The Syrian minister of defense and Iranian chiefs of staff sign an agreement on military cooperation (Tasnim, July 8, 2020)
President Rouhani giving a speech during the teleconferenced summit with the Russian and Turkish presidents (the website of the president, July 1, 2020).
Hassan Danaeifar, the Head of the Headquarters for the Economic Ties between Iran, Syria and Iraq (IRNA, July 1, 2020)
The meeting of the Iranian military attache to Baghdad with the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations and Security of the Iraqi Parliament (IRNA, July 3,2020)
The meeting between the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon with the Hamas delegation (Mashreq News, July 2, 2020)
- The Iranian chief of staff of the armed forces and the Syrian minister of defense signed a comprehensive agreement concerning military cooperation between the two countries. The Iranian chief of staff declared that Iran intends to bolster Syria’s air defense systems as part of the effort to enhance military ties between Syria and Iran.
- The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey discussed the settlement of the war in Syria at a video-teleconferenced summit. In his speech, the Iranian president declared that Iran will continue to back Syria, and called for the withdrawal of the “American terrorist forces” from Syria and the entire region. In the statement concluding the summit, the three presidents stressed their commitment to the independence and territorial integrity of Syria and condemned the continuation of Israeli strikes in the country.
- Iran issued only a tepid response to the raid carried out on June 25th by the Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) on the compound of the Shia pro-Iranian militia, Kataeb Hezbollah, in Baghdad. During the raid, 14 members of the militia were arrested and the CTS confiscated launchers and rockets that were apparently intended to be used in future strikes against American targets in Iraq. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that Iran does not intend to meddle in Iraq’s domestic affairs or express an opinion on matters that are not connected to it. Iran’s official response stems from Tehran’s desire to avoid increasing tensions with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi, as he attempts to curtail the power of the Iranian-backed militias. The Iranian news agency Mehr, on the other hand, published an opinion article critical of al-Kazimi, accusing him of operating based on American dictates.
- The Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, assessed that in the coming year, Iranian pilgrims will not be able to participate in the annual pilgrimage to the Shia holy sites in Iraq (the “Arbaeen”), which are set to take place in October 2020. According to him, the severe COVID-19 outbreak in Iraq will not allow the country to host foreign pilgrims.
- The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenai, sent a letter to the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Hanniyeh, in which he stressed Iran’s ongoing commitment to support the Palestinians. In addition, the Speaker of the Iranian Majlis, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, spoke on the phone with Ismail Hanniyeh and the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Ziad al-Nakhleh, and stressed Iran’s opposition to President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and the annexation plan of the Israeli government. Finally, the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon met with a delegation headed by Ahmad Abdul Hadi, the Representative of Hamas in Lebanon, and declared Iran’s support for the Palestinians and “the resistance.”
Iranian Involvement in Syria
- The Lebanese TV channel al-Mayadin, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, reported (July 8) that the Syrian Minister of Defense, Ali Ayoub, and the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Mohammad Baqeri, signed a comprehensive military cooperation agreement. An Iranian official told al-Jazeera (July 8) that in their meeting in Damascus, Baqeri discussed the importance of removal of “illegal” foreign forces in Syria and responding to the Israeli strikes. During the signing ceremony Baqeri proclaimed that the agreement bolsters cooperation between the two countries in countering American pressures. He remarked that Iran intends to buttress Syrian air defense systems as part of the effort to augment the military ties between the two countries. Baqeri condemned Turkey’s military presence in Syria, stating that it must know that this presence will not solve Turkey’s security challenges. The Syrian minister of defense declared that those who count on destroying the ties between Iran and Syria are delusional. He stated that if the United States had been able to subdue Syria, Iran and the “resistance axis,” this moment would not have been reached. According to him, Israel is a powerful partner in the war against Syria, and the deployment of the “terrorist gangs” [Syrian opposition] is part and parcel of the Israeli aggression.
- On July 1, the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey discussed the settlement of the war in Syria, in yet another round of Astana talks, this one conducted virtually. In his speech at the video-conferenced event, the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, stated that Iran will maintain its support for Syria. He also condemned the tightening of the “inhumane” American sanctions against Syria. He reiterated Iran’s support for maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty, and continuing the struggle against terrorism until its annihilation in Syria and the entire region. In addition, Rouhani called for the withdrawal of the “American terrorist forces” from Syria and the entire region as soon as possible (Tasnim, July 1). In the concluding statement of the summit, the three presidents stressed their countries’ commitment to the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria, condemned foreign interventions and called for bolstering stability and security in the region. In addition, the presidents condemned the persistent Israeli strikes on Syria, which according to them harm Syria’s independence and territorial integrity, and increase tensions in the region (Reuters, July 1).
