Hamed Bafandeh and Ahmad Gholami, who were killed fighting in Syria (defapress.ir, April 24, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in Syria
- Two IRGC fighters were killed in the region of Hama, Syria.
- On May 2, 2017, Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the IRGC’s ground forces, told the Fars news agency that his fighters would remain as advisors in Syria, alongside the IRGC’s Qods Force. He said the advisors were experienced fighters whose support included advice on fighting techniques and tactics, and that demanded their presence in the field. He said advisors from the Saberin special forces brigade were also operating in Syria. According to Pakpour, deploying advisors was sufficient and there was no need for regular army forces because the number of terrorists operating in Syria was not exceptionally large and the Syrian forces could deal with them by themselves.
- Pakpour said Syria was particularly important because it was at the forefront of the resistance to Israel. If Hezbollah, which should be in readiness to fight Israel, were not today fighting the terrorists in Syria, Syria would fall to the supporters of the Zionists, and that would weaken the struggle against Israel. He said that if all the groups fighting against the Syrian regime joined forces to fight against Israel, Israel’s situation was not as good as it currently was.
- Javad Tork Abadi, Iran’s new ambassador to Damascus, assumed his position at the end of April. On April 26, 2017, he presented his credentials to Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, and on May 2 to President Assad. Javad Tork Abadi, who was formerly Iranian ambassador to Sudan, Bahrain and Nigeria, as well as Iranian chargé d’affaires in Kuwait, replaced Mohammad-Reza Raouf-Sheibani, who ended his term as ambassador in October 2016 (Mehr, April 26, 2017). In recent months the delay in appointing a new ambassador to Damascus led to strong criticism in Iranian political circles, especially in view of the ongoing civil war in Syria. In December 2016 several members of the Majlis (Iranian parliament) appealed to Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, with an urgent demand that he appoint a new ambassador to Damascus immediately.
- On May 1, 2017, Ali Ayoub, the Syrian chief of staff, paid a visit to Tehran and met with Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian chief of staff, and with Hossein Dehqan, the Iranian defense minister. They discussed recent developments in Syria and strengthening Damascus-Tehran military ties. The Iranian chief of staff praised the resistance of the Syrian army and people to the “takfiri terrorists” operating in the country, and condemned the aerial attacks recently carried out in Syria by the United States and Israel. Ali Ayoub thanked Iran for its military support and said it played a definitive role in Syria’s continuing resistance and victories over the terrorists (IRNA, May 1, 2017).
- On April 27, 2017, the defense ministers of Iran, Russia and Syria met on the sidelines of the Sixth Moscow Conference on International Security and discussed recent developments in Syria. Sergey Shoygu, the Russian minister; Hossein Dehqan, the Iranian minister, and Fahd Jassem al-Freij, the Syrian minister, noted that their countries would continue their joint efforts in the ongoing military campaign in Syria. They criticized the April 6, 2017 American attack on the Syrian air force base in Homs (western Syria). At a previous meeting of the Iranian and Russian defense ministers, Shoygu said Russia was pleased with Iranian-Russian cooperation in the “struggle against terrorism” in Syria (Tasnim, April 27, 2017).
- On May 3, 2017, peace talks recommenced in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, attended by representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey. The Iranian delegation was headed by Hossein Jaberi Ansari, deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs. As part of ongoing Iranian-Russian consultations about Syria, on May 3, 2017, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, spoke on the phone with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council. They discussed recent Syrian political and security developments, and their countries’ cooperation in Syria (Asr-e Iran, May 3, 2017).
- Iran strongly condemned the April 27, 2017 attack on Hezbollah arms storehouses near the Damascus airfield, allegedly carried out by Israel. Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, claimed Israel’s ongoing aggression was a violation of Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and of international law. He said the objective of Israel’s attacks was to weaken the Syrian government and called on the UN to keep Israel from attacking again (ISNA, April 28, 2017).
