Spotlight on Iran

April 7, 2019 – April 18, 2019 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
“All of us are the IRGC.” A caricature (Tasnim, April 13, 2019)

“All of us are the IRGC.” A caricature (Tasnim, April 13, 2019)

The U.S. designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. Caricature (Tasnim, April 14, 2019)

The U.S. designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. Caricature (Tasnim, April 14, 2019)

The Zarif-Assad meeting (Fars, April 16, 2019)

The Zarif-Assad meeting (Fars, April 16, 2019)

The Iranian president welcomes Iraq’s prime minister (Tasnim, April 6, 2019)

The Iranian president welcomes Iraq’s prime minister (Tasnim, April 6, 2019)

Assistance of Harakat al-Nujabaa’ to flood victims in Iran (ISNA, April 15, 2019)

Assistance of Harakat al-Nujabaa’ to flood victims in Iran (ISNA, April 15, 2019)

Overview

On April 8, the United States Department of State announced that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) will be designated as a foreign terrorist organization starting April 15. In response, Iran designated the Central Command of the U.S. Armed Forces (CENTCOM), which covers the Middle East, as a terrorist organization. The American designation aroused a wave of sharp condemnations and threats from senior Iranian officials and supporters of Iran in the region. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Khamenei, declared that the U.S. decision is “a vicious move” that will not bear fruit, while the Commander of the IRGC, Ja’fari, threatened that if the U.S. dares to threaten Iran’s national security, Iran will act against U.S. forces in the region.