- A Syrian opposition website reported that in recent months, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) resumed the payment of salaries to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, after several months during which salaries were not paid or only half of the salary was paid. According to the report, the monthly salary to fighters ranges from 50,000 Syrian Pounds (about $24) paid to fighters operating in the Syrian desert (the badia) to 80,000 Syrian Pounds (about $36) to fighters operating in cities. The report claimed that Iran resumed paying the salaries due to an effort to prevent the fighters from accepting Russian offers to fight in the Libyan civil war in exchange for high monthly salaries. According to the report, the Russian efforts recently led to disagreements between Russia and Iran, following which Russian and Iranian officers met in eastern Syria in an effort to coordinate the dispatch of some fighters from the pro-Iranian militias to Libya (Euphrates Post, July 6).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
- Iran issued only a muted response to the raid on the headquarters of the Shia pro-Iranian militia, Kataeb Hezbollah, which is responsible for a number of attacks launched in recent months against the compound of the U.S. embassy in the “green zone” in Baghdad and against military bases hosting American troops in Iraq. On June 24, the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) raided a compound of the militia in southern Baghdad. During the raid, the force arrested 14 members of the militia and confiscated rocket launchers and projectiles, which were apparently intended to be used in future attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. The extraordinary developments reflect an attempt by the Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi, to place the Shia militias under his effective control. The arrests aroused angry responses from the Shia militias loyal to Iran, which lambasted Prime Minister al-Kazimi and accused him of cooperation with the United States.
- Abbas Mousavi, the Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declared during his weekly press conference that events taking place in Iraq are connected to Iraq alone, and Tehran does not intend to intervene in the domestic affairs of Iraq or express its opinion on matters that are not connected to Iran. He added that the Popular Mobilization Units (the umbrella of Shia militias in Iraq) is a grouping reflecting popular mobilization, established under the guidance of senior clerics that turned into an armed force. He remarked that Iran is confident that Iraq will manage its domestic affairs in the best way possible to re-establish stability and safety to the country. Addressing reports about a possible visit of the Iraqi prime minister to Tehran, Mousavi stated that Iran welcomes any ties and visits by senior officials of countries bordering on Iran, but that a final date for such a visit has not been set yet (Tasnim, June 29). The official Iranian reaction reflects Tehran’s desire to avoid exacerbating tensions with the incoming Iraqi prime minister. It is apparent that Iran prefers to work to maintain its political, military and economic influence in Iraq while avoiding a direct and public confrontation with al-Kazimi. This is while recognizing the challenges it faces in the Iraqi arena, and the assessment that at the moment, there is no immediate and significant threat to its vital interest in this arena.
- Iranian media also generally avoided directly criticizing the Iraqi prime minister following the incident in southern Baghdad. The Mehr news agency censured the raid on the Kataeb Hezbollah base and the arrest of the militia’s members, but did not blame al-Kazimi directly for the incident. In a commentary published on the website of the agency (June 27) it was argued that the foray against the Shia militia intended to assess the ability to dismantle “the resistance” and remove it from the political and security scene in Iraq. The author added that the strong reactions from the rest of the Shia militias proved that they enjoy significant popular support in Iraq. The dismantling of the militias is one of the main goals of the Americans as part of the strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq, and some wish to split off the Iraqi Security Forces from the Shia militias. According to the commentary, however, the militias never considered themselves as a force separate from the security forces and have cooperated with them in the campaign against terrorism. In any case, the author argued, those who carried out the raid failed to achieve their goal since the Shia militias are not only an inseparable part of the armed forces, but also enjoy the support of the senior clergy. Therefore, the Americans and those serving them will not be able to put an end to militias that enjoy military power, popular support, and the support of the senior clerics.
- However, in another commentary published by Mehr (July 5), even harsher criticism was expressed toward Prime Minister al-Kazimi, arguing that he is acting in accordance with American dictates. The article stated that instead of according with the priorities to which he was committed when appointed to his role, chief among them improving the economic situation, preparing for holding new parliamentary elections as soon as possible, bringing about the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and taking on corruption, al-Kazimi has been focused on changing personnel in the security services. According to the commentary, al-Kazimi has been sidelining senior officials affiliated with the Shia militias and granting the American forces stationed in Iraq permission to carry out missile tests on Iraqi soil (the U.S. tested the Patriot missile system stationed on the compound of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad). In addition, al-Kazimi avoided making any comment concerning the publication of a caricature, perceived as mocking of the preeminent Iraqi cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, by a Saudi newspaper, al-Sharq al-Awsat. According to the Mehr article, this means that al-Kazimi is changing his priorities in line with American dictates.
- In an interview to the hardline newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz (June 27), the political affairs commentator, Saadollah Zarei, opined that Prime Minister al-Kazimi was not aware of the raid on Kataeb Hezbollah, and that events indicate that he is not fully in control of the situation. Zarei added that the cooperation between the Americans and the CTS indicates that the American presence in Iraq is the main reason for the instability and insecurity afflicting Iraq.
- The website Fararu, on the other hand, blamed the incident on Prime Minister Kazemi. A commentary published under the headline: “Why did the Iraqi prime minister arrest the members of Kataeb Hezbollah” (June 27), stated that the arrest was intended to convey a clear message with regards to al-Kazimi’s position, both with regards to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and with regards to the Shia militias. In recent weeks, al-Kazimi clearly warned the Shia militia that launching rockets at the United States’ embassy in Baghdad jeopardizes the strategic dialogue with the United States, and weakens Iraq’s positions, since the United States is exploiting the attack of its forces in Iraq to justify the need to maintain its military presence in the country. After failing to convey this message, the prime minister ordered the CTS to raid the headquarters of the militia. The author assessed that al-Kazimi is not interested in a speedy and immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and the confrontation with Kataeb Hezbollah may indicate that it does not intend to abide by the demands of the Shia militias to place the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country at the top of the priority list in the strategic dialogue with the United States. Al-Kazimi wishes to convey the message that he needs foreign forces in his country and that he is serious about his intention to centralize coercive power in the hand of the government and allow it to regain its deterrent power.
