Syrian pro-opposition sources reported that Iran deployed new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the T-4 Air Base of the Syrian Army in eastern Homs and began operating them in reconnaissance missions as part of the campaign led by Iranian-backed forces in the Badia desert.
The Iranian deputy president met with the Syrian ambassador to Tehran and discussed bilateral ties and developments in the region. During the meeting, the Iranian officials called on the ambassador to facilitate the implementation of agreements and memoranda of understanding concerning cooperation between the two countries that have been signed in years prior.
The Iranian Ambassador to Yemen, Hasan Irloo, has died of COVID-19. Irloo, who previously served in the ranks of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was appointed as the ambassador to the war-torn country in October 2020.
The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennet, to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), declaring that the visit destabilizes the security of the region and is contrary to the interests of the Muslim world and Arab countries.
The Iranian deputy minister of foreign affairs spoke on the phone with the head of Hamas’ Politburo on the anniversary of the group’s establishment. In the call, the Iranian official stressed the importance of “the resistance” in achieving the historical rights of the Palestinian people.
The Iranian minister of foreign affairs attended an emergency summit of the Islamic Cooperation Organization that was held in Islamabad concerning Afghanistan. The official highlighted the humanitarian assistance Iran has provided to the citizens of Afghanistan and called for establishing an Islamic fund that will finance humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Iranian deputy ambassador to Kabul met with the deputy prime minister of the Taliban government, and with the former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and discussed with them developments in the country.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
Pro-opposition Syrian sources reported that Iran deployed two new UAVs to the T-4 Air Base of the Syrian Army in eastern Homs. According to these reports, Iran transferred the two reconnaissance UAVs through Iraq to the air base to utilize them in the military campaign against ISIS in eastern Syria, which is being waged by Iranian-backed militias, Russian-supported Syrian forces, and the Syrian Army. ISIS has recently stepped up the pace of its attacks against pro-Assad forces in the region. Iran reportedly used two military trucks with Iraqi license plates to smuggle the UAVs through an informal border crossing between Syria and Iraq, which is controlled by the IRGC and the Iranian-backed Fatemiyoun Brigade, an Iranian-backed Afghan militia (the Telegram channel modafe_haram2, December 10). The pro-opposition Syrian outlet Ayn al-Furat reported (December 13) that a few days after the deployment of the UAVs to the air base, they carried out three reconnaissance flyovers in the Hayan Mountain area southeast of Homs. On December 11, Ayn al-Furat reported the reinforcement of pro-Iranian militias in the T-4 Base area with military trucks, armored vehicles, and ambulances, which were transferred from the Deir Ezzor area.
The Syrian outlet Ayn al-Furat reported (December 14) based on a local source about the arrival of a military delegation linked to the IRGC to the command post of the 123rd Regiment of the Syrian Army east of al-Hassakeh. According to this report, the delegation landed on December 14th in the Qamishli military airbase, and arrived to the base of the 123rd Regiment under the protection of the 4th Division of the Syrian Army. The delegation was made up of six military officials linked to the IRGC. The source claimed that the meeting took place despite Russian opposition to it, fearing that it would lead to frictions with American forces operating in the region. The report also claimed that the visit of the delegation was intended to gain an Iranian foothold in the region and allow Iranian-backed militias to establish a permanent military presence in the area, which would operate under the protection of the 123rd Regiment.
Syrian opposition sources reported that about 60 Iraqi Shia families recently took over homes in Palmyra, with assistance and encouragement of the IRGC and the pro-Iranian militias present in the city. The outlet interpreted the move as part of an Iranian effort to change the demographic composition of the city. According to the report, the families moved from Albu Kamal city to buildings in Palmyra that were taken over by pro-Iranian militias (Ayn al-Furat, December 16).
