Spotlight on Iran

May 2, 2021 - May 13, 2021 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
A phone call between the Iranian and Syrian ministers of foreign affairs. (IRNA, May 5)

A phone call between the Iranian and Syrian ministers of foreign affairs. (IRNA, May 5)

Fatemiyoun Brigade during a commemoration of al-Qods Day in Damascus. (Telegram channel of the Afghan militia, May 8)

Fatemiyoun Brigade during a commemoration of al-Qods Day in Damascus. (Telegram channel of the Afghan militia, May 8)

Mehdi Sobhani, Iran’s newly appointed ambassador to Damascus. (Tasnim, May 9)

Mehdi Sobhani, Iran’s newly appointed ambassador to Damascus. (Tasnim, May 9)

Protesters set fire to the entrance to the Iranian consulate in Karbala. (Fars, May 9)

Protesters set fire to the entrance to the Iranian consulate in Karbala. (Fars, May 9)

The Iranian minister of energy and Iraqi minister of electricity during a meeting in Tehran. (Mehr, May 2)

The Iranian minister of energy and Iraqi minister of electricity during a meeting in Tehran. (Mehr, May 2)

The burning of Israeli and American flags to mark International al-Qods Day in Palestine Square in Tehran. (IRIB, May 7)

The burning of Israeli and American flags to mark International al-Qods Day in Palestine Square in Tehran. (IRIB, May 7)

The conference titled “the liberation of al-Qods is near.” (Fars, May 6)

The conference titled “the liberation of al-Qods is near.” (Fars, May 6)

