A senior official in the Iranian ministry of defense said that in view of Israel’s increased threats to Syria, Iran was interested in upgrading Syria’s aerial defense systems.
The Washington Post, based on leaked Pentagon documents, reported that Iran and its allies were planning attacks on American armored vehicles in Syria. The Post also reported that Russian, Iranian and Syrian military and intelligence personnel had met in November 2022 and decided to establish a coordination center to promote activities leading to the withdrawal of the American forces in Syria.
A Syrian news website reported the completion of an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) training course for Syrian fighters in the pro-Iranian militias in eastern Syria. Such activities indicate that Iran continues to increase its reliance on local Syrian fighters in the militias operating in Syria under IRGC aegis.
At the end of May the head of Iranian Broadcasting (IRIB) visited Lebanon, where he met with Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament.
At the end of May Iraq’s national security advisor arrived in Tehran for a visit, where he met with the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. They discussed implementing the agreement for security along the Iraq-Iran border; the issue of border security was also discussed by the interior ministers of both countries.
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
A senior official in Iran’s defense ministry said Iran wanted to strengthen the Syrian army by upgrading its aerial defense systems. Interviewed by the Fars News Agency on May 29, 2023, Hamzah Qalandari said that while Syria did have aerial defense capabilities, Israel’s threats against Syria were growing and Iran was prepared to stand with its “Syrian brothers” strengthen its aerial defenses by upgrading some of its equipment or making tactical changes. He also said that Iran, with the support of other countries, including Russia, wanted to help Syria extend its control to include the entire country.
On June 1, 2023, based on leaked Pentagon documents The Washington Post reported that Iran and its allies were planning to attack American armored vehicles in Syria. According to the report, at the end of January 2023 the IRGC’s Qods Force had overseen the test of an anti-tank explosive device in Dumayr, east of Damascus. In February 2023 Kurdish forces foiled a triple IED attack on American forces in northeast Syria. According to another document, in November 2022 senior Russian, Iranian and Syrian military and intelligence officials met and agreed to set up a coordination center to direct a campaign which would lead to the withdrawal of the American forces from Syria and make it possible for President Assad to restore his control over the territories in eastern Syria which were currently controlled by American-supported Kurds.
On June 5, 2023, the Saudi Arabian TV channel al-Hadath reported that the attack against Aleppo on May 1, 2023, attributed to Israel, targeted a new Iranian unit operating in Syria. According to the report, the new secret unit, called “18340,” manufactures precise missiles on Syrian territory. The unit is operated by the Qods Force and is composed of Iranian and Syrian commanders, led by Javad Soleimani.
A Syrian news website reported that on June 2, 2023, the IRGC held a ceremony for graduates of a military course at a training camp in the Deir ez-Zor region of eastern Syria. According to the report, the 25-day course for 72 cadets was held at the camp in the town of Ayyash east of Deir ez-Zor. Most of the cadets were recruited from villages east of Deir ez-Zor, while some were from the Homs region. The graduation ceremony included a military parade and exhibition shooting exercises, and was attended by IRGC officers. After the ceremony the graduates were inducted into service in the Iranian-controlled facility in the center of Deir ez-Zor. The report also stated that the IRGC planned to open a new military training course in the town of al-Mayadin, east of Deir ez-Zor, at the beginning of July (North Press Agency, June 3, 2023).
On June 4, 2023, the Iran-Syria Friendship Association in eastern Syria held a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution. The ceremony was coordinated with the Syrian ministry of culture and the Iranian Cultural Center in Deir ez-Zor. Present were Iranian representatives led by Hajj Rasoul, in charge of the Iranian cultural centers in eastern Syria, representatives of the Syrian regime and the heads of local tribes. The ceremony included the screening of a documentary film of Khomeini’s life and an exhibition displaying his achievements (nahermedia, June 4, 2023).
