The Iranian minister of defense met with the Syrian Air Force command in Tehran and discussed ways to bolster military and security cooperation between the two countries. Against the backdrop of the visit of the Syrian delegation to Tehran, Iranian media reported that Iran may provide Syria with Iranian-made air defense systems to help Syria protect itself from the continuing Israeli airstrikes in the country.
In early March, an Iranian parliamentary delegation arrived for a visit in Damascus to express solidarity with Syria following the earthquake. Meanwhile, the 15th Iranian cargo plane carrying humanitarian assistance landed in early March at the Aleppo International Airport. On the night of March 7, Syrian state media reported that Israel carried out airstrikes on the Aleppo Airport, leading to the suspension of its activity.
The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the pogrom in the town of Hawara south of Nablus. The spokesman called for an immediate and deterrent response from the international community to “the extreme and criminal behavior of the Zionist regime.”
The senior adviser on international affairs to the supreme leader of Iran spoke on the phone with the head of Hamas’ Politburo and the secretary general of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In the calls, he expressed Iran’s support for “the resistance of the Palestinian people against the Zionist occupation.”
In late February, the Iraqi minister of defense arrived for a visit in Tehran and met with senior Iranian officials to discuss bilateral security cooperation. The senior Iranian officials, including the Iranian minister of defense and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) expressed Iran’s willingness to assist in bolstering Iraq’s armed forces and developing its military industries.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
On February 22, Mohammad Reza Ashitaini, the Iranian Minister of Defense, met with the Commander of the Syrian Air Force, Salah al-Din Kaser al-Ghanem, and discussed ways to deepen military and security cooperation between the two countries. Ashtiani stressed that Iran sees great importance in bolstering Syria’s defenses to preserve and increase its deterrent power vis-à-vis various threats, and to establish stability and security in the region. He added that it is a strategic necessity for both countries to continue coordinating and consulting each other to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and protect its airspace, in light of the “evil actions of the Zionist regime.” He declared that Iran is seeking to increase and improve and military and security cooperation with Syria, since Iran is Syria’s strategic depth and Syria is Iran’s strategic depth. Al-Ghanem thanked Iran for its support to Syria, particularly following the earthquake, and remarked that Iran’s advances in the field of aerospace and air defense systems is a success for Syria and the entire Muslim world (al-Alam, February 22).
On February 24, Iranian TV reported that Iran may provide Syria with Iranian-made air defense system of the Khordad-15 type, including radars and ground-to-air missiles, to assist Syria in defending itself from ongoing Israeli airstrikes. According to this report, the provision of the system was stipulated in the agreement signed during the meeting of the Iranian minister of defense with the Syrian delegation headed by the commander of the Syrian Air Force in Tehran.
The Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Kanaani, addressed the normalization of ties between Syria and Arab countries in light of the visit of the Egyptian foreign minister to Damascus on February 27, the first such visit since the start of the Syrian civil war, and the meeting of President Assad with a delegation of speakers of parliament from the Arab world on February 26. In a tweet on his Twitter account (February 28), Kanaani remarked that the improvement in relations between Syria and the Arab world, including the visit of the Arab speakers of parliament to Damascus following the earthquake that hit Syria, constitute “a positive step in the path of Islamic solidarity.”
In early March, an Iranian parliamentary delegation headed by Abbas Kalro, the Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Iranian-Syrian Friendship Society, arrived for a visit to Damascus to expressed solidarity with Syria following the major earthquake that hit the country. During the visit, the delegation met with the Speaker of the Syrian Parliament, Hammouda Sabbagh, and with the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Faisal Mekdad. In the meeting with the delegation, Minister Mekdad expressed his country’s appreciation for Iran’s stance with Syria following the earthquake (SANA, March 1).
The 15th Iranian flight since the earthquake in Syria carrying humanitarian aid landed on March 2 at the Aleppo International Airport. The Iranian General Consul to Aleppo, Salman Navab Nouri, stated in an interview to the official state agency IRNA (March 2) that since the earthquake, Iran dispatched 422 tonnes of humanitarian assistance (food and medication) in 15 flights reaching three different airports in Syria: Damascus, Aleppo and Lattakia. On the night of March 7, Syrian state media reported about an Israeli strike on the Aleppo International Airport. The strike caused major material damage and lead to the suspension of the airport’s operation.
The pro-opposition Syrian website DeirEzzor24 reported (February 28) on tensions between Russian and Iranian forces in Syria following the incident when American forces stationed in northeastern Syria shot down an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on February 14. The UAV was downed after hovering above the military base located at the Conoco oil field in eastern Syria, where American forces are stationed. According to the report, whose reliability is unclear, following the event, an urgent meeting was held in Deir Ezzor between a Russian general and Hajj Kamil, one of the senior Iranian officers in the region. In addition, Russian forces stationed in the region were instructed to report on any Iranian movements in these areas.
