Iran condemned the strikes on the Lattakia Port in Syria, carried out on December 28, allegedly by Israel. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Interior labeled the Israeli act “an inhuman act of aggression” and a grave violation of Syria’s sovereignty and international law and called on the international community to prevent the recurrence of Israeli strikes on Syria.
On January 2, Iranian citizens were allowed to resume pilgrimage trips to Syria. Such visits were halted almost two years ago due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an interview to the Lebanese news website al-Ahed, the Iranian ambassador to Syria stated that relations between Iran and Syria are currently focused on economic cooperation to a greater extent than before. He stressed the importance of economic and trade cooperation between the two countries and the need to remove the barriers hindering its expansion.
The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, declared that the blood of Qasem Soleimani forced the American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq and bolstered the “resistance front” in the region. His statement was made during a meeting with Soleimani’s family on the occasion of the second anniversary of his assassination. Over the past week, Iran and its allies in the region held commemorative ceremonies for Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed by the United States in January 2020.
In late December, the Iraqi minister of foreign affairs arrived for a visit to Tehran during which he met senior Iranian government officials and discussed bilateral ties, developments in the region and the nuclear deal talks in Vienna.
In late December, the Iranian minister of transportation visited Iraq and discussed with Iraqi officials expanding cooperation between the two countries. During the visit, the minister signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the implementation of the project to lay a railway connecting Shalamcheh in western Iran to Basra in southern Iraq.
The Iranian ambassador to Afghanistan stated in an interview to an Afghan television station that Iran will not recognize the Taliban’s government as long as it fails to represent all ethnic groups in the country. According to him, if an inclusive government was to be established in Afghanistan, Iran will encourage other countries to recognize it.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
Iran condemned the strikes, attributed to Israel, on the container storage area of the Lattakia Port in Syria that were carried out on December 28. The Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, labeled the Israeli action “an act of aggression” that is both inhuman and immoral and is a grave violation of Syria’s sovereignty and international law, and represents the plans of “the Zionist regime” to create crises and chaos in the region. He accused Israel, which according to him attacked “food and medicine storage facilities,” of striving to undermine stability and security in the region by repeatedly attacking Syria, relying on imaginary and baseless excuses. Khatibzadeh called on the international community to take all necessary steps to prevent the recurrence of Israeli strikes, which according to him threatened peace and security in the region (Tasnim, December 29).
On December 23, the Syrian Minister of Transportation, Zuhair Khazim, met in Damascus with representatives of Iranian firms and discussed ways to expand cooperation in the sectors of ground and aerial transportation between the two countries. Khazim stressed the importance of expanding cooperation between the two countries in light of the Western sanctions placed on Syria. In the meeting, the two sides discussed the possibility of establishing joint airline companies, supporting projects to rehabilitate and main roads in Syria, and investing in building new roads and bridges in Syria (IRNA, December 23).
The meeting of the Syrian minister of transportation with representatives of Iranian companies. Source: IRNA, December 23
The Head of the Iranian Organization for Pilgrimage, Alireza Rashidian, announced the resumption of pilgrimage trips for Iranian citizens to Syria starting in early January. He remarked that the first group of Iranian pilgrims will leave for Syria on January 2, after obtaining consent from the Syrian government (YJC.IR, December 28). In November 2021 a delegation led by Rashidian paid a visit to Syria, during which he discussed with Syrian officials the resumption of pilgrimage visits of Iranian citizens to Shia holy sites, which were halted following the outbreak of COVID-19. During the visit, the two countries agreed that during the initial stage, about 100,000 Iranian pilgrims will be allowed to travel to Syria every year (ISNA, November 12).
The Iranian Ambassador to Syria, Mehdi Sobhani, met with the Syrian Minister of Tourism, Mohammed Rami Martini, and discussed plans to encourage Syrian tourists to visit Iran. The Syrian minister of tourism expressed interest in increasing the volume of travel of tourists and pilgrims between the two countries and called on Iran to increase the exposure of Iranian tourist destinations to Syrian consumers, including medical tourism (YJC.IR, December 30).
