During the Israeli military operation in Gaza (“Guardian of the Walls”), senior Iranian officials maintained constant contact with the senior leaderships of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. During the military escalation, the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Esmail Qa’ani, spoke on the phone with the head of Hamas’ politburo and the secretary general of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and stressed to them Iran’s support for the Palestinians. In addition, Qa’ani sent a message of support to the head of the Hamas’ military wing and the commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military wing. At the end of Israel’s military operation, the supreme leader of Iran issued a statement of support to the Palestinians and congratulated them for their “victory against the Zionist regime.” At the same time, the commander of the IRGC spoke with the head of Hamas’ politburo and the secretary general of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and vowed to maintain Iran’s support to the factions.
On May 22, following the visit of the Iranian minister of foreign affairs to Damascus, Iran opened a consulate in the city of Aleppo.
The Iranian minister of defense met with deputies of the ministers of trade and industry in Syria and discussed with them the participation of conglomerates linked to the Iranian ministry of defense in Syria’s reconstruction.
The Reuters news agency published a report claiming that over the past year, Iran established several small pro-Iranian factions, made up of several hundreds among the central Shia militias operating in Iraq. These groups answer directly to the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and are responsible for a series of attacks carried out in recent months against American forces in Iraq. According to this report, the establishment of these factions is intended to allow Iran to overcome the challenges it now faces due to Soleimani’s assassination, and act in a more clandestine manner while using new tactics, such as the deployment of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Iranian President Rouhani spoke on the phone with the Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Kazimi, and stressed the need to expand the economic ties between the two countries and accelerate the implementation of the plan to lay a railway from western Iran to Basra in southern Iraq, which was recently approved by the Iraq government.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared during his meeting with the German minister of foreign affairs that the armed UAV that was spotted and downed by the IDF in the Valley of Springs region (near the Jordanian border) on May 18, was deployed to Israel by Iran, from either Iraq or Syria.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
On May 22, Iran opened a consulate in Aleppo. The consulate was opened following the visit of the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to Damascus. During the visit, held on May 12, Zarif discussed the opening of the new consulate with senior regime officials, chief among them President Assad. The Iranian Ambassador to Damascus, Mehdi Sobhani, attended the opening ceremony of the consulate. The Iranian and Syrian ministers of foreign affairs participated in the ceremony via video link (ISNA, May 22).
On May 19, the Iranian Minister of Defense, Amir Hatami, met with Jamal Eddin Ibrahim Shuaib, the Syrian Deputy Minister of Internal Trade, and with Jamal al-Ammar, the Syrian Deputy Minister of Trade. Hatami remarked during the meeting that the conglomerates belonging to Iran’s Ministry of Defense are willing to participate in Syria’s reconstruction and providing Syria’s needs. He stressed that Iran will continue to assist Syria in preserving its territorial integrity and its reconstruction. The two Syrian deputy ministers thanked the Iranian minister of the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Syrian regime throughout the years of the civil war, and welcomed the participation of Iranian businessmen, from the private and public sector, in the reconstruction of their country (ISNA, May 19).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
A report published by the Reuters news agency (May 21) claimed that over the past year, Iran established a number of small pro-Iranian factions made up of several hundreds of fighters, which were carefully selected by the IRGC from the ranks of the pro-Iranian Shia militias operating in Iraq. These units, whose commanders answer directly to the Qods Force of the IRGC, are responsible for a series of attacks carried out in recent months against American forces in Iraq and targets in Saudi Arabia. Iraqi military sources, commanders of militias and Western diplomats told Reuters that the establishment of these factions is intended to allow Iran to overcome the challenges it is facing following Qasem Soleimani’s assassination. His successor, Esmail Qa’ani, does not enjoy the same clout Soleimani enjoyed among the Shia militias. In addition, the pro-Iranian militias are forced to operate more clandestinely due to the growing popular opposition in Iraq to Iranian meddling in the country. The establishment of the small factions and focusing on work with them, rather than with the large Shia militias in Iraq, allows Iran to operate more secretively, while using new tactics such as drone strikes. The report also claimed that in late 2020, at least 250 fighters arrived in Lebanon to participate in training led by IRGC advisers and Hezbollah members on the use of UAVs, rocket fire, laying explosive devices, and propaganda on social media.
