of them have been killed in the battles in the region of Aleppo.
- Amir Farzad Esmail, commander of the Khatam al-Anbiyah aerial defense base, said Iran would be prepared to provide Syria with all the aerial defense support it needed if such a request were made (Tasnim News, February 14, 2016).
- Hossein Jaberi Ansari, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, condemned the bombings in Damascus and Homs on February 21, 2016, which killed more than 150 people. He said the only solution for the Syrian crisis was a successful struggle against the armed terrorists, include limiting their field of operation (Mehr News Agency, February 22, 2016).
- Iran welcomed the agreement brokered by the United States and Russia ending the hostilities in Syria. One of the objectives of the agreement is to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people trapped in the various combat zones. The agreement does not include ISIS and Al-Nusra Front.
- Hossein-Amir Abdollahian, deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, said that Iran had stressed the need for a ceasefire since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. He said Iran was convinced of the Syrian government's commitment to the ceasefire, but said he doubted whether the "armed terrorist groups" intended to implement it because they benefitted from the chaos. He added that Iran would do its utmost to support the fight against terrorism, implement the ceasefire and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid (ISNA, February 24, 2016). On February 24, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the phone. They discussed developments in Syria and the agreement for a cessation of hostilities (Fars, February 24, 2016).
- Saudi Arabia's announcement of its intention to send ground forces to Syria continues being met with belligerent responses from senior Iranian officials. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC, said that Saudi Arabia did not have the courage for a ground attack in Syria because it did not have the practical capabilities to carry one out. He said it was not inevitable that Saudi Arabia would give air support to the "terrorists" operating in Syria, but that would be useless because the Syrian army and people were determined to defend their country (Tasnim News, February 17, 2016).
- On February 21, 2016, the Philippines' Manila Times reported that the growing tension between Iran and Syria had led to an IRGC plan to hijack or blow up a commercial Saudi flight in one of three southeast Asian countries (Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines). According to the report, the Philippine immigration authorities knew the identities of some of the ten civilians who were supposed to carry out the attack, among them six Yemenis. The report also stated that the Saudi Arabian embassy in Manila had asked the security forces at the capital's international airport to install special security devices for passengers on Saudi flights.
- On February 20, 2016, Ali-Akbar Velayati, international advisor to the supreme leader, told the Iranian news agency YJC that Russia and Iran had a common position on most of the issues related to Syria and that there was full coordination in military activities between the government of Bashar Assad, the Syrian army, the popular forces operating under the command of Qasem Soleimani (commander of the IRGC's Qods Force), and Russia's air force. Velayati said that during a recent meeting, Russian President Putin had reiterated to him Russia's previous commitment to his promise to support the Syrian regime in coordination with Iran. Velayati said the chances of a victory for the supporters of the Syrian regime were greater today than in the past. As to the Saudi announcement regarding the dispatch of ground forces to Syria, he said that the Saudis could not increase their activity in Syria because they had to invest all their military capabilities in securing their long border with Yemen.
- Last week Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, met with the families of IRGC fighters who had been killed in Syria. He talked about his presence in Lebanon with senior Hezbollah officials during Second Lebanon War (2006). He said he had returned to Tehran after the first week of the war and met with Ali Larijani, at the time the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (today chairman of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament), and that they had gone together to the city of Mashad and met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. During the meeting, said Soleimani, they received instructions from Khamenei that changed the outcome of the war. He did not reveal what the instructions were (ISNA, February 23, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Iraq
- Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said he intended to integrate the Shi'ite Iraqi militias (operating under the aegis and with the support of the IRGC) in a campaign to liberate the city of Mosul. Speaking before the Iraqi parliament, he said the Iraqi militias would support the Iraqi army in liberating the city from ISIS.
- Hassan al-Sari, a high-ranking Iraqi Shi'ite militiaman, said the militias were determined to take control of Fallujah despite pressure exerted by the United States and pro-American Iraqi politicians to prevent them from entering the city (Fars, February 20, 2016).
- After the takeover of the city of Ramadi from ISIS at the end of December 2015, Iran tried to make political capital of the involvement of the IRGC and the Iraqi Shi'ite militias in the campaign to liberate the city. However, the campaign was in fact led by Iraqi army special forces in collaboration and coordination with the anti-ISIS Western coalition forces. Apparently, in view of the planned campaign to take control of Mosul, the Shi'ite militias want to operate under Iranian aegis to ensure their participation.
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
- Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said that reconstructing the Gaza Strip and improving its defensive capabilities were on Iran's agenda. Meeting with senior officials of the Palestinian and Lebanese organizations visiting Iran for the anniversary celebrations of the Islamic Revolution, held on February 11, 2016, Shamkhani said the Palestinian cause was the focus of Muslim world's struggle against "global hegemony and colonialism." He criticized the support given by "some regional countries" to the radical Islamic organizations which, he said, were detrimental to the Palestinian struggle (ISNA, February 14, 2016).
- Osama Hamdan, in charge of external relations for Hamas, called the recent visit of a Hamas delegation in Tehran (to celebrate the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution) "excellent." On September 16, 2016, he told the Fars news agency that the delegates who visited Tehran had met with senior Iranian officials to discuss developments in the Palestinian arena. He added that Iran fully supported the Palestinians and was committed to supporting the intifada in the West Bank.
- Mohammad Fathali, the Iranian ambassador to Beirut, held a press conference where he said that Iran would give $7000 to the family of every Palestinian shaheed killed in the Jerusalem intifada, and $30,000 to every family whose house had been razed by Israel (Fars, February 24, 2016).
- According to a report issued in November 2015, Iran would give $2 million in aid to the families of terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Nafez al-Araj, who heads the Palestinian Al-Shaheed institution, said 4,700 families of shaheeds killed in the second intifada (September 2000-June 2014) would receive the aid. According to the program, if the shaheed was unmarried, his family would receive three installments of $100 each. If he was married, the family would receive three installments of $200 each. He said the money was intended to relieve the economic distress to the shaheeds' families caused by the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip. He expressed his appreciation for Iran's continuing support of the Palestinian people.
[*]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.