The meeting of the Iranian ambassador to Damascus with the Syrian minister of transportation. Source: YJC.IR, December 30
The Syrian pro-opposition site Zaman al-Wasl, reported (December 26) that in late December, the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade, which operates in Syria under Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) command, moved about 30 Afghan Shia families, whose sons serve in the militia in Syria, from Iran to Syria. According to the report, the families were moved by plane from Iran to the International Airport of Damascus, and from there moved to their new residences. Most of the families were moved to Albu Kamal in eastern Syria, while eight of them were moved in trucks of militias linked to the IRGC to Yalda, south of Damascus, next to military bases where their relatives are deployed.
The Iranian Ambassador to Damascus, Mehdi Sobhani, stated in an interview to Hezbollah’s news website, al-Ahed (January 2) that relations between Syria and Iran and currently focused on the economic sphere. He remarked that the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries is an important matter and that roadblocks preventing its expansion should be removed. The ambassador stressed the need to ensure the financing of projects aimed at reconstructing Syria and bolstering stability in the country, so as to encourage the resumptions of investments in it. Sobhani mentioned that in recent months, several trade fairs were held in Syria, which saw the participation of about 120 Iranian firms. Commenting on the American military presence in Syria, the Iranian ambassador stated that the American forces will eventually be compelled to retreat from Syria. He asserted that the United States can no longer decide the fate of the region, and that the “resistance axis” is now one of the most influential actors in the region.
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, declared that the blood of the former Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Qasem Soleimani, compelled the American forces to withdraw from the region. In a meeting with Soleimani’s relatives alongside senior IRGC commanders on the occasion of the 2nd anniversary of Soleimani’s killing by the United States, Khamenei proclaimed that Iran’s enemies assumed that their goals will be accomplished after the killing of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, but because of Soleimani’s blood, the United States has been forced to flee Afghanistan and announce the withdrawal of its military forces from Iraq. In Yemen too, the “resistance front” achieved progress, and in Syria, there is no longer any hope for the enemy to achieve victory. Khamenei insisted that the “resistance front” is flourishing and has greater hopes in the region compared to two years ago (Tasnim, January 1).
The meeting between the supreme leader of Iran with the family members of Qasem Soleimani. Source: Tasnim, January 1
On December 22, the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fuad Hussein, arrived for a visit in Tehran, during which he met with senior Iranian officials, chief among them the Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, and the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein-Amir Abdollahian, and discussed bilateral ties, developments in the region, and the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries in Vienna. The Iraqi minister of foreign affairs was accompanied by Qassim al-Araji, the Iraqi National Security Adviser. In a joint press conference of the foreign ministers, Abdollahian stated that the two countries are determined to complete laying the railway between Shalamcheh in western Iran to Basra in southern Iraq, and abrogate the requirement to obtain pre-arrival visas to travel between the two countries. The Iranian minister of foreign affairs also reported that his Iraqi counterpart updated him about the process of withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq. In his meeting with the Iraqi foreign minister, Iranian President Raisi congratulated Iraq for holding successful parliamentary elections in October, and declared that Iran supports the establishment of a strong government in Iraq and the preservation of stability and security in the country. Addressing the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, Raisi stated that if it were not for the resistance of the Iraqi people, the Americans would have remained in the country (ISNA, December 23).
The meeting of President Raisi with the delegation led by the Iraqi foreign minister. Source: ISNA, December 23
On December 26, the Iranian Minister of Transportation, Rostam Ghasemi, arrived for a four-day visit in Iraq. During the visit, Ghasemi met with senior Iraqi officials and discussed expanding cooperation between the two countries in the transportation sector. Among others, Ghasemi met with the Iraqi prime minister, Iraqi president, Iraqi minister of transportation, the executive director of Iraqi Republic Railway company, and with several provincial governors. During the visit, the minister signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the implementation of the Shalamcheh – Basra railway project. At the end of the first day of the visit, the minister reported that the implementation of the project is set to start in one month, and that in two months, a joint company will be established by the two countries for the purpose of executing the project (IRNA; Tasnim, December 26).