On December 6, Mohammad Hosseini, the Iranian Deputy President for Parliamentary Affairs, met with the Syrian Ambassador to Tehran, Shafiq Dayoub, and discussed with him bilateral relations. Hosseini stated that the government of President Ebrahim Raisi sees the expansion of ties with its neighbors in the region, and particularly Syria, as a top priority, describing Syria as an “ally” and a “strategic partner” of Iran. He declared that Iran is willing to play a prominent role in Syria’s reconstruction and will not spare efforts in safeguarding the territorial integrity of Syria and defending the Syrian regime against its enemies. The Iranian deputy president insisted that American forces must withdraw from Syria and Iraq, as they have retreated from Afghanistan after 20 years, and condemned the ongoing airstrikes in Syria, which have been attributed to Israel. Hosseini called on the Syrian ambassador to facilitate the implementation of agreements concerning expansion of cooperation that were signed by Iran and Syria (IRNA, December 11).
The meeting between the Iranian deputy president and the Syrian ambassador to Tehran. Source: IRNA, December 11
Iranian Involvement in Iraq and Yemen
The Chairman of the Iranian Trade Development Organization, Alireza Peymanpak, called on Iranian firms to invest in joint ventures in Iraq and thus bolster the economic cooperation between the two nations. In a meeting with the chairman of the Kirkuk Chamber of Commerce in northeastern Iraq, Peymanpak pointed to three specific spheres in which Iranian involvement can assist in expanding trade ties between the two countries: joint ventures in sectors such as food products and rebuilding industrial capacity in Kirkuk province; expanding the export of technical services and engineers from Iran to Iraq; and holding a first fair of Iranian companies in the province. The chairman of the Kirkuk Chamber of Commerce stressed in his meeting with Peymanpak the capacities that Iran possesses in the fields of industry and agriculture and asked for the support of the Iranian Trade Development Organization in bolstering the commercial ties between businesspeople and traders in Kirkuk with Iranian companies. Mehdi Shoushtari, the Iranian Consul General in Sulaymaniyah, also took part in the meeting. He remarked that about 40 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves are located in Kirkuk province, which provides an excellent opportunity for Iranian-Iraqi cooperation in many projects in the region (ISNA, December 10).
On December 21, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the death by COVID-19 of the Iranian Ambassador to Yemen, Hasan Irloo. A few days prior, the spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that Irloo contracted the virus and was brought back to his country, with the assistance of several countries in the region, for emergency medical care (ISNA, December 18). Irloo previously served in the ranks of the IRGC’s Qods Force and was appointed as ambassador to Yemen in October 2020. The update about his status was provided against the backdrop of a Wall Street Journal report (December 17) about possible tensions between the Iranian regime and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. According to this report, the Houthis recently asked Saudi Arabia, which controls Yemen’s air space, to allow Irloo to return to his country on a direct flight, while promising not to appoint another ambassador in his place. Sources told the American newspaper that the Iranian ambassador continued to hold numerous meetings in Yemen and that there is no evidence that he was infected by COVID-19. A Saudi source told Wall Street Journal that the request of the Houthis may indicate the existence of tensions between Iran and the Houthis. Over the past year, a number of rounds of negotiations were held between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which focused on the crisis in Yemen and ways to settle it. A member of the Politburo of the Houthis in Yemen, Abdulmalik al-Ajari wrote on his Twitter account (December 18) that the Iranian ambassador in Yemen left the country to receive medical treatment, and there is no truth to the rumors spread by foreign media outlets about disagreements between the Houthis and Iran. The Spokesman of the Houthis, Mohammed Abdulsamam, claimed on his Twitter account (December 18) that the Iranian ambassador was returned to his country as part of an understanding reached between Iranian and Saudi officials, mediated by Iraq, and that there is no basis to the report published by the American daily.
Following Irlo’s death, Iran blamed Saudi Arabia for delaying its transfer to Iran for appropriate medical treatment. Senior Iranian officials, led by Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, praised him and stressed his contribution to advancing Iran’s interests in the region.
