Captain Mohsen Qitaslou from Special Forces Brigade 65, killed in the fighting in Syria.
Ali Bayat (from a Facebook page affiliated with the IRGC, April 16, 2016).
Amir Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan (Tasnim News, April 17, 2016)
Graffiti written by an IRGC soldier in Syria reading, "Here sleeps someone who wants to destroy Israel" (IRGC-affiliated Telegram channel, April 17, 2016).
ISIS pictures show a wide variety of weapons, ammunition, Iranian documents and equipment written in Persian and English (Bellingcat.com, April 16, 2016).
Qasem Soleimani at a meeting of commanders with the supreme leader (Website of the supreme leader, April 10, 2016).
- At the end of the conference of organization heads in Istanbul, the OIC issued strong criticism of Iran, claiming it provided ongoing support for terrorism and meddled in the internal affairs of regional countries, among them Syria and Yemen. A few days later Jordan joined the Gulf States and recalled its ambassador from Iran, also claiming Iran was meddling in the internal affairs of Arab states.
- The Iranian media responded to the OIC's announcement by harshly criticizing the organization. The Asr-e Iran website posted an op-ed piece on April 17, 2016, claiming that the fact most of the Islamic states had condemned Iran should be considered a warning to Iran about its relations with them.
- The policy followed by some of the Islamic states, especially Saudi Arabia, is the outcome of their extremist anti-Shi'ite perspective. Egypt under President Mohamed Morsi, himself a member of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, reinforced the anti-Iranian attitude. Other Islamic stats, such as Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Tunisia, Senegal and others, are secular, making it difficult to institute relations with them on a religious basis.
- In reality, almost all of the Islamic states prefer relations with the West or with Saudi Arabia to relations with Iran. That can be seen by the position they take regarding the Iran-UAE conflict over the three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, and their support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Therefore, according to the op-ed piece of April 17, Iran should reconsider its relations with the Muslim countries.
- On April 17 the conservative Tabnak website claimed that the announcement issued by the OIC reflected Saudi Arabia's efforts to collaborate with Turkey in promoting an anti-Iranian initiative to prevent Iran from widening its regional influence. According to Tabnak, Iran knew in advance there would be an initiative to pass an anti-Iranian resolution during the conference, and should therefore not have sent its president and foreign minister as participants, sending instead a lower-echelon representative. Furthermore, President Rouhani should have postponed his trip to Ankara and not met with Turkish President Erdogan after the conference in Istanbul had ended.
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
- For the first time since regular units of the Iranian army were deployed to Syria, seven special force officers were killed. Among them were officers from Special Forces Brigades 45, 65 and 258, and an officer from Brigade 388.
- It was the first time since the Iran-Iraq War that fighters from the regular Iranian army were killed fighting in combat beyond the borders of Iran.
- In addition to the regular army forces killed in Syria during the past two weeks, at least 6 more IRGC fighters were killed. Among them were Ali Bayat, who according to the Iranian media was an Iranian officer in the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade, which operates in Syria under IRGC supervision.
- In his first reference to the regular Iranian army fighters killed in Syria, Amir Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan, commander of the Iranian army ground forces, said they were killed south of Aleppo in a massive attack carried out by Al-Nusra Front and other Islamic rebel groups.
- Pourdastan added that fighters from several special force units, among them the 65th Brigade, had recently been deployed on "advisory missions" in Syria alongside the IRGC forces already operating in the country. He said that it was the duty of Islamic Republic soldiers to carry out every mission demanded of them regardless of where (Mashreq News, April 12, 2016).
- Interviewed by Iran's Al-Alam TV, Pourdastan claimed Iran had not send any Iranian army unit to Syria, only "advisors" for military guidance, in accordance with requests made by the Syrian government. He said that ISIS and Al-Nusra Front did not honor the ceasefire in northern and southern Syria, and therefore the activities of the Iranian forces in Syria would continue at full strength, as they had in the past. The coordination between Iran, Russia and Syria would also continue as in the past, he said, despite the partial withdrawal of Russian forces (Tasnim News, April 17, 2016).
- In the meantime, Yusef Qorbani, commander of the army's airborne base in Kermanshah Province, said airborne personnel had also been sent to Syria as "advisors" (Mehr News Agency, April 14, 2016).
