Senior Iranian officials implicitly accused Israel and the United States of assassinating the senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) office, Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, on May 22 in Tehran, and vowed revenge.
The spokesperson of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) exposed a route used to smuggle parts of advanced weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah, overseen by Seyyed Reda Safi al-Din, the son of Seyyed Hisham Safi al-Din, the Chairman of Hezbollah’s Executive Council.
Iranian responses to the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Lebanon clearly displayed an attempt to downplay the weakening of the pro-Hezbollah camp and bolstering of its Lebanese opponents. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that Iran does not interfere in domestic Lebanese politics. Media outlets affiliated with the conservative faction in Iran rejected the analysis by Western media outlets that Hezbollah was dealt a major blow in the elections and stressed that the opponents of the organization also do not possess a majority to form a government.
The news website al-Araby al-Jadid reported on a new Iranian mediation initiative led by the incoming Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, aimed at facilitating the formation of a new government in Iraq. According to this report, Iranian officials are set to conduct meetings with the major political blocs in Iraq to advance an agreement between the Sadrist Current and the pro-Iranian Shia parties.
Economic and cultural Iranian activity in the Middle East: A senior Iranian energy official paid a visit to Syria and met with Syrian officials concerning expanding cooperation between the two countries in the sectors of energy and electricity; the Damascus Chamber of Industry and the Joint Iranian-Syrian Chamber of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the expansion of cooperation in the sectors of industry and finance; the deputy minister of Islamic Guidance used the International Book Fair in Tehran to promote cultural and literary cooperation with Syria; and a memorandum of understanding was signed between the communication authorities of Iraq and Iran.
Israel – Iran
Iranian officials implicitly accused Israel and the United States of assassinating the senior IRGC officer, Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, on May 22 in Tehran, and vowed to avenge his death. The New York Times reported that Israel had confirmed to the United States that it was responsible for the assassination. According to the report he has been involved in the past two years in terrorist attacks against Israelis, Europeans and Americans around the world (The New York Times, May 25, 2022).
Upon his departure to a visit to Oman, the President of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, declared that the vengeance for the blood of the senior Iranian official is inevitable. He remarked that the hands of “global arrogance” [a term used to describe the West, and particularly the United States] are behind the killing, and that those who were defeated by the defenders of the holy [Shia] shrines in Syria [implying, Israel and the United States] and they are demonstrating their desperation through such actions (Fars, May 23). The Spokesman of the IRGC, Ramazan Sharif, accused the intelligence services of “the global hegemonic Zionist regime” of carrying out the assassination, and declared that his killing will only increase the determination of the IRGC to defend the security and national might of Iran, and to struggle against its enemies, chief among them “the Zionist regime” and “the terrorist American regime” (Tasnim, May 23).
Iranian Involvement in Syria and Lebanon
On May 20, the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesperson revealed a smuggling operation of advanced military components from Iran to Hezbollah overseen by Seyyed Reda Said al-Din, the son of Seyyed Hisham Safi al-Din, the Chairman of Hezbollah’s Executive Council. The son of the senior official is married to Zainab Soleimani, the daughter of the former Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Qasem Soleimani, and has been exploiting Lebanese infrastructure to facilitate the smuggling of weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah. The IDF spokesperson added that Safi al-Din’s son is using his frequent visits to Iran to coordinate the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, using Hezbollah militants, who bring the military components on board civilian flights from Tehran to a European country, and from there on civilian flights to Damascus or Beirut.
In a first official response following the announcement of results of the parliamentary elections in Lebanon, the Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, claimed in his weekly press conference that Iran has always stood on the side of the Lebanese people and has not interfered in domestic Lebanese politics. He remarked that the Lebanese people are the ones who decide on issues related to their country, and that all countries ought to respect the people’s decision, and Iran too respects this decision (IRNA, May 16).
Iranian media outlets affiliated with the conservative camp rejected the analysis dominating Western media following the elections that Hezbollah had suffered a major blow. A commentary published by the newspaper Kayhan (May 18) claimed that Hezbollah’s political opponents failed in their efforts to harm the status of the “resistance” and its supporters. Hezbollah has been able to maintain its social and political power while currents affiliated with the West and Saudi Arabia, which supported the protests launched on October 17, 2019, failed to achieve significant achievements. The Mehr news agency reported about the “failure of the psychological campaign against Hezbollah in the elections.” A commentary published by the agency (May 18) argued that the “resistance” camp did lose the majority it enjoyed in parliament, but this does not mean that its opponents now have the majority required to form a government. Therefore, there is no basis for the claim concerning “Hezbollah’s electoral defeat,” although the elections’ results do complicate the situation in Lebanon, particularly in light of the growing strength of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea’s anti-Hezbollah party.
The website Nour News, which is associated with the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, claimed in a commentary published following the announcement of the election results (May 20) that none of the political currents in Lebanon has been able to gain a parliamentary majority and make decision on its own. The commentary assessed that the selection of a prime minister will encounter a great deal of difficulties, and that Lebanese is facing a new political crisis. According to the website “the American-Saudi axis” has been trying to use the election results to create an internal crisis within Hezbollah and sow discord within the “resistance” camp, which has become the most influential current in the Middle East in recent years.
