A commander of an IRGC brigade spoke in an interview about the IRGC’s activities in Syria. He said Iran was operating with three regional headquarters in Syria. He claimed Iran did not provide financial support for Syrian fighters but only vital military advice for Syrian army operations. He also said the widespread rumors of the alleged death of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, seriously lowered the fighters’ morale, causing them to retreat from the front until the rumors were disproved.
- Interviewed by the daily al-Araby al-Jadeed on May 13, 2017, Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, claimed Iran was not militarily involved in Yemen and that Saudi Arabia had made a serious mistake by attacking the country. He claimed Iran was prepared to hold talks with Saudi Arabia if the Saudis changed their anti-Iranian policies and stopped issuing anti-Iranian statements. Regarding Syria, he said that since the beginning of the civil war, Iran’s position had been that the Syrians had to decide their fate themselves.
Iranian Intervention in Syria
- Ali-Reza Qabadi, an IRGC fighter, was killed in the Syrian city of Hama on May 16, 2017.
- Interviewed by the daily Jaam-e Jam on May 7, 2017, Javad Qorbani, aka Abu-Zahedeh, 38, a commander of an IRGC brigade, elaborated on the IRGC’s activities in Syria. He said Iran operated three regional headquarters in Syria: the Hazrat-e Roqayyeh headquarters in Aleppo; the Nabi Mokarram Islam headquarters, responsible for the area between Damascus and Aleppo as far as Daraa; and the Hazrat-e Zeynab headquarters, responsible for the area between Damascus and southern Syria. He said he was in charge of the Hazrat-e Zeynab headquarters, which was simultaneously responsible for the fighting on 29 fronts.
- Qorbani was also asked about the support Iran gave to the Syrian forces, and said that despite the Syrian army’s financial hardships, Iran did not provide financial support for the fighters, only vital military advice that would allow them to continue fighting.
- He said he admired Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force. He added that during Iranian-Syrian talks about Russian military participation in Syria, Russian president Vladimir Putin insisted on discussing the issue with Soleimani personally to receive guarantees about Russia’s entrance into the war. He said that the rumors spread last year about Soleimani’s alleged death had seriously lowered morale, and that many fighters from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan had retreated from the fighting front until morale was restored when Soleimani was interviewed, proving he was alive.
- Qorbani praised the Afghan and Pakistani fighters in Syria, saying they were prepared to sacrifice their lives to defend the Iranian fighters. He said that there were currently many trained IRGC Basij fighters in the Tehran area who were prepared to deploy to Syria to fight, but that authorization had not yet been given.
- An article published by the Iranian Diplomacy website on May 14, 2017, claimed that Iran has no choice but to recognize Russia’s senior role in Syria. Ali Mousavi Khalkhali, the site’s deputy editor, asserted that Iran’s international status was inferior to Russia’s, and that unlike Russia, Iran was not capable of nor had any interest in negotiating directly with the United States about Syria’s future. Iran’s ability to influence developments in Syria was also limited because as opposed to the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran had no direct ties to the armed groups operating in Syria. While such groups had been weakened, especially after the takeover of Aleppo, they continued to threaten the Syrian regime because they still controlled Syria territory and received support from the Arab states. In view of the situation, Iran had no choice but to rely on Russia to guard Iranian interests in Syria. Russia, claimed Khalkhali, needed Iran and Hezbollah to secure its own interests in Syria, since its military success in Syria depended on the ground activity of Iran and its allies. At a time of increasing tension between Iran and the Arab states, Iran had no choice but to strengthen its ties with Russia and rely on Moscow to secure its interests.
- It was not the first time the Iranian Diplomacy website, which is affiliated with circles within the Iranian foreign ministry, published editorial comment reflecting Iran’s growing recognition of Russia’s rising status in Syria at the expense of Iran. At the end of March the site posted an article by a senior official in the Iranian foreign ministry who opined that Russia’s air support for the Syrian army and the international advantages Moscow could provide for the Syrian regime made it more important than Iran for Bashar Assad, who was forming closer ties with Russia and turning his back on Iran.
- During the daily press briefing on May 15, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the United States remained open to working together with Russia and Iran to find a solution leading to a stable and united Syria. However for the United States, Iran and Russia to work together to bring an end to the violence in Syria, Russia and Iran had to acknowledge the atrocities of the Assad regime and use their influence to stop them.Iranian Intervention in Iraq
- On May 7, 2017, the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, published a commentary warning that the United States was planning to increase its presence in Iraq at the end of the campaign against ISIS to ensure American and Israeli security interests. The United States, according to the report, sought control of Iraq’s oil and gas fields. The United States also wanted to exploit the tribes near the Iraqi-Syrian border and the lack of regional economic and cultural development to form closer ties with radical Sunni groups in the area to be able to exert pressure on the Syrian and Iraqi governments. The United States would also seek to create a buffer zone between Syria and Iraq that would cut off the members of the “resistance front” from one another, prevent the creation of a “Shi’ite crescent” from Tehran to south Lebanon through Baghdad and Damascus, and halt the advance of the Iraqi Shi’ite militias towards the Iraq-Syria border.
- Last week Iraj Masjedi, Iran’s new ambassador to Iraq, paid a visit to the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala where he met with the provincial governor and high-ranking Shi’ite clerics. He met with Abdul Mahdi Karbalai, representative of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to discuss joint Iranian-Iraqi development projects for the Shi’ite shrines in Iraq and preparations for the annual pilgrimage to Karbala. Masjedi also met with senior clerics Mohammad Taqi al-Modaressi and Sayed Mortada al-Qazvin. Meeting with Akeel al-Turaihi, the governor of Karbala, Masjedi said Iran and Iraq had to increase their cooperation in developing the shrines and that Iran would do its utmost to improve security in Iraq (IRNA, May 16, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
- Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, congratulated Ismail Haniyeh on his election to the position of head of Hamas’ new political bureau. He sent him a letter wishing him success in shouldering his new responsibility and hopes that he would cause the failure of the plots of the “Zionist enemy” and its allies, who were working against Muslim unity, trying to destroy the Palestinian cause and crush the resistance of the Islamic nation. He reiterated Iran’s continuing support for the resistance of the Palestinian people (ISNA, May 10, 2017).
- The international committee to support the Palestinian intifada issued an announcement for Nakba Day (May 15) stating that Iran stressed its continuing support for the Palestinians’ “right of return” to their lands and condemned the “crimes of the Zionist regime against the Palestinians.” It went on to say that holding a referendum among the “original residents of historical Palestine” to determine their future was the only solution for the liberation of Palestine. It called on Muslims to “speak out” and demand the world assure the liberation of Palestine (Fars News Agency, May 15, 2017).