Spotlight on Iran

August 19 – September 2, 2018 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
The meeting of the delegations representing the Syrian and Iranian ministries of defense (ISNA, August 26 2018).

The meeting of the delegations representing the Syrian and Iranian ministries of defense (ISNA, August 26 2018).

Hatami’s meeting with President Assad (ISNA, August 26 2018).

Hatami’s meeting with President Assad (ISNA, August 26 2018).

Hatami in Aleppo city (Mehr, August 26 2018).

Hatami in Aleppo city (Mehr, August 26 2018).

The representative of the Supreme Leader at the IRGC during a conference in Qom (IRNA, August 18 2018).

The representative of the Supreme Leader at the IRGC during a conference in Qom (IRNA, August 18 2018).

The meeting between the Iraqi president and the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad (Entekhab, August 27 2018).

The meeting between the Iraqi president and the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad (Entekhab, August 27 2018).

The meeting between Abdollahian and the Iraqi parliamentarians (Icana.ir, August 26 2018).

The meeting between Abdollahian and the Iraqi parliamentarians (Icana.ir, August 26 2018).

Overview
  • The focal point of the week was the visit to Damascus of Iranian Minister of Defense, Amir Hatami. During the two-day visit, Hatami met with Syria’s political and military leadership, headed by President Assad, visited the city of Aleppo and signed an agreement concerning security and technical cooperation between the two countries. This agreement pertains, among other matters, to the rehabilitation of the Syrian Army and Syrian military industries, and the future presence of Iranian advisers in Syria. Hatami’s visit, which emphasized Iran’s desire to play a central role in Syria’s post-civil war reconstruction, provided further evidence to Iran’s intention to maintain its hold over Syria after Assad’s victory in the civil war.
  • The United States and Russia continue to hold deliberations regarding Iran’s presence in Syria. The U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton, stated after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, that the two sides discussed a series of measure to bring about the removal of Iranian forces from Syria. Nonetheless, in an interview to the Reuters news agency, Bolton assessed that the Russian president is incapable of bringing about the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria. In response to Bolton’s statement, the Russian deputy minister of foreign affairs declared that Iran’s presence in Syria should be regarded as legitimate.
  • In Iraq, Iran continues to operate through political forces close to it in an effort to maintain its influence in Iraq after the upcoming formation of the new government in Baghdad. The special advisor on international affairs to the speaker of the Majlis met with a delegation of Iraqi Shi’ite parliamentarians, who won seats in the recent general elections in Iraq, and emphasized Iran’s commitment to maintaining Iraq’s independence, national unity and territorial integrity.
  • Meanwhile, Iraqi officials clarified that Iraq does not intend to abandon Iran due to the re-imposition of economic sanctions on it. Iraq’s president declared that his country will never forget the assistance Iran had provided to Iraq in its fight against terrorism, and the Iraqi ambassador to Tehran asserted that the relations between the two countries will not be affected by U.S. sanctions. These clarifications were issued after an outcry in Iran and the Iraqi political arena due to a recent statement by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, accosting to which Iraq will abide by the renewed economic sanctions imposed on Iran.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
  • On August 26, Iranian Minister of Defense, Amir Hatami, arrived for a two-day visit in Syria. Hatami met in Damascus with senior Syrian officials, chief among them President Bashar al-Assad, and discussed with them the military and security cooperation between the two countries as well as recent developments in the region. During the visit, the two countries signed an agreement for security and technical cooperation, which also addressed the rehabilitation of the Syrian Army and Syria’s military industries. Upon arrival in Damascus, the minister stated that he intends to broaden the bilateral cooperation between the two countries, and that Iran hopes to play an active role in Syria’s reconstruction (Tasnim, August 26 2018).
  • In a meeting between representatives of the ministries of the defense of the two countries, Hatami congratulated the Assad regime for its achievements in the battlefield. He added that the complete liberation of all Syrian soil from the terrorists will assist the security of the region and deny foreigners the excuse to meddle in the region’s affairs. He emphasized, once again, Iran’s position that rejects Syria’s partition and asserted that maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity will contribute to the stability of the region. The Syrian Minister of Defense, Ali Ayoub, expressed his admiration and gratitude to Iran for its unrelenting support for Syria, and emphasized that Syria will not allow any third party to harm the relationship between the two countries (ISNA, August 26 2018).
  • In a meeting with President Assad, also attended by the Syrian minister of defense, the Syrian ambassador to Tehran and the Iranian ambassador to Damascus, Hatami proclaimed that Iran will continue to support Syria’s unity and independence. He stated that Iran’s private sector can utilize its useful capabilities to participate in Syria’s reconstruction. President Assad emphasized the importance of Hatami’s visit, which according to the Syrian president, attests to the depth of the countries’ relationship. Assad also mentioned the need to continue the countries’ mutual coordination and maintain their long-term cooperation (SANA, August 26 2018).
  • In an interview to the al-Mayadin network (August 27), Hatami addressed Iran’s presence in Syria and stated that it exists based on a request of Damascus and no third country has a right to intervene in this matter. Meanwhile, the Iranian military attaché to Damascus, Abolqasem Alinehad, reported in an interview to the IRNA news agency (August 28), that the security cooperation agreement signed between Iran and Syria during the minister of defense’s visit includes a reference to the future presence of Iranian military advisers in Syria.
  • On August 28, Hatami conducted a visit to the city of Aleppo, accompanied by senior Syrian Army commanders, and was briefed about the efforts to complete the “cleansing” of the city from the “terrorist” groups still operating within its environs (Tasnim, August 28 2018).
  • The Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Rybakov, referred to Iran’s presence in Syria as legitimate, arguing that it is based on the invitation of the legitimate government in Damascus. He stated, however, that this does not mean that there is no room for “additional work in this context.” Rybakov relayed that the matter of Iranian presence in Syria was discussed between Russia and the United States within the larger context of the situation in the Middle East and Syria. He added that there are disagreements between the U.S. on Russia on several issues pertaining to the region, but there is a basis for continuing dialogue regarding Syria (TASS, August 23). Prior to this, the Spokesman of the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, claimed that there were no negotiations between Russia and the United States concerning the removal of Iran from Syria (IRNA, August 22). The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, addressed in a press conference the U.S. military presence in Syria, arguing that all foreign forces that are present in the country without the invitation of the legitimate government should withdraw from Syria (TASS, August 22 2018).
  • The comments of the senior Russian officials followed the statement by the American National Security Advisor, John Bolton, claiming that the United States and Russia share the desire to bring about the removal of Iran from Syria. Following a meeting in Geneva with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Petrushev, Bolton stated that they discussed a series of steps to bring about the removal of Iranian forces from Syria (Reuters, August 23). During a visit Bolton conducted in Israel on August 19, the national security advisor stated that the United States will continue to push for a full withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria and will deal with Iran’s entrenchment in the region. He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear to President Trump that Russian and Iranian interests in Syria do not necessarily align. In an interview to the Reuters news agency (August 22), Bolton nonetheless assessed that President Putin will be unable to bring about the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria.
  • During a conference in the city of Qom, the Representative of the Supreme Leader at the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Hojjat-ul-Islam Abdollah Hajji Sadeghi, praised in the contribution of the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade operating under IRGC guidance in Syria, and the fighters of Lebanese Hezbollah to the regaining of control over most of Syria’s territory by regime-aligned forces. He stated that the Fatemiyoun and Hezbollah are the fighters in the front-lines and that their martyrs consider themselves to be the soldiers of the Supreme Leader of Iran, which is a testament to Iran’s influence in the region. According to Sadeghi, President Trump’s awareness of this influence is the cause of Trump’s hostility toward Iran (IRNA, August 18 2018).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
  • The Iraqi Ambassador to Tehran, Saber Abud al-Musawi, proclaimed that Iraq will not abandon Iran as it faces the re-imposition of economic sanctions. He asserted that relations between Iran and Iraq are very good and will not be affected by the “anti-Iranian” sanctions. Al-Musawi emphasized that Iran stood by Iraq’s side throughout the most challenging of circumstances, and it is impossible that the Iraqis will forget Iran’s services (Defa Press, August 21 2018).