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
The Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Kanaani, forcefully condemned the riot in the town of Hawara south of Nablus where Jewish settlers torched homes and cars belonging to Palestinians following a shooting attack in Hawara on February 26, which resulted in the death of two Israelis. In his weekly press conference, Kanaani declared that “the crimes of the Zionists” provide further proof to the terrorist nature of the “Zionist regime.” He demanded an immediate and deterrent reaction from the international community toward “the terror machine of the Zionist Apartheid regime.” Kanaani added that the extremist and criminal conduct of the “Zionist regime” once again proves that “the legitimate resistance to the Zionist occupiers” is the only path before the Palestinian people and resistance groups in Palestine (Fars, February 28).
On February 26, Ali Akbar Velayati, the Senior Adviser for International Affairs to the Supreme Leader of Iran, separately spoke on the phone with the Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Ismail Hanniyeh, and with the Secretary General of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhleh. Velayati expressed Iran’s support for the struggle and the resistance of the Palestinian people against “the Zionist occupation.” Al-Nakhleh stressed the determination of the Palestinian people to persist in their resistance to the occupation, and that the heroism of the Palestinian fighters proves that the Palestinian people will not break and will persist in its resistance until the liberation of Jerusalem and Palestine. In his conversation with Velayati, Hanniyeh praised the support the Islamic Republic has provided to the Palestinian causes and the “resistance” in Palestine (al-Mayadeen, February 26).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
In late February, the Iraqi Minister of Defense, Thabet Muhammad al-Abbasi, arrived for a visit in Tehran and met with senior administration officials. This is the first visit of al-Abbasi to Iran since the formation of the new Iraqi government. On February 25, al-Abbasi met with the Iranian Minister of Defense, Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, and discussed bilateral cooperation to ensure border security. Ashitani declared that the presence of terrorist groups in Iraq poses an evident threat to Iran’s national security, and now more than ever, there is a need for military, intelligence and security cooperation between the two countries. The Iranian minister of defense also remarked that the intervention of foreign countries in the region is intended to ensure the security of “the Zionist regime.” Ashitani expressed his country’s willingness to provide to Iraq tools and capabilities Iran’s military industry has developed. The Iraqi minister of defense thanked Iran for its support and remarked that Iraq’s armed forces are interested in making use of Iran’s capabilities to expand technical and technological cooperation between the two countries (DefaPress.ir, February 25).
During his visit to Tehran, the Iraqi minister of defense also met with a series of high-ranking Iranian officials including President Ebrahim Raisi; Mohammad Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces; the Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian Army, Abdolrahim Mousavi; and the Commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami. He discussed bilateral military and security cooperation with these top-ranking officials. During his meeting with al-Abbasi, President Raisi stated that Iraq should not serve as an origin point for threats to its neighbors. He remarked that Iran sees Iraq’s security as its own and supports bolstering Iraq’s stability and security. Al-Abbasi vowed that Iraq will not allow anyone to threated Iran’s security and stability. In his meeting with al-Abbasi, IRGC Commander Salami declared that Iran is interested in strengthening Iraq while the Americans and Zionists wish to take over the region and undermine security in Iraq and Iran. He stressed the importance of deepening cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the military and security sphere, and declared that the IRGC is willing to provide training to Iraqi’s armed forces and assist Iraq in all spheres (Tasnim; Fars, February 25, 26).
The news website Arabi Post reported based on Iranian and Iraqi sources (February 22), that the leader of the Sadrist Current in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, is expected to visit Iran in the coming months, as preparation for his return to political life. A knowledgeable Iraqi political source who is close to Iran told the website that during his visit to Tehran, al-Sadr will meet several Iranian officials, and particularly those responsible for managing the Iraqi file in Tehran, including senior officials in the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. The source remarked that Iran is interested in restoring political balance within the Shia camp in Iraq, and this requires the return of al-Sadr to political life in the country.
In early March, the Iraqi Minister of Higher Education, Naeem al-Aboudi, arrived for a visit to Tehran. On March 5, the Iranian visited the Iranian Organization for Scientific and Industrial Research and discussed with the Iranian Minister of Science, Research and Technology, Mohammad Ali Zolfigol, expanding technological cooperation between the two countries, including by establishing joint technological parks. The Iraqi minister expressed interest in expanding scientific cooperation between the two countries and stated that his county would be willing to admit Iranian students to higher education institutions in Iraq. The Iranian minister of sciences stressed the need to broaden scientific cooperation between the two nations and offered to hold meetings between the heads of universities, research centers and technological institutes in Iraq and Iran. In addition, the minister called for expanding the teaching of Persian in Iraqi universities and expanding the teaching of Arabic in universities based in Iran (Fars, March 5).