Qasem Soleimani at a meeting of IRGC commanders and the supreme leader on September 18, 2016 (Fars).
Morteza Ataei (right) standing next to Qasem Soleiman (Qasemsoliemani,Islamic Revolution,
Jaberi Ansari (left) and Bashar Assad (Fars, September 19, 2016)
Nobakht meets with families of Iranians killed in Syria (Etedaleshomal.ir, September 16, 2016).
Niri and Nasrallah (Tasnim, September 14, 2016)
- On September 15, 2016, Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, announced he planned to remain a "soldier" in the service of the Islamic Republic, a hint he was not planning to run in the upcoming elections for president. He made the announcement to contradict "enemy reports" whose objective was to cause a rift and factionalize Iran internally. He said he intended to remain a "soldier" in the service of the supreme leader, the regime and the Iranian nation for the rest of his life (Fars, September 15, 2016). The unusual announcement was made amid reports issued in recent months in the Iranian and Western media about the intention of the conservative camp to propose him as a candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for May 2017. The announcement was also made in response to remarks recently made by former American diplomat Dennis Ross during an interview with the Saudi newspaper Al-Majalla. Ross claimed that increasing pressure on Iran regarding its regional foreign policy might strengthen the moderate camp, led by President Rouhani, and weaken the extremist elements within IRGC, including Soleimani.
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
- On September 11, 2016, the Iranian media reported that Morteza Ataei, aka Abu Ali, a high-ranking Iranian commander in the Afghan Fatemiyoun Battalion, which operates in conjunction with the IRGC in Syria, was killed near the city of Latakia. Pictures on Iran news websites and posted to the social networks showed him in the company of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force.
- Senior Iranian officials accused the United States of responsibility for the collapse of the ceasefire in Syria. On September 21, 2016, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Iranian deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, told the Tasnim news agency that the ceasefire depended on American transparency and candor regarding the fight against terrorist groups, and that the American aerial strike on Syrian army posts in Deir al-Zor raised serious questions about the intentions and goals of the United States for the end of the war in Syria. He said its continuing support for terrorist groups in Syria would make it impossible to maintain a ceasefire.
- Iran publicly welcomed the agreement leading to the end of the hostilities in Syria, reached after months of American-Russian discussions. Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said Iran had always supported efforts to reach a ceasefire in Syria and to allow the Syrians to receive humanitarian assistance. However, he said, the ceasefire depended on establishing a mechanism for oversight and inspection, especially of the borders, to prevent the delivery of weapons and support for the "terrorist groups" operating in the country (Fars, September 11, 2016).
- Jaberi Ansari, Iranian deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, also said Iran supported the ceasefire, and that his country would support a ceasefire and a plan for peace that would end the humanitarian distress in Syria and pave the way for a political resolution of the national crisis, based on the will of the Syrian people. He said, however, that Iran was not a party to the agreement and would therefore bear no responsibility for or commitment to it. He added that the Iranian position on any agreement depended on the receipt of detailed information about its terms, but Iran supported any agreement acceptable to the Syrian government and people (Fars, September 11, 2016).
- Shortly after the ceasefire went into effect senior Iranian officials were harshly critical of the United States, claiming it did not honor its commitments. Hossein Amir Abdollahian, special Majlis (Iranian parliament) advisor on international affairs, said the White House wanted a ceasefire in Syria so it could rescue the terrorists besieged by the Syrian army in the region of Aleppo. He said that when the Shi'ite villagers in Fua and Kefraya were besieged by terrorists and suffered grave humanitarian hardships, the United States completely ignored them and did nothing to lift the siege (YJC.ir, September 14, 2016).
- Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, also criticized American foreign policy in Syria, claiming the United States could not be trusted any more than the terrorists. As to the ceasefire, he said that the other side absolutely could not be trusted, but that every effort had to be made to keep the war and bloodshed from continuing (Fars, September 14, 2016).
- Iran's criticism of the United States became harsher during the past week when an air strike carried out by the American-led coalition accidentally attacked Syrian army posts in the Deir al-Zor region. Hossein Amir Abdollahian claimed the United States did not honor its commitments to the ceasefire. He claimed America supported al-Nusra Front and that the Americans' only goal was to depose Syrian President Assad (Asr-e Iran, September 17, 2016). Meeting with Adnan Mahmoud, the Syrian ambassador to Tehran, Abdollahian said Iran would support every measure promoting calm and stability in Syria. He said the countries that supported the terrorist groups had to reconsider their policies and realize that their policy was harming both them and the states in the region (Fars, September 19, 2016).
- After the aerial strike in Deir al-Zor, which killed dozens of Syrian soldiers, Bahrem Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said it had violated international conventions as well as Syrian independence and sovereignty, and threatened the ceasefire. He added that it showed the terrorist groups operating in Syria had the collaboration and support of the United States (Tasnim, September 18, 2016).
- On September 19, 2016, Jaberi Ansari, Iranian deputy foreign minister for Arab-African Affairs, visited Syria. He participated in a meeting of the joint Iranian-Syrian political committee, and met with President Assad and the leaders of the Palestinian groups in Syria (ISNA, September 19, 2016). Meeting with President Assad, Ansari said that Iran would continue supporting the Syrian fight against terrorism (Tasnim, September 20, 2016).
- Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, spokesman for the Iranian government and head of the plan and budget organization, said that Syria was "the forward trench [in the battle] against the occupying Zionist regime." Meeting with the families of IRGC fighters from Gilan Province who had been killed in Syria, he spoke of the importance of Syria for Iran, and said that the survival of "the Islamic resistance front" depended on the survival of Syria (Tasnim, September 16, 2016).
- In the middle of September Reza Niri chairman of Iran's medical charity, went to Lebanon. He met with Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, who asked for Iranian health and medical support of Lebanon to continue. Nasrallah thanked him for the largesse the Iranian medical charity had shown Lebanon during the past thirty years (Tasnim, September 14, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Iraq Iranian Intervention in Yemen
- Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, denied reports in the Iranian media that the United States had signaled Iran that Washington and Moscow might hold talks with Tehran over the crisis in Yemen (IRNA, September 17, 2016).
- Iran strongly rejected Saudi Arabian accusations that it had sent arms to the forces fighting in Yemen. The Iranian mission to the UN said in an announcement that the claims raised by the Saudis in a complaint lodged with the president of the Security Council were baseless. It was Saudi Arabia, said the announcement, that was committing war crimes against innocent Yemeni civilians and violating international law. In addition, Iran found it surprising that Saudi Arabia had lodged a complaint with the security force about the use of arms in Yemen at a time when it had itself bought tens of billions of dollars worth of arms to use against the Yemeni people (Mehr, September 18, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
- On September 15, 2016, the Saudi-backed London newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that Iran was trying to influence the election of Hamas' new chairman and promote Ismail Haniya, who is considered close to Tehran.
- According to Palestinian sources of uncertain reliability, Iran is trying to have Haniya replace Khaled Mashal as Hamas chairman in the internal elections to be held at the end of 2016. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force was allegedly leading the Iranian efforts. According to the sources, a month ago Soleimani made one of his aides responsible for coordinating the efforts with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Shi'ite al-Saberin movement in the Gaza Strip to have Haniya elected. The Palestinian sources told the paper that despite the fact that Soleimani was heavily invested in the ongoing fighting in Syria, he continued to monitor developments in the Palestinian arena.
[*]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.