At the end of May, Payman Jebeli, head of Iranian Broadcasting (IRIB), visited Lebanon. On May 28, 2023, he met with Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah to discuss “resistance axis” activities in the media and the political and media challenges of “resistance to the Zionist enemy” (ISNA, May 28, 2023). He also met with Ziyad al-Nakhalah, PIJ secretary general, and Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, and was taken on a tour of the Maroun al-Ras region on the Israel-Lebanon border.
Meeting with Ziyad al-Nakhalah, he praised the “most recent victory of the resistance over the Zionist regime” (ISNA, May 30, 2023). He stated that “the resistance axis’ victories changed the regional map” and the media had to invest greater efforts to explain those victories. He stressed the need to expand cooperation between Iranian Broadcasting and the media outlets of the “resistance front” (IRIB website, May 30, 2023).
Iran’s national broadcasting is the Islamic Revolution’s main outlet for disseminating its positions and ideology. Its international service operates in various foreign languages as part of Iran’s efforts to establish its position and ties to Muslims around the globe through “soft power.” Iran also supports Hezbollah’s media empire, which has a broad network of conventional media outlets (TV, radio and newspapers), Internet sites and social networks. The network is an effective tool for disseminating messages serving Hezbollah and Iranian strategy. The IRIB director is personally appointed by the supreme leader.
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
The Palestinian al-Ansar Charitable Association announced to the families of shaheeds of the second intifada, Operation Protective Edge, Operation Guardian of the Walls and the return marches held at the Gaza-Israel border that between June 4 and 15, 2023, financial assistance from the Association and from the Iranian Martyrs’ Foundation would be distributed (al-Ansar Facebook page, June 2, 2023). It was the second time this year that the Association, with support from the Iranian Martyrs’ Foundation, would distribute aid to families; the previous distribution was in March 2023, before Ramadan. In the meantime, it was also reported that on May 30, 2023, the al-Ansar Association and the Iranian Martyr’s Foundation had distributed $120,000 of Iranian money to the families of Palestinians killed in Operation Shield and Arrow. Nasser al-Sheikh Ali, the al-Ansar director, said that the families of 35 shaheeds had already received a one-time grant. He said those families would be included in the Association’s general program and would receive regular financial support to provide for their daily needs (Paltoday, May 30, 2023).
Iranian Intervention in the Iraq
On May 25, 2023 Amir Hossein Abdollahian, the Iranian foreign minister, held a phone conversation with Fuad Hussein, the Iraqi foreign minister, to discuss implementing the mutual cooperation agreement (including security cooperation) signed by the two countries in March 2023. They also discussed regional cooperation and ways to strengthen the delivery of gas from Iran to Iraq. Abdollahian stressed the need to strengthen bilateral banking cooperation at the earliest possible opportunity (IRNA, May 26, 2023).
On May 29, 2023, Qasim al-Araji, Iraq’s national security advisor, arrived in Tehran for a visit, during which he met with Ali Ahmadian, the incoming secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. They discussed bilateral relations, especially the implementation of the agreement for security along their mutual border, as well as regional and international developments. Ahmadian stressed the need to implement the bilateral security agreement, and said that Iran expected Iraq to act in accordance with the agreement to put an end to the presence of “counterrevolutionary elements” [Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq] in its territory and to secure the border with Iran. He also called for the implementation of economic agreements signed by the two countries, and expressed Iran’s desire for increased cooperation with Iraq. Al-Araji congratulated Ahmadian on his appointment to the post of secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and said Iran was both determined and willing to continue its close cooperation with the Islamic Revolution in every sphere and to implement their economic and security agreements as soon as possible (ISNA, May 29, 2023).
On May 31, 2023, Ahmad Vahidi, the Iranian interior minister, met in Tehran with his Iraq counterpart, Abdul Amir al-Shammari, to discuss security along their border and to make preparations for pilgrimages to the Shi’ite shrines in Iraq (Fars, May 31, 2023). The meeting was held in the background of Iranian force deployment in the northwestern part of the country, apparently to increase pressure on the Iraqi authorities to take action against the Kurdish separatists operating in the region.