The Iraqi ambassador to Tehran (Defa Press, August 21 2018).
The Iraqi ambassador to Tehran (Defa Press, August 21 2018).

  • The comment of the ambassador followed an outcry caused by the statement of Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, who had declared recently that his country intends to abide by the new economic sanctions re-imposed by the United States against Iran. Following the firestorm aroused by al-Abadi’s statement in Iran and the Iraqi political arena, al-Abadi clarified that he was only referring to avoiding the use of the U.S. dollar in deals with Iran.
  • The Deputy Secretary General of the pro-Iranian Harakat al-Nujaba’ (The Movement of the Noble Ones”), Yousuf al-Nasseri, also stood by Iran and called on Iraq to oppose the economic sanctions imposed by the United States. At a conference of Iraqi clerics, al-Nasseri claimed that the economic siege was imposed on the Iranian people due to their solidarity with the oppressed people of the region and the world. The defeat of ISIS, made possible due to Iranian support, angered the “great Satan” (the United States) and brought about the imposition of the economic siege on Iran, alleged the Iraqi cleric (Mehr, August 26).
  • On August 27, Iraqi President, Fouad Masoum, met with Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, and emphasized the need to expand ties between Iran and Iraq. He stated that Iraq sees great importance in its relationship with Tehran and will never forget the assistance Iran had offered to Iraq in the war against terrorism. Masjedi thanked the president for his positive positions toward Iran and stated that Iran sees great importance in expanding economic, cultural, political and security ties with Baghdad. He added that Iran will support any government formed in Iraq and will assist it with all means at Tehran’s disposal (IRNA, August 27 2018).
  • On August 26, the Special Advisor on International Affairs to the Speaker of the Majlis, Amir Abdollahian, met with a group of Iraqi parliamentarians of the al-Fath list, affiliated with the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias, who recently won seats in the general elections held in the country. Abdollahian stated that the independence, national unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, achieved during the years of the campaign against the foreign occupier in Iraq and ISIS’ terrorism, must be preserved. The special adviser discussed Iraq’s central political and economic position and argued that Iraq’s return to its natural important place in the region has an important role in guaranteeing stability and safety in the Middle East (Mehr, August 26 2018).