On May 17, the President of Iran, Hasan Rouhani, spoke on the phone with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr. Rouhani told al-Kazimi that Iran sees Iraq’s stability and security as an indispensable element of its own security, and stressed the need to maintain cooperation between the two countries in the campaign against ISIS. Rouhani also called for expanding economic ties between the two countries and highlighted the need to accelerate the implementation of the project to lay a railway connecting the city of Shalamcheh in western Iran to Basra in southern Iraq; the project was recently approved by the Iraqi government. Rouhani remarked that Iran and Iraq can financially afford the implementation of the project Addressing the attacks of Iraqi protesters on the Iranian consulate in Karbala on May 9th, Rouhani called on the Iraqi government to act forcefully to prevent any harm to Iranian diplomatic missions within its borders (ISNA, May 17).
The Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, met with the Iraqi Minister of Agriculture, Karim al-Khafaji, and discussed expanding economic cooperation between the two countries in the spheres of agriculture, and coordinating the visit of the Iraqi minister of agriculture and an economic delegation from Iraq to Iraq. The two also discussed the bans that Iraq placed on the import of several agricultural products from Iran (IRNA, May 17). In late 2017, Iraq banned the import of several Iranian agricultural goods, arguing that it can produce sufficient quantities on its own.
On May 25, a parliamentary delegation headed by the Iraqi Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Hassan al-Kaabi, arrived for a visit in Tehran to participate in a special conference with representatives from 15 parliaments of Muslim countries to discuss the question of Palestine, following the Israeli military operation in Gaza. During the visit, the delegation met with the Deputy Speaker of the Majlis, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, and discussed expanding parliamentary and economic ties between the two countries (ISNA, May 24).
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
On May 15, the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Esmail Qa’ani, spoke on the phone with the Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Ismail Haniyyeh, and discussed the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. Qa’ani praised the acts of “resistance” against the “Zionists” and stressed Iran’s support for the Palestinians in light of the “aggression and crimes of the Zionist enemy in Jerusalem and Gaza.” Shortly after, Qa’ani also spoke to the secretary general of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhleh, and stressed that Iran is standing by the Palestinians who are defending their land and their rights. He also praised the improvement in the weaponry used by the Palestinian factions against Israel (Fars, May 15).
On May 20, Esmail Qa’ani sent a message of support to the Head of Hamas’ Military Wing, Mohammad Deif, and the Commander of the Military Wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (“al-Quds Brigades”), Akram al-Ajouri. Qa’ani congratulated Hamas, the Palestinians, and the residents of Gaza, and proclaimed that through their unity and perseverance, they were able to destroy the pridefulness of the Israeli Army and proved that they are capable of inflicting heavy losses to it, making the enemy experience the taste of horror and defeat. He added that the Palestinians proved that Jerusalem is not alone, and its rights can not be erased. Qa’ani expressed confidence in the victory of the Palestinians and liberation of Jerusalem and stressed that Iran will continue its support for the Palestinians until the destruction of the “Zionist regime” (al-Mayadin, May 20).
On May 16, Ali-Akbar Velayati, the Adviser on International Affairs to the Supreme Leader of Iran, who is also the executive director of the International Association for Muslim Awakening, spoke on the phone with the Secretary General of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhleh, and discussed developments in Gaza. Velayati declared that the defense of the Palestinian people is the obligation of all Muslims worldwide, and praised the heroism of the Palestinians, promising that Iran will maintain its support for them until the liberation of Jerusalem. Al-Nakhle thanked Iran for its support for the Palestinians and asserted that the “resistance” and defense of the al-Aqsa mosque will persist until the final victory. On May 17, Velayati also spoke with the Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Ismail Hanniyeh, and congratulated him for the Palestinians “victories” (ISNA, May 16-17).
The Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Ismail Hanniyeh, sent another message to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, detailing the developments in the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. Hanniyeh updated Khamenei regarding his diplomatic efforts to stop Israel’s actions, and highlighted the need to rally the Muslim, Arab and international community to stop the “enemies of the Zionist enemy” (Fars, May 18). This is Hanniyeh’s second letter to Khamenei since the start of the Israeli military operation in Gaza.
In his meeting with Heiko Maas, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated that Iran deployed and armed UAV into Israel from Iraq or Syria. He presented the German minister with an Iranian UAV that was identified and shot down in the area of the Valley of Springs on May 18, and stated that Iran provides the infrastructure terrorist organizations rely upon. The UAV entered through Jordanian territories and was shot down after being tracked by Israel’s air defense units (Ynet, May 20).
A rally in support of the Palestinians was held on May 19th in Tehran. During the rally, participants chanted against Israel and the United States and in support of the Palestinians. The rally was attended by the Commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, and the Representative of Hamas in Iran, Khaled Qodoumi, who thanked Iran for its support for the Palestinian “resistance.” Salami addressed the Palestinian people, wished for their speedy victory and proclaimed that “today, we are all Palestinians.” He detailed the accomplishments of the Palestinians, stating that for the first time in 60 years, thousands of missiles were launched toward Tel Aviv, and that nowhere is safe for the Zionists, and all the Iron Dome systems could not counter with thousands of Palestinian missiles. Salami asserted that Israel’s defeat attests to the defeat of the United States, and that the Americans were the first to depart Tel Aviv and can no longer rescue Israel. He added that the Palestinian cause has become international and is not limited to Gaza and the West Bank alone (Fars, May 19).
Rally in support for Palestine in Tehran.
(ISNA, May 19)
Following the ending of the Israeli military operation in Gaza, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, published a message of support for the Palestinians, in which he congratulated them for their “victory of the Zionist regime,” which had to concede its defeat, according to him. He claimed that Palestine will become stronger day-by-day, while Israel will grow even weaker. He added that the decision when to start and end the conflicts is that of the Palestinian leadership themselves, but the preparation for the fight is ongoing. Khamenei called on Muslim governments to support the Palestinians and provide them with military and financial assistance and help them in rebuilding the infrastructure and destruction in Gaza. The supreme leader of Iran also called to prosecute the heads of the “Zionist regime” in international courts, including prime minister Netanyahu personally. President Hasan Rouhani remarked that the Palestinian people achieved a great victory over the “occupying Zionist entity” and that the Palestinian people everywhere came together during the conflict (Fars, May 21).
The IRGC also issued a statement welcoming the “great victory of the Islamic resistance in Palestine.” The statement claimed that the operation brought Israel’s destruction closer and proved that the Zionists are the ones who from now on will have to leave in fear and terror while running to shelter. The statement also asserted that “the occupiers” know well that they will not be able to continue to oppress and kill innocent Palestinians, and that the Palestinian factions will no longer pay heed to Israel’s empty threats (Tasnim, May 21).
On May, the Commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, also spoke with the Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Ismail Hanniyeh. Salami praised the accomplishments of the “Palestine’s resistance groups” in the fight campaign against Israel and stated that Iran is willing to assist the Palestinians and the “forces of resistance” in all spheres. Hanniyeh thanked Salami for Iran’s support for the Palestinians. Shortly afterwards, Salami also spoke on the phone with the Secretary General of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhleh, and stressed Iran’s unyielding support for the Palestinians (IRNA, May 21). The Spokesman of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Abu Hamza, expressed his appreciation for Iran’s role and all the forces of the “resistance axis” that provided weaponry and knowledge and bolstered the hardware and technical capabilities of the organization (al-Mayadin, May 21).