The Iranian Ambassador to Yemen, Hasan Irloo. Source: Fararu.ir, December 21
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
Iran condemned the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennet, to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, declared that the welcome offered to the Israeli prime minister by the UAE undermines the security of the region, is contrary to the interests of the Muslim nation and Arab countries, and will be etched into the memory of the Palestinian people and the people of the region. He warned of any step that will provide a foothold to the “destructive presence of the fake regime” in the region. Khatibzadeh added that the people of the region do not forget the “evil and vengeful actions of the Zionist regime,” which are the main cause of suffering in the region, ad oppose normalization with it. He stressed Iran’s support to continuing the struggle against Israel until the “liberation of Jerusalem” (ISNA, December 13).
On December 14, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein-Amir Abdollahian, spoke on the phone with the Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Ismail Hanniyeh, on the anniversary of the group’s establishment. He called Hamas “the vanguard of the Islamic Resistance for liberating Jerusalem,” and declared that “the resistance” has a central role in realizing the historical rights of the Palestinian people. Abdollahian condemned the decision of the United Kingdom’s government to declare Hamas as a terrorist organization, calling it “a political move against the Palestinian people.” He claimed that “the fake Zionist regime” is the source and root of all problems in the region, and therefore, the handful of countries that are normalizing relations with it are acting against the security and interests of the region and the Muslim nation. Hanniyeh thanked Iran for its long-standing support for the Palestinians, and condemned the normalization of ties between Israel and a number of Arab countries (ISNA, November 14).
The Deputy Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Musa Abu Marzuq, stated an interview to the Tasnim news website (December 14) that Iran plays an important and influential role in bolstering the deterrence and defensive capacities of the “resistance” in Palestine. He mentioned that Iran provided Hamas with weaponry and technology and assisted it in developing its arsenal of missiles and rockets, so that now they are able to strike all areas of “occupied Palestine.”
Musa Abu Marzuq in an interview to Tasnim. December 18
Iranian Involvement in Afghanistan
The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein-Amir Abdollahian, called for establishing a broad national unity government in Afghanistan, that would represent all segments of society. In a speech he delivered during an emergency summit of the Islamic Cooperation Organization, held on December 19 in Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, Abdollahian stated that over 5,000 Afghan refugees are entering Iran daily, and that in recent months, Iran provided more than 13 shipments of humanitarian aid to various cities across Afghanistan. The Iranian minister of foreign affairs called for establishing a fund of Muslim countries to finance the humanitarian assistance Afghanistan requires. During the summit, Abdollahian met with Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Foreign Minister of the Taliban government (Fars, December 19).
The meeting of the Iranian minister of foreign affairs with the Taliban’s minister of foreign affairs. Source: Fars, December 19
On December 15, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Taliban government, Mula Abdul Salam Hanafi, met with the Deputy Iranian Ambassador to Kabul, Hasan Mortazevi. In the meeting, the deputy ambassador of Iran referred to implementation of economic agreements signed between the two countries during the visit last month of the Special Envoy of the Iranian President to Afghan Affairs, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi. During the meeting, the deputy ambassador addressed the need to maintain cooperation and provision of humanitarian assistance from Iran to the people of Afghanistan ahead of the winter season. The deputy prime minister of the Taliban government discussed the economic challenges facing his country, and the advances that have been made in the field of governance across Afghanistan, according to him (yjc.ir, December 15). On December 18, the Iranian deputy ambassador in Kabul met with the former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and discussed the situation in the country. The former president stressed the need to secure stability and calm in Afghanistan, and called on the Taliban to allow for broad participation of Afghanistan’s people in the government (Tasnim, December 18).
The meeting of the Iranian deputy ambassador with the Taliban deputy prime minister. Source: YJC.IR, December 15
The Iranian Consul General in Mazar-e Sharif, Hassan Yahyavi, reported that the Iranian consulate provided assistance to 350 families as part of the Iranian aid operation to Afghanistan. He reported that food, fuel and blankets were delivered to the hundreds of displaced and needy families and that the humanitarian assistance will continue to be provided in the future (IRNA, December 18).