Overview
  • Sources in Syria reported that the Afghan militia, the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which operates in Syria under the guidance of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has begun recruiting local Syrians into its ranks. The recruitment of local fighters is part of an ongoing trend of growing Iranian reliance on local manpower for its military activities in Syria.
  • Iran’s newly appointed Ambassador to Damascus, Mehdi Sobhani, assumed him position after it was confirmed by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sobhani, who previously served in the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran, as well as in Iran’s embassies in Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and the Ukraine, replaced Javad Torkabadi who recently completed his term as the ambassador.
  • Iraqi protesters in the city of Karbala in southern Iraq torched the wall of the Iranian consulate in the city. The protesters, who also chanted against Iranian meddling in their country, tried to set the consulate on fire after the killing of a local political activist, who was likely assassinated by pro-Iranian militias.
  • The American 5th Fleet succeeded in foiling a major weapon smuggling from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen. Meanwhile, the Iranian embassy in Ankara denied a Turkish report about the transfer of Syrian fighters by the IRGC to fight in Yemen.
  • The Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Ismail Hanniyeh, sent a message to the supreme leader of Iran, updating him about the latest developments in Jerusalem, and calling on the Muslim world to stand by the Palestinians in the struggle against Israel’s policies in the city, and to support to the Palestinian “resistance.” On the night of May 10, Hanniyeh spoke on the phone with the Iranian minister of foreign affairs and asked for Iran’s support for the Palestinians, in light of the latest escalation. On May 12, the Iranian minister of foreign affairs arrived for a meeting in Damascus with senior Syrian regime officials, as well as the heads of the Palestinian factions in Syria.
  • International al-Qods Day was marked in Iran without the usual organized rallies owing to COVID-19 restrictions. In several cities, local events were held to mark the day, including in Tehran, where a rally in support of the Palestinians was attended by several Iranian high-ranking officials and representatives from Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Houthis of Yemen. In a speech to mark the occasion, the Supreme Leader Khamenei, once again rejected Israel’s existence and called for continuing the armed struggle against it.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
  • On May 12, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, arrived for a visit in Damascus. During the visit, he met with senior Syrian regime officials and the heads of the Palestinian factions in Syria, and discussed developments in Syria and the region, and the Israeli-Palestinian escalation (IRNA, May 12).
  • On May 5, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, spoke with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal al-Miqdad. The two discussed bilateral relationship as well as regional and international developments. The Iranian minister of foreign affairs expressed Iran’s support for Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and stressed the legitimacy of the upcoming presidential elections. The Syrian minister of foreign affairs briefed Zarif on domestic dynamics in Syria ahead of the coming elections and invited him for a visit in Damascus (IRNA, May 5).
  • A pro-opposition Syrian news website reported that the headquarters of Fawj 47, an IRGC-backed Syrian militia that operates in the Deir Ezzor region in eastern Syria, dispatched about 200 fighters from the city of Albu Kamal and its environs to the headquarters of the militia, for a one-month training. The website also claimed that on May 1, a security-related meeting was held in Albu Kamal, with commanders of the IRGC attending. One issue that was discussed was the arrest of five members of the Fawj by Syrian Military Intelligence (Euphrates Post, May 2).
  • The Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade, which operates in Syria under IRGC guidance, began recruiting local Syrians into its ranks, and opened recruitment centers in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria and al-Kiswe, south of Damascus. Syrian sources reported that the militia intends to recruit about 2,000 fighters in all the regions under its control. The new recruits in Deir Ezzor are expected to receive a monthly salary of about 170,000 Syrian Lira, and the recruits around Damascus are expected to receive a salary of 200,000 Syrian Lira (Aram Media, May 8). The recruitment of Syrian into the ranks of Iranian-backed militias is part of an overall trend of increasing Iranian reliance on local manpower in its military activity in the country.
  • A Syrian news channel reported about the conversion of a Sunni mosque in the town of al-Ghabrah near Albu Kamal into a Shia religious center (Husseyniya). According to this report, pro-Iranian militias in eastern Syria announced turning the al-Batin Mosque in the town into a Husseyniya. Shia flags and posters were emplaced on the mosque, and the residents, entirely Sunni, were banned from approaching it. Iranian, Afghan and Iraqi guards were placed in the environs of the mosque (Twitter account @DeirEzzorNoew, May 3).
  • The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the nomination of Mehdi Sobhani as Iran’s incoming ambassador to Syria and he assumed his position on May 9. Prior to this, Sobhani served as the director of strategic planning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the general consul of Iran to Karachi in Pakistan, the deputy director on west Asian affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the deputy ambassador to Turkmenistan and the Ukraine (IRNA, May 9). Sobhani replaced Javad Torkabadi in his position as ambassador to Damascus.
Iranian Involvement in Iraq and Yemen
  • On May 9, Iraqi protesters in Karbala, southern Iraq, torched the walls of the Iranian consulate in the city. The protesters, who chanted against Iranian meddling in Iraq, tried to torch the embassy following the funeral of Iraqi activist, Ehab al-Wazni, who was likely assassinated by pro-Iranian militias in Karbala. The state-run Arabic-language TV channel of Iran, al-Alam, reported (May 9) that Iraqi security forces cleared dozens of protesters who gathered at the consulate. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, condemned the attack on the consulate and demanded that Iraqi authorities protect Iranian’s diplomatic representation offices in the country. The Iraqi ambassador to Tehran was démarched at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs following the event. Prior to the assault on the consulate, the Iranian consulate issued a condemnation of the assassination of the local activist. In November 2019, the Iranian consulate in Karbala, as well as the consulate in Najaf, were attacked by Iraqi protesters calling for an end to Iran’s meddling in their country’s domestic affairs.
