Spotlight on Iran July 17 – 31, 2016

Dr. Raz Zimmt | ITIC

Main Events of the Week

  • Hossein Dehqan, Iranian minister of defense, said Iran was proud of the support it gave the “resistance front,” and that it deployed advisors to Syria to aid in recruiting the Syrian public for the struggle against the country’s enemies.
  • Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, commander of the Basij wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), recently visited the region of Quneitra in the Golan Heights and was observed near the Israeli-Syrian border.
  • According to an Iranian report, Hossein Sheikholeslam is expected to be appointed Iranian ambassador to Syria. Sheikholeslam, who held the post in the past, was recently appointed advisor to the Iranian Foreign Minister.
  • Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, Head of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, visited Syria where he and the Syrian minister of Muslim endowments agreed to broaden the Forum’s religious activity in Syria.
  • Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC, said that today the defense of Iraqi civilian security was in the hands of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force.
  • Senior Iranian officials renewed their threats to Bahrain in view of the trial of senior Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Mohammad Issa Qassim, which was scheduled to begin last week.
General Information
  • Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, interviewed by al-Ahd, Lebanese Hezbollah’s website, spoke about regional developments. He claimed Hezbollah played an important role in defeating “the terrorist groups” operating in Syria and in defending Lebanon’s security. He repeated Iran’s official position that Syria’s future and fate had to be determined exclusively by Syrians. From the beginning, he said, weakening the Syrian regime had been the plan of America and Israel, with the collaboration of regional countries, and its eventual objective was to defeat the resistance front. Shamkhani said the countries supporting ISIS had assumed it would be possible to limit ISIS’s operations to Syria and Iraq, but time proved them wrong (ISNA, July 19, 2016).
  • Hossein-Amir Abdollahian, former deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, interviewed by the Iranian broadcasting authority, said the regional governments owed their security to the IRGC’s Qods Force, commanded by Qasem Soleimani. He said that when it was a matter of its own security, Iran recognized no borders in its struggle against the terrorists in Syria and Iraq. He said that without a doubt America and Israel were behind the developments in Syria and their objective was to destabilize the Middle East. The objective of the United States in Iraq, he claimed, was to control the activities of ISIS and not to defeat it, in order to ensure American influence and an American presence. The former Iranian foreign minister, who was appointed last week as special advisor to the speaker of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) for international affairs, said no changes were to be expected in Iran’s regional policies now that he had left his post (Fars, July 20, 2016).
  • Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, visited western Africa last week, where he met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. He told Buhari that Iran was prepared to collaborate with Nigeria in its struggle against the radical Islamist Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations (IRNA, July 25, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
  •  Javad Karimi Ghodousi, member of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said the Iranian foreign ministry had decided to appoint Hossein Sheikholeslam as Iranian ambassador to Syria. Hossein Sheikholeslam, who held the post between 1998 and 2003, recently completed his duties as Majlis foreign policy advisor and was appointed as advisor to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. During the 1980s and 1990s he served as deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs (Tasnim, July 17, 2016).
  • Hossein Dehqan, Iranian minister of defense, at a ceremony commemorating ten IRGC fighters from Hamadan Province who were killed in Syria, said Iran was proud of the support it gave the “resistance front.” He said Iran had deployed its fighters as advisors to help recruit the Syrian public and guide its struggle against its enemies. He said that for the past three years the Iranian government had given the resistance front material and moral support, as well as the best military advice possible (Fars, July 25, 2016).
  • On July 24 and 25, 2016, Tasnim News published a video-taped interview with two fighters from the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade, which operates under IRGC aegis in Syria. The fighters were recently released from Syrian rebel captivity. They were captured in April 2015 in Dara Province in southern Syria and released in June 2016 as part of a prisoner exchange deal. One of them related how he and eight other Fatemiyoun Brigade fighters had gotten lost, found themselves behind enemy lines and were captured. They claimed they had been tortured, endured forced labor, and coerced into making false statements in interviews conducted by Al-Jazeera TV and Al-Arabiya TV. They said they had been forced to say that they had been deployed by Iran against their will to fight in Syria.