- On April 10, 2016, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency criticized the covert burial of Afghan fighters killed in Syria. According to the report, in recent weeks the social networks posted a number of reports about fighters from the Fatemiyoun Brigade (a brigade of Afghans fighting in Syria under the direction of the IRGC) who had been killed in Syria. They were buried in the section of the Tehran cemetery reserved for unknown soldiers after their bodies could not be identified once they had been returned from Syria to Iran.
- The news agencies criticized the fact that no effort had allegedly been made to locate their families in Afghanistan and to inform them that their relatives had been buried. That was apparently done to prevent "anti-Iranian propaganda."
- In ISIS's recent attack on the city of Khanasir, southeast of Aleppo, it gained control of a large quantity of weapons manufactured in Iran. ISIS pictures show a wide variety of weapons, ammunition, Iranian documents and equipment written in Persian and English (Bellingcat.com, April 16, 2016).
- On April 15, 2016, Fox News reported that Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, had arrived in Moscow for a 48-hour visit. According to Fox, he planned to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss developments in Syria. The Kremlin denied the report and claimed Putin had no meeting planned with Soleimani.
- Ali Larijani, speaker of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), sent a communiqué to Syrian President Bashar Assad congratulating him on the elections held for the Syrian parliament on April 13, 2016. He wrote that the broad participation of Syrian civilians in the election, despite the efforts of "terrorist groups" to prevent it from being held, was proof of their absolute support for the Syrian regime as "a symbol of the resistance, steadfastness and independence" (Asr-e Iran, April 18, 2016).
- Amir Khojasteh, a member of the Majlis, said Iran was planning to renew Iranian pilgrimages to Shi'ite holy places in Syria, which had been stopped following the deterioration of the security situation there. Khojasteh, who recently participated in a delegation of Majlis members to Syria and Lebanon, said the situation in Damascus was currently secure and that pilgrimages to Syria could be renewed in the near future.
- Regarding the visit of the Majlis members to Lebanon, Khojasteh said that the delegation had met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for six hours. During the meeting they discussed regional matters. The members of the delegation also met with members of the Lebanese government and parliament, and assured them of Iran's willingness to support the "resistance front" and provide the Lebanese government with military aid. According to Khojasteh, the delegation visited south Lebanon and was impressed by Hezbollah's capabilities against Israel. He added that Iran had no "red line" regarding military aid to Lebanon in its war against "the Zionist regime and takfiri organizations" (IRNA, April 11, 2016).
- The Iranian foreign ministry condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's declaration that the Golan Heights would remain under Israeli sovereignty forever. Hossein Jaberi Ansari, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said that the Golan Heights were occupied territory that belonged to Syria and had to be returned to Syria. He said Israel's decision regarding the Golan Heights was a clear violation of international law, and he called on the international community to struggle against "the provocative and expansionist measures taken by Israel" (Fars, April 18, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Iraq
- Iraqi sources reported that Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, had visited Baghdad the previous week and held talks with senior political officials regarding Iraq's political crisis (Alsharqiyah, April 17, 2016). During the past two weeks the crisis between Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and the Iraqi parliament over the prime minister's proposed reforms has deteriorated .
- An Iranian delegation is expected to arrive in the near future in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, to discuss the possibility of exporting oil from Iraqi Kurdistan through Iran to the Persian Gulf. Abdulla Akreyi, who is in charge of Iranian affairs in Iraqi Kurdistan, said that during the past two years Iran and the Kurdish government had held talks about the possibility of exporting oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to Iran. During the talks the Iranian representatives expressed willingness to import Kurdish crude oil and refine it in the refineries at Kermanshah and Tabriz in return for exporting Iranian gas to Kurdistan (Rudaw.net, April 13, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Yemen
- Hossein-Amir Abdollahian, deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, said that Tehran supported negotiations between the fighting groups in Yemen, which were supposed to begin in Kuwait. He said that Iran supported a Yemeni dialogue for a political agreement. The resistance of the Yemeni people to the Saudi Arabian military attacks, he said, and the increasing activities of terrorists in the country proved that a national dialogue without foreign intervention was the only solution to the crisis in Yemen (Fars, April 19, 2016).
[*]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.