  • On April 16, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, left for a two-day visit in Damascus during which he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is Zarif’s first visit to Syria since President Assad’s visit to Tehran in February 2019. That visit led to Zarif’s temporary resignation, after he had not been informed of Assad’s arrival and meetings ahead of time.
  • The Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, arrived for his first official visit in Tehran, at the helm on a delegation made of senior political, military and economic officials. During his visit to Iran, the two countries reached agreements on expanding cooperation in the spheres of transportation, trade, industry, banking, energy and security. During his meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei stated that Iraq’s government must act to ensure that American forces withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible. In parallel to Abdul Mahdi’s visit in Iran, an Iranian-Iraqi joint conference was held in Tehran on economic and trade issues. Meanwhile, a source in the Syrian ministry of transportation reported that representatives of Iran, Syria and Iraq will soon hold a trilateral meeting to discuss restarting the project to connect the railways of the three nations.
  • The engineering unit of the Shi’ite Iraqi militias (“The Popular Mobilization Units”) arrived in recent days to the Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran to assist in dealing with the severe floods that have been affecting the area. The commander of the Popular Mobilization Units, who arrived in the province, declared that his organization is fully prepared to assist Iran in dealing with the damage caused by the floods. The reports on the entry of Iraqi forces into Iran aroused scathing criticism from Iranians on social media networks, who lambasted the permission given by Tehran to Iraqi armed forces to enter Iranian soil.
U.S. Designation of the IRGC as a Terrorist Organization
  • On April 8, the U.S. Department of State announced that the IRGC will be added to the list of foreign terrorist organizations starting April 15. U.S. President, Donald Trump, declared that this is an unprecedented step stemming from a recognition that Iran is not merely a state-sponsor of terrorism, but that the IRGC is actively participating in terrorist activities, and is involved in financing and promoting terrorism. The statement issued by the U.S. president elaborated that the Department of State sees the IRGC as the main tool of the Iranian government to direct and implement its global campaign of terrorism (Reuters, April 8).
  • In response, Iran designated the U.S. administration as a state-sponsor of terrorism and the Central Command of the U.S. Armed Forces (CENTCOM), which is responsible for the Near East region, as a terrorist organization.
  • In a meeting with IRGC cadres, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that the U.S. designation is a vicious move that will not bear fruit and will cast Iran’s enemies into the abyss (Fars, April 9). President Rouhani proclaimed that the U.S. announcement will unite Iranians and improve the perception of the IRGC among the Iranian people and the people of the region and that the United States is the leader of global terrorism.
  • The Commander of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari, threatened that if the American endanger Iranian national security, Iran will act against American forces in western Asia, in accordance with the policies of the Islamic Republic (ISNA, April 8, 2019).
  • In a conference organized in solidarity with the IRGC, the Deputy Commander of the IRGC for Coordination, Ali Fadavi, commented on Iran’s strength and the U.S. decline in the region. He stated that in the period following the victory of the Islamic Revolution, no country had the courage to resist U.S. global hegemony, but these days, many small countries clearly express their opposition to the U.S. position in UN Security Council deliberations. As an example of Iran’s powerful posture in the region, Fadavi mentioned the presence of “tens of thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah forces” near Israel’s borders and said that the U.S. can not tolerate this presence (Tasnim, April 15). The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, also condemned the U.S. decision and declared that the Resistance will respond to the U.S. steps, if the need arises, in the arenas where the U.S. is involved, since it has the right and also the moral obligation to respond to any threat (al-Mayadin, April 10, 2019).
Iranian Involvement in Syria
  • On April 16, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, left for two-day visit in Damascus, during which he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Walid al-Muallem. In the meetings, Zarif discussed with Syrian officials developments in the regional and global arena, and the ongoing negotiations concerning the settlement of the Syrian war. At the end of the visit, Zarif departed to Turkey (Mehr, April 16, 2019). It should be mentioned that Zarif was not updated beforehand about the visit of President Assad to Damascus in late February 2019 and was not present in the meetings with him in Tehran, which prompted Zarif to file his resignation. Shortly after rescinding his resignation, the Syrian ambassador to Tehran invited Zarif to Damascus on behalf of President Assad (Fars, February 27, 2019).
  • A source in the Syrian ministry of transportation reported that representatives of Iran, Syria and Iraq are set to hold a trilateral meeting soon to discuss restarting the project to connect the railways of the three countries. This strategic project, launched before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, was intended to provide Iran and Iraq access to ports in Syria. Before the outbreak of the crisis in Syria, Syria completed 97% of the project, but most of the railways have since been destroyed during the war (Mehr, April 14, 2019).
  • The Syrian pro-opposition television network Orient News reported (April 11, 2019) that Russia is adopting steps intended to curtail the activities of pro-Iranian militias operating in Syria. According to the report, Russia established secret detention centers inside Syrian prisons in Damascus that are being used to interrogate hundreds of officers in Syrian pro-Iranian militias. In addition, the Russians are promoting a plan intended to disband militias loyal to Iran or place them under Russian control. Russia also seeks to remove these militias from spheres of influence where pro-Russian militias operate, and purge the Syrian Army’s general command, and units within the army of Iranian influence. This report joins a number of additional reports by Syrian opposition outlets on Russian activities against Syrian pro-Iranian militias.
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
  • On April 6, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, arrived for a two-day visit in Iran at the helm of a delegation made up of high-ranking political, economic and military officials. The delegation included, among others, the Iraqi minister of oil, finance, foreign affairs, trade and energy, as well as the deputy minister of interior, the national security adviser, the chief of staff of the armed forces, and several members of parliament (Tasnim, April 6, 2019). During the visit, the two countries reached agreements on expanding cooperation in the spheres of transportation, trade, industry, banking, energy and security. The two sides agreed that the Governor of the Central Iranian Bank, Andolnasser Hemmati, will soon visit Baghdad to promote the implementation of the agreements signed between the two countries concerning cooperating in the banking and financial sectors (Mehr, April 6, 2019).
  • In his meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, stated that the Iraqi government should act to bring about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as possible, since in every country where the U.S. maintained a long-term military presence, removing its forces from the country became harder over time. He asserted that relations between Iran and Iraq are beyond normal relations between two neighboring countries and that Iran sees Iraq’s progress and flourishing as one of its interests (Mehr, April 6, 2019). The visit of the Iraqi prime minister of Tehran follows a visit of President Rouhani to Baghdad only weeks ago in March.
  • In parallel to the visit of Iraq’s prime minister to Iran, the two countries held a joint economic-trade conference in Tehran. The Deputy of the Iranian President, Eshaq Jahangiri, stated in the conference that Iran intends to connect the Persian Gulf through Iraq to Syria and the Mediterranean by paving roads and building railways. Jahangiri mentioned the reconstruction efforts in Iraq following the conclusion of the campaign to recapture territory from ISIS and said that Iran is willing to assist in Iraq’s reconstruction and development. He added that Iranian firms are ready to cooperate with Iraqi companies in promoting joint economic endeavors. He asserted that both countries must not let the American sanctions against Iran harm the relationship between the two countries, and that the sanctions place limitations on tightening of ties, but can also create opportunities for their expansion (Fars, April 7, 2019).
  • On April 11, the engineering unit of the Popular Mobilization Units (the Shi’ite Iraqi militias) entered Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran to assist in dealing with the ongoing heavy floods in the region. The statement by the Popular Mobilization Units reported that the engineering unit and heavy tools were sent to Iran to assist in diverting the currents of the flood and prevent them from impacting southern Iraq. The statement added that the transfer of the unit to Iran was carried out in coordination between the Iranian and Iraqi governments (ISNA, April 12, 2019). Iranian media also reported that a convoy of the Shi’ite militia Harakat al-Nujabaa’ headed by Nasr al-Shammari, the Head of the Executive Council of the militia, and several additional senior commanders, entered Iranian territory (Fars, April 12, 2019).
  • The Commander of the Popular Mobilization Units, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who arrived to Khuzestan, declared that his organization is fully prepared to assist Iran in dealing with the damages of the floods in various fields, for example in engineering or by setting up field hospitals. He expressed satisfaction about the willingness of the Iranian government to allow the force to provide assistance to those harmed by the floods, and stated that the Iraqi militias are also assisting the Iraqi government in dealing with the aftermath of heavy rains in southern Iraq (IRNA, April 14, 2019).
  • The Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, confirmed that the Shi’ite Iraqi militias provided assistance to Iran and reported that in the past two weeks, humanitarian aid, which was collected in towns and provinces across Iraq for the victims of the floods in Iran, was delivered from Iraq to Iran. Masjedi reported that hundreds of Iraqi citizens among the leaders of tribes and members of the Iraqi militias, reached out to the Iranian embassy and Iranian consulates in Iraq to receive a visa to allow them to enter the Khuzestan and Lorestan provinces in western Iran to assist those affected by the floods (ISNA, April 13, 2019).
  • The reports on the entry into Iran of forces belonging to the Iraqi Shi’ite militias aroused criticism among Iranian netizens. Iranian social media users even claimed that the Iranian regime allowed their entry to assist Iranian authorities in repressing demonstrations that erupted in Khuzestan province protesting the ineptitude of Iranian authorities in handling the aftermath of the floods.
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
  • On April 9, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, held a phone call with the Head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyyeh. Iranian media reported that the two discussed the latest developments in the Palestinian arena and the region (Mehr, April 9, 2019).