The Iranian Ambassador to Syria, Mehdi Sobhani, called for expanding economic activity between Tehran and Damascus. He made the statement at the signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding concerning the expansion of cooperation in the sectors of industry and finances, signed by the Damascus Chamber of Industry and the Iranian-Syrian Joint Chamber of Commerce. The memorandum of understanding concerned the expansion of exports of Syrian products to markets in Iran, planning for establishing permanent fairs displaying Syrian products in Iran, as well as holding conferences for industrialists from both countries. The Iranian ambassador expressed Tehran’s determination to expand its economic and trade ties with the Syrian private sector and remarked that the Iranian embassy in Syria is investing a great deal of effort in overcoming the challenges faced by industrialists from both countries. The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Damascus Chamber of Industry, Samer al-Debs, called on Iranian traders to establish strategic industrial projects in Syria. The Chairman of the Joint Chamber of Commerce, Fahd Darwish, declared that the signed memorandum of understanding aims to expand cooperation between the two chambers and encourage traders, capitalists, and industrialists from both countries to carry out joint investments in various sectors. He announced that a trade and industrial delegation from Syria will soon visit Iran (ISNA, May 17).
In mid-May, the Executive Director of the Iranian Electrical Power Equipment Manufacturing and Provision Company (SATKAB), Mojtaba Akbari, arrived for a visit in Syria, representing the Iranian Ministry of Energy. He discussed with Syrian official the expansion of cooperation between the two countries in the sectors of energy and electricity. In the meeting with the Iranian Ambassador to Syria, Mehdi Sobhani, the two discussed the possibility of advancing Iranian projects in the sectors of energy, and the activity of Iranian companies in Syria in the sectors of water and electricity, and promotion of Iranian investments in Syria. In his meeting with the Syrian Minister of Electricity, Ghasan al-Zamil, Akbari stated that the shortage of energy, and specifically electricity, experienced by Syria, provides opportunities for state and private companies in Iran to provide the needs of Syria in this sphere. He invited the Syrian minister to visit Iranian factories manufacturing electrical equipment (ILNA, May 20).
On May 17, Yaser Ahmadvand, the Deputy Minister of Islamic Guidance who is also serving as the Director of the International Book Fair currently held in Tehran, met with the Director of the Arab Writers Association of Syria, Ibrahim Hourani, and with the Director of Publishers in Syria, Haytham al-Hafez, and called for bolstering Iran’s cultural presence in Syria. He claimed that the Iranian presence in Syria is “a cultural presence and not an economic or a military one” and that media exposure and cultural cooperation should be expanded between the two nations. The Iranian deputy minister added that there are many opportunities for cultural-literary cooperation between the two countries, and that Iran is interested in increasing the number of exchange visits of Syrian and Iranian publishers and authors, and also augment the number of Iranian authors published in Syria, which may serve as a bridge between Iran and the entire Arab world (IBNA, May 17).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
On May 17, the incoming Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Mohammad Kazem Al-e Sadegh, presented his letter of credence to the President of Iraq, Barham Salih. In his meeting with the Iraqi president, the ambassador stressed the need to expand political and economic ties between the two countries, and to bolster international and regional cooperation in the war on terror. On May 16, the incoming ambassador met with the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fuad Hussein, and discussed bilateral ties. The ambassador called for the Joint Political Committee of Iran and Iraq to hold a meeting in the near future at the level of deputy foreign ministers. Additionally, the ambassador asked Iraqi authorities to cooperate in organizing the pilgrimage of Iranians to Arbaeen, marking the end of the 40 days of mourning over the death of Shia Imam Hussein Ibn Ali. The ceremonies are set to be held in Karbala, Iraq, in September 2022 (IRNA, May 17).
The Qatari news website al-Araby al-Jadid reported (May 20) based on three Iraqi political sources, about a new Iranian mediation initiative led by the incoming Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Mohammad Al-e Sadegh, intended to reduce tensions between the various political currents in Iraq and facilitate the formation of a new government in Iraq. According to this report, as part of the new Iranian initiative, Iranian officials are set to meet separately with the leaders of the major political blocs in Iraq in an effort to restart talks between them concerning government formation, which came to a halt a few weeks ago. Through this initiative, Iran is hoping to further understandings between the Sadrist Current led by Muqtada Sadr and the Coordination Framework (the bloc of pro-Iranian Shia parties). According to the report, in recent days, the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad held a series of meetings and phone calls with senior Iraqi politicians (Shia, Sunni and Kurds), utilizing his command of the Arabic language, his diplomatic experience, and his ties with the Sadrist Current, which are better than those his predecessor, the departing Ambassador Iraj Masjedi, possessed with the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament. A member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) assessed in an interview to al-Araby al-Jadeed that the chances of success of the Iranian mediation effort are close to zero, given the position of Muqtada al-Sadr, who rejects the participation of Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law party in the government, and the waning influence of Iran over Iraq’s political scene following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.
On May 22, Ali Fahim Danesh, the Advisor to the President of Iran and Director for International Affairs at the Iranian Broadcasting Authority, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Executive Director of the Board of Governors of Iraq’s Communications Authority, Nabil Jasim Mohammad. According to the senior Iranian official, the memorandum aims to facilitate expanding the cooperation between the communication authorities in both countries in various media spheres, including production of TV series and movies, and technical cooperation (YJC.Ir, May 22).
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
On May 15, the Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, paid a visit to the Palestinian embassy in Tehran and signed a book of condolences, which was presented at the embassy to commemorate the Palestinian al-Jazeera journalist, Shirin Abou Aqleh, who was killed on May 11 in Jenin. Khatibzadeh condemned the killing, blamed Israel for it, and sent his condolences to her family and the Palestinian people (website of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 15).