  • On July 27, 2016, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported that Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, the commander of the Basij wing of the IRGC, had recently visited the Quneitra region near the Syrian border with Israel. Several dozen Iranian Basij fighters have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.
  • Last week Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, Head of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, went to Syria, where he met with senior Syrian officials and visited Islamic religious centers. He met with Imad Mohammad Deeb Khamis, prime minister of Syria, who expressed his gratitude for Iran’s support of Syria, saying that the Islamic Republic was supporting Syria under extremely difficult conditions. Ayatollah Mohsen Araki told him that the Syrian government was now fighting terrorism, but once it was victorious both the Syrian government and its clerics would have to spread “true Islam” throughout the country. He told the prime minister he had suggested to the Syrian minister of Muslim endowments that “Islamic unity” could be broadened in Syria by establishing a framework for a Shi’ite-Sunni dialogue to bring the schools of Islam closer to one another. Araki and the Syrian minister of Muslim endowments agreed to extend collaboration between the World Forum and Syria’s ministry of Muslim endowments (Fars, July 27, 2016). The Iranian World Forum operates under the aegis of the office of the supreme leader and most of its activity focuses on establishing dialogue between Sunni and Shi’ite clerics in the Arab-Muslim world.
  • Interviewed by the Iranian newspaper Arman-e Emrouz on July 26, 2016, Javid Qorbanowghli, a commentator on international news, said that in his assessment the détente between Russia and Turkey was liable to exert pressure on Iranian influence in Syria. He said that if President Putin’s effort to convince Turkish President Erdogan to collaborate with him on Syria were successful, it might pose problems for Iran, which so far had collaborated with Russia and Syria. He added, however, that an Iranian-Russian-Turkish agreement for resolving the Syrian crisis could prevent the West from implementing its plans to establish a regional order that would serve Western interests.
Iranian Intervention in Iraq
  • Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC, gave a speech at the university in Mashhad where he said that today the security of Iraq’s civilians was in the hands of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force (Tasnim, July 20, 2016).
  • On July 21, 2016, Sheikh Abu-Taleb al-Saeedi, a high-ranking fighter in the Iraqi Shi’ite “Hezbollah Iraq” militia, told Iran’s Tasnim News that all the Iraqi politicians, including Kurds and Arabs, were convinced that without Iranian military support ISIS would have reached Baghdad. He said that after ISIS took over extensive territories in Iraq in 2014, the Iraqi army would have been unable to continue fighting it without the military and logistic support of the Iranian ministry of defense and the IRGC.
  • His interview joins other interviews given to Iranian media in recent weeks by high-ranking Iraqi Shi’ite militia commanders. These objective of the interviews is apparently to stress the importance of Iranian support for the Shi’ite militias in preparation for the campaign to liberate Mosul from ISIS, expected to be waged soon, and to counter the growing criticism in Iraq over Iranian intervention.
  • On July 24, 2016, Hassan Danaeifar, Iranian ambassador to Iraq, met with Salim al-Jabouri, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, to discuss political and security developments in Iraq, and ways the two countries could collaborate in the fight against ISIS (IRNA, July 24, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in The Gulf States
  • Hossein-Amir Abdollahian, former deputy foreign minister and current advisor to the speaker of the Majlis for international affairs, claimed Iran did not meddle in Bahrain’s internal affairs, but rather supported democracy, freedom of speech and human rights (IRNA, July 26, 2016). Iran recently renewed its strong criticism of the Bahrain authorities because of the trial of senior Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Mohammad Issa Qassim, which was scheduled for last week. The trial was postponed because the sheikh failed to appear in court. In June the Bahraini authorities revoked his citizenship, claiming he had exploited it to “serve foreign interests” and preach separatism and violence. Senior Iranian officials threatened that continued abuse of Sheikh Mohammad Issa Qassim would lead to a popular uprising that would overthrow the Bahraini regime.

Spotlight on Iran is an Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center bulletin illuminating Iran’s activities to establish its influence in the Middle East and beyond. It is based on reports in the Iranian media and written for the ITIC by Dr. Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iran’s politics, society, foreign policy and social networks.

SOURCE: ITIC