  •  On May 2, the Iraqi Minister of Electricity, Majid Mahdi Hantoush, met in Tehran with the Iranian Minister of Energy, Reza Ardekanian, and discussed cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector, and settling Iraq’s debt to Iran for the import of gas and electricity. Hantoush announced that the two countries reached an understanding concerning continuing the supply of gas and electricity from Iran to Iraq. Hantoush thanked Iran for the assistance it has given to Iraq in recent years in supplying electicity, and remarked that Iraq is still unable to supply all of its electricity needs by itself. He added that Iranian firms are operating in Iraq in various sectors, including in the establishment of new power stations (IRNA, May 2).
  • The American Navy’s 5th Fleet announced that it managed to prevent, on May 6-7, the smuggling of weapons from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen in the northern Arabian Sea. The weaponry being smuggled included dozens of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) manufactured by Russia, thousands of AK-56 assault rifles made in China, hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and grenade launchers (Reuters, May 8). Meanwhile, the Iranian embassy in Ankara denied a report published by the Turkish Anadolu News Agency, claiming that about 120 Syrian fighters were dispatched by the IRGC to Yemen, to fight alongside the Houthis. According to the report, the fighters would receive a monthly salary of 500 dollars. The statement of the Iranian embassy asserted that the report reflects lack of knowledge about the reality on the ground, and that Iran supports the end of the war in Yemen and diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis in the country (IRNA, May 9).
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
  •  International al-Qods Day was marked in Iran on May 7 (the last Friday in the month of Ramadan). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the day, which is intended to express the support for the Palestinian cause and the “liberation of Jerusalem” by Iran and the Muslim World, was marked without organized rallies, although several cities witnessed local events to mark the day.
  • On the eve of International al-Qods Day, a number of Iranian state institutions and organization issued statements of support for the Palestinians and called for continuing the Palestinian struggle against the “Zionist regime.” On May 6th, Tehran witnessed a conference titled “the liberation of al-Qods is near,” attended by Hojjat-ul-Islam Mohsen Mahmoudi, the Head of the Coordinating Committee for Islamic Propagation ; Abdullah Safi al-Din, the Representative of Hezbollah in Tehran; Muhammad Mustafa Juheir, the Palestinian Deputy Ambassador to Tehran; Khaled Qodoumi, the Representative of Hamas in Tehran; Nasser Abu Sharif, the Representative of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Tehran; and Ibrahim Mohammed al-Daylami, the Ambassador of Houthi-controlled Yemen to Iran. The speakers at the events stressed the importance of the Palestinian cause and the need to continue down the path of “resistance,” and praised Iran’s unyielding support for the Palestinians, and pointed to the challenges facing the Palestinians, including the ongoing conflict with Israel, American support for Israel, and the internal divide among the Palestinians (Fars, May 6).
  • In his speech on the occasion of al-Qods Day, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, rejected Israel’s existence and called for continuing with the strategy of “resistance.” He remarked that the Palestinian issue continues to be the top question for the Muslim nation and that the “Zionist regime” is the byproduct of a capitalist-communist plot, headed by Britain and assisted by Zionist capitalists. Khamenei claimed that from the first day of Israel’s existence, the Zionists turned Palestine into a base for terrorism, and that Israel is not a state, but a terrorist outpost against the Palestinian people and the rest of the Muslim nations. He remarked that the struggle against Israel is a struggle against oppression and terrorism and is a communal obligation. Khamenei declared that the balance of power has changed in favor of the Muslim world, and it is the duty of Muslim countries to cooperate with one another concerning the questions of Palestine and Jerusalem. He condemned the normalization efforts between Israel and Arab countries, which, he claimed, are doomed to fail. He declared that the downfall of the “Zionist enemy” has commenced and will not be stopped. Khamenei addressed Arab countries in Arabic, calling on them to realize their responsibility toward Palestine. In addition, the supreme leader of Iran called for preserving the internal unity among the Palestinians against their main enemies: The United States, Britain and the Zionists, and continue to struggle against Israel, until the “Zionists” will be forced to accept holding a referendum among the original inhabitants of Palestine to determine the country’s fate. He discussed what he termed Israel’s growing weakness, which manifests in a political crisis, in Israel’s defeats in Lebanon and Gaza, and the desire of many Jews to emigrate from Israel. On the other hand, the resistance camp is bolstering its capabilities and military might, he argued (Fars, May 7).
  • Following the ongoing escalation in Jerusalem, the Head of Hamas’ Politburo, Ismail Hanniyeh, sent a missive to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and updated him about developments in Israel and Israel’s activities in the city. Hanniyeh called on the Muslim world to adopt a clear position of support for Jerusalem’s residents and stop the “crimes of the Israeli occupiers” and the aggression of the settlers. Hanniyeh asked Khamenei to assist in rallying Muslim, Arab and international public opinion against Israel’s ongoing activities in Jerusalem, and in support of the “resistance” of the Palestinians (Tasnim, May 9). On May 10, Hanniyeh spoke on the phone with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zarif, and updated him about developments in Jerusalem and in Gaza. Hanniyeh asked Zarif that Iran support the “resistance of the Palestinian people,” and Zarif stressed Iran’s support for the Palestinian people (Fars, May 10).