The meeting between the Iraqi President, Barham Salih, and the Iranian minister of transportation. Source: Tasnim, December 27
On December 23, the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, met with the Iraqi Minister of Electricity, Adel Karim, and discussed bilateral cooperation. The Iraqi minister invited his Iranian counterpart, Ali-Akbar Mehrabian, to visit Baghdad (IRNA, December 23). In September 2021, Karim visited Tehran and discussed cooperation in the sectors of energy and gas with senior Iranian officials.
The meeting of the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad with the Iraqi minister of electricity. Source: IRNA, December 23
The Western Azerbaijan Province in northwestern Iran and Erbil Province in the Kurdistan region of Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding concerning expanding economic and trade cooperation between the two provinces. The memorandum addresses establishing a free trade zone along the border between the two provinces, starting the operation of air route from Erbil in Iraq to Orumieh in Iran, and expanding the working hours of the border crossing connecting Iran to Iraqi Kurdistan that is located in those provinces (the Piranshahr – Haji Omran crossing). Nader Sadeghi, the Deputy Governor for Economic Affairs of the Western Azerbaijan Province, stated that the two sides agreed to establish joint transportation companies, which will facilitate the movement of goods between the provinces. Sadeghi also mentioned that as part of the memorandum of understanding, the Iranian province expressed willingness to establish factories for food processing, juices and dairy products in Iraqi Kurdistan (ISNA, December 29).
Iranian Involvement in Afghanistan
On December 26, the Envoy of the Iranian President for Afghan Affairs, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, met in Tehran with Mohammad Mohaqiq, the Head of the Hazara party, the People’s Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, and a member of the Supreme Council of National Resistance in Afghanistan, and called for a peaceful solution to the crisis in the country through conducting talks between all political and ethnic groups. Kazemi-Qomi stated that Iran maintains friendly ties with all political factions in Afghanistan and is willing to mediate between them to ensure peace and stability in the country. The Hazara Shia leader, Mohammad Mohaqiq, thanked Iran for the assistance it has given in recent years to the millions of Afghan refugees living in Iran, and expressed support for intra-Afghan dialogue to solve disagreements in the country (ISNA, December 26).
The meeting between the envoy of the Iranian president for Afghan affairs with the leader of the Afghan Islamic Unity Party. Source: ISNA, December 26
The Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Bahdor Aminian, stated in an interview to the Afghan TV network Tolo News (January 2) that Iran will not recognize the Taliban government as long as it does not include representatives from all of the country’s ethnic groups. He vowed that if a broad government was to be established in Afghanistan, Iran will encourage other countries to recognize it. Aminian warned of the continuation of the economic crisis in Afghanistan, asserting that the economic problems will produce continued emigration from the country and empower terrorist groups, and particularly ISIS, which will pose a threat to the entire region.
The Iranian consulate in Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan announced that it continues to provide humanitarian assistance to residents of Kunduz Province. The statement of the consulate reported that the assistance includes rice, flour, oil and other goods. The Tasnim news agency reported (December 31) that in recent months, Iran transferred 13 aid shipments to different regions across Iran. The report stated that the Deputy Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Seyyed Hassan Mortazavi, recently proclaimed that the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, stressed the need for Iran to continue providing humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan.
Iranian assistance to Afghanistan. Source: Tasnim, December 31
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau said during an interview with al-Jazeera that Hamas relations with Iran are strong, lasting for 30 years. however, he claimed Hamas would not fight a proxy war for anyone. He noted that Hamas had begun manufacturing rockets in 2008-2009 immediately after Operation Cast Lead and that Iran and other countries had supported the project. He even mentioned $70 million which he said Iran had transferred to support them (al-Jazeera, January 2, 2022).