- Writing to Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi, Iran’s minister of health, Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, thanked him for his ministry’s support of the IRGC fighters in Syria. That included, he wrote, guidance, supplying medicine and medical equipment, and medical treatment for the wounded. In reply Hashemi wrote to Soleimani, thanking him for the activity of the IRGC in Syria against the “takfiri groups.” He said the Iranian people would never forget the IRGC fighters who had sacrificed their lives in Syria, fighting for the sake of Iran’s security (Fars, April 28, 2017).
- Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, former mayor of Tehran and affiliated with Iran’s reformist camp, was strongly criticized by conservatives in Iran when he publicly spoke against Iran’s military involvement in Syria. At the end of April a video of a speech made by Karbaschi at a conference of President Rouhani’s supporters in Isfahan circulated on social media. Karbaschi said that restoring peace in Syria did not require military involvement and that the crisis could be resolved through diplomacy. He said no one contested the need to bring peace to Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and to support the Shi’ites in those countries, but there were other ways to do it besides sending money, selling arms and killing (Tasnim, May 1, 2017). Supporters of the Iranian regime were enraged by his speech, accusing him of being an enemy of Iran. The attorney general of Isfahan said his judiciary was planning to bring Karbaschi to trial because of the speech.
- It is not the first time Iran’s support for the Assad regime has been the subject of public criticism. In recent years criticism of Iran’s continuing support of the Assad regime has increased among political circles affiliated with the reformist movement in Iran. It has had, however, no practical influence on Iran’s policies in Syria.
Iranian Intervention in Iraq
- On April 24, 2017, Iraj Masjedi, Iran’s new ambassador to Iraq, met with Iraqi President Fouad Masoum to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation. Masjedi stressed Iran’s support for Iraq in its fight against ISIS (ISNA, April 24, 2017). The following day Masjedi met with Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for the first time. They discussed Iran-Iraq relations, regional developments and Iran’s support for Iraq in its fight against ISIS (Fars, April 25, 2017). On April 28 Masjedi held a reception at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, attended by members of the Iraqi parliament and local councils, representatives of the various ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, newspaper correspondents, academics, community activists, religious figures and commanders of the Iraqi militias (Tasnim, April 28, 2017).
- Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, condemned the aerial strikes carried out by Turkey on April 26, 2017, on targets affiliated with the Kurdish underground (PKK) in northern Iraq. He said the attacks in the region of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq were a violation of Iraq’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and increased regional destabilization (Fars, April 26, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
- Hossein Sheikholeslam, advisor to the Iranian foreign minister for international affairs, strongly attacked the Palestinian Authority (PA), saying that its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, had committed crimes in the Gaza Strip in the service of the United States and Israel. His statement came in the wake of the PA’s decision to cut both the salaries of workers in the public sector in the Gaza Strip and fuel subsidies for the Strip’s power plant. Interviewed by Hamas’ al-Risalah, he said the PA was waging an unjust war on the Gaza Strip, and called on the PA chairman to change his current policy which, said Hossein Sheikholeslam, served Israel and worked against the interests of the Palestinians.
- Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, angrily replied to Iran, saying that those who had signed the nuclear agreement [with the West] and been a partner in the creation and continuation of two Palestines, one in the Gaza Strip and the other in the West Bank, had no right to talk about Palestine, interfere in its internal affairs or insult the PA chairman. Nabil Abu Rudeina criticized Iran’s regional policies, saying Iran helped wage internal wars throughout the Arab world. He said Hossein Sheikholeslam’s remarks served only the interests of Israel and the enemies of the Arab nation (Asr-e Iran, May 1, 2017).
- On May 2, 2017, the daily newspaper al-Hayat reported that Iran had increased its support for Hamas’ military wing and that there had been a significant improvement in Iranian-Hamas relations. Palestinian sources told the paper that Yahya al-Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas’ political bureau in the Gaza Strip, had played a major role in the improvement. Iran-Hamas relations had reached an impasse over the civil war in Syria and Hamas’ decision not to side with the Assad regime. Iranian support for Hamas’ military-terrorist wing has continued, however, even in recent years.