- In an interview (July 1) to the IRNA news agency, the former Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad and the chairman of the Headquarters for the Economic Ties between Iran, Syria and Iraq, Hassan Danaeifar, stated that relations between Iran and Iraq are stable and that economic cooperation between the two nations should be bolstered. He opined that as a politician, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi, understands the importance of bilateral ties and will not allow “negative actors” to harm them. Danaeifar remarked that Iraq is the market with the first or second degree of importance for the export of goods and products from Iran, adding that Iranian exports continued to enter Iraq despite the challenges, chief among them being the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted trade between the two countries. He assessed that the border crossings between the two countries that were shuttered due to the outbreak of the pandemic will soon reopen, and that it would even be possible to expand the volume of Iranian exports to Iraq. Danaeifar called for promoting joint investments of Iranian and Iraqi companies in Iraq to increase the economic viability of the activity of Iranian companies. He assessed that in the next two to three years it will be possible to expand the volume of Iranian exports to Iraq to a total of about 20 billion dollars, but this will depend on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- During the interview, Danaeifar also discussed the economic ties between Iran and Syria, mentioning that the Iranian private sector needs to expand its involvement in Syria to ensure that ties between the two countries will not be carried out on the level of governments only. He added that since the Joint Iranian-Syrian Chamber of Trade was officially established a few months ago, several Iranian companies have set up trade offices in Damascus.
- On July 3, the Iranian Military Attache to Baghdad, Mostafa Moradian, met with the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations and Security of the Iraqi Parliament, Mohammad Redha al-Haidar, and discussed military and security cooperation between the two countries. Both officials stressed the need to implement the agreement signed between the two countries in the spheres of security and defense, and promote cooperation in these realms (IRNA, July 3). Recently, the Iranian Military Attache to Baghdad almost met with the Iraqi Minister of Defense, Juma Anad Saadoun, as well as with the Iraqi Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Abdul Amir Yarallah.
- The Iranian Embassy in Baghdad condemned the assassination of Dr. Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi researcher of terrorism and security matters, who was shot dead on July 6 outside of his home in Baghdad by masked gunmen riding motorcycles. The statement of the embassy labeled the assassination as a “criminal act” (Tasnim, July 7). al-Hashemi has expressed his opposition to what he described as the corrupt sectarian political system of Iraq. He also criticized the actions of the Shia pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, Iran’s involvement in Iraq, and was repeatedly threatened by these militias.
- The Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraq Masjedi, assessed that this year, Iranian pilgrims will not be able to participate in the Arbaeen ceremonies (the pilgrimage to Shia holy sites in Iraq, which is set to occur in October 2020, upon the end of the 40 days of mourning for the dead of the Shia Imam, Hussein). He reported that Iraqi authorities still have not announced whether they intend to hold the pilgrimage, but due to the large-scale COVID-19 outbreak and limited public health capacities, Iraq will struggle to welcome foreign pilgrims this year, and it is likely that only Iraqi pilgrims will be able to attend the ceremonies (Fars, July 7).
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
- The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, sent a missive to the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Hanniyeh, is which he stressed Iran’s enduring commitment to support the Palestinians. Khamenei’s letter was a response to a written message recently sent by Hanniyeh to Khamenei against the backdrop of Israeli intentions to annex parts of the West Bank. Khamenei’s letter stated that Iran will not spare any effort to support the Palestinian people in the struggle against the “Zionist entity,” as part of its religious and humanitarian commitment. Khamenei expressed his appreciation for Hamas’ continued struggle against Israel and the United States, and expressed hope that by maintaining the unity of the Palestinian people, it will be possible to foil the “schemes of the enemy” (Mehr, July 6). Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas official, welcomed the missive of the Supreme Leader, stating that Iran’s support for the “Palestinian resistance” means a great deal when it comes to the campaign against Israel and creating a deterrent force facing it (al-Mayadin, July 6).
Khamenei’s letter to Hanniyeh
(Mehr, July 6, 2020)
- The Speaker of the Iranian Majlis, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, spoke on the phone with the leader of Hamas, Ismail Hanniyeh, and the commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhleh. In his conversation with Hanniyeh, Qalibaf stressed Iran’s opposition to the “Deal of the Century” and Israel’s annexation plans. The two Palestinian leaders thanked Qalibaf for Iran’s support to the Palestinians (Tasnim, July 1).
- A delegation headed by Ahmad Abdul Hadi, Hamas’ Representative in Lebanon, met with the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Jalal Firouznia. In the meeting, the ambassador remarked that Iran stans by the Palestinian people and supports “its resistance” (Safa, July 2).