Spotlight on Iran

Source: The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center At the Israeli Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center

August 5 – August 19, 2018

Overview

  • The future of cooperation between Syria and Iran following the settlement of the Syrian war: the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces spoke on the phone with the Syrian Minister of Defense who invited the Iranian for a visit in Damascus. The Iranian chief of staff, whose most recent visit to Damascus was held last October, emphasized the need to reconstruct the areas liberated from ISIS and the Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, an economic delegation headed by the Iranian deputy minister of roads and urban development visited Damascus to conclude a long-term agreement concerning the expansion of economic cooperation between the two countries. Over the past year, Iran ratcheted up efforts to entrench its economic influence in Syria, while exploiting Syria’s need for reconstruction of its destroyed economy after the prolonged civil war.
  • The statement made by Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, confirming that his country intends to abide by the renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran, aroused an outcry in Tehran and among some in the Iraqi political arena. Following this uproar, al-Abadi was forced to clarify that he only meant that Baghdad will avoid using dollars in deals with Iran, and not that Iraq will adhere to all the American sanctions. Senior Iranian officials and Iranian media outlets accused al-Abadi of turning his back on Iran, which assisted him in the campaign against ISIS, to curry favor with the United States due to his political troubles following the general elections in Iraq and the ongoing protests in southern Iraq. The lambasting of al-Abadi’s statement by Iraqi politicians, including by the Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who in recent years adopted a critical position toward Iran, indicates that despite widespread displeasure with Iran’s meddling in Iraq, Iran still enjoys a great degree of support and influence in the Iraqi political arena and among the Shi’ite Iraqi militias. Last week, the Commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) visited Iraq. The apparent purpose of the visit was to meet Iraqi politicians and deliberate with them on the matter of new government formation in Iraq.
  • An interview of a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps officer to the Iranian Fars news agency raised a maelstrom, after he was quoted as saying that it was Iran that ordered the Houthi rebels in Yemen to target two Saudi oil tankers in the Bab al-Mandeb straits in July 2018. Following the uproar, the agency removed the relevant section in the interview and published a clarification that the officer’s statements were accidentally misreported. The spokesman of the IRGC also rushed to deny the report, declaring that the statement of the officer was reported incorrectly and out of context.

Iranian Involvement in Syria

  • On August 9, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, spoke on the phone with the Syrian Minister of Defense, Ali Abdullah Ayoub. The two discussed developments in Syria and Ayoub invited Baqeri for a visit in Syria. Baqeri congratulated Ayoub for the recent victories of the Syrian Army, particularly in southern Syria, and expressed hope that the presence of terrorists and foreign forces in Syria will soon end. He emphasized the need to quickly rebuild the liberated areas and renew economic activity in those regions. The Syrian Minister of Defense Ayoub thanked the Iranian leadership, the Iranian armed forces and the Iranian people for their unyielding support for the Syrian people in their prolonged struggle against the terrorists (Tasnim, August 9, 2018). In October 2017, Baqeri paid a visit to Damascus and met with Syria’s political and military leadership.
The Iranian Chief of Staff Baqeri with Ali Ayoub during his last visit to Damascus (Tasnim, October 18, 2017)
  • On August 7, unverified reports surfaced on social media about an alleged recent meeting between the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Qasem Soleimani and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The two supposedly discussed the situation in Syria and reached an agreement concerning the need to settle the war through a political track, but Erdoğan reportedly backtracked from the agreement due to pressure of the Syrian opposition. These reports were not mentioned in Iranian media and their veracity is unclear.
  • Last week, an Iranian economic delegation headed by the Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Amir Amini, arrived for a three-day visit in Damascus. The delegation met with Iranian officials to complete a long-term agreement to expand the economic cooperation between the two countries in various spheres, including industry, technology, water and electricity. Upon arrival at the Damascus Airport, the head of the delegation stated that Iran expects that Iranian entrepreneurs and industrialists will play a central role in Syria’s economic reconstruction. The Syrian Assistant Economy Minister, Rania Ahmad, expressed hope that Iran would play an effective role in Syria’s reconstruction (Mehr, August 12, 2018).
The Iranian economic delegation in Syria (Eqtesad Online, August 12, 2018)

Iranian Involvement in Iraq and the Gulf

  • Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, faced opprobrium in Iran for declaring that his country will abide by the economic sanctions against Iran, despite Iraq’s opposition to their re-imposition by the United States. During the NATO summit held in Brussels on July 12, al-Abadi stated that Iraq is categorically opposed to imposition of sanctions in the region, as they harm the population but do not weaken the regimes ruling them. He added that he sees the imposition of sanctions on Iran as a “strategic mistake.” However, Iraq will abide by the sanctions to protect the interests of the Iraqi people (Reuters, August 8, 2018). On August 9, the spokesman of the Iraqi government announced that in accordance with the newly re-imposed sanctions on Iran, Iraq will cease to conduct deals in dollars with Iran (ISNA, August 9, 2018). On August 13, al-Abadi clarified that he referred only to avoiding the use of dollars in deals with Iran, and not the entire U.S. sanctions package (Reuters, August 13, 2018).
    • Iranian Majlis member, Mahmoud Sadeghi, responded to the statements of the Iraqi prime minister on his Twitter account (August 3, 2018), writing that due to the hardships of the Iraqi people, Iran did not insist that Iraq repay it a debt of $1,100 billion as compensation for the Iran-Iraq war, and now, instead of compensating Iran, the Iraqi prime minister is joining the campaign of sanctions against it.
    • The Iranian Vice President of Iran for Women and Family Affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, also criticized the statement made by the Iraqi prime minister. She took to Twitter (August 9, 2018) to write that Iraq should pay billions of dollars in compensations, in part due to the environmental damage it caused to the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War and the Persian Gulf War.
    • In an article published on the website Iranian Diplomacy (August 9, 2018), Iranian political commentator, Mohammad Sadeghi Hashemi, wondered how al-Abadi can cooperate with U.S. sanctions knowing that they will bring about hunger, poverty and diseases. He argued that the support the Iraqi prime minister offered to the American sanctions will not benefit the Iraqi people, and that the motivation for al-Abadi’s decision was to win American support during the process of forming the new government in Baghdad.
    • A commentary published on the news website Khabar Online (August 13, 2018) entitled: “How Iraq’s Prime Minister became Iran’s enemy,” claimed that al-Abadi is trying to incite Iraqi public opinion against Iran due to his political troubles since the general elections in Iraq and the ongoing wave of protests in southern Iraq. The op-ed argued that al-Abadi’s support for the American sanctions against Iran only further complicates his position, placing him in opposition to the majority of Iraq’s politicians, and in opposition to the position of Syria, Turkey, China, India and the European Union.
    • In light of the criticism in Iran of the prime minister’s statement, the French AFP news agency reported (August 12, 2018) that al-Abadi canceled a planned visit to Tehran due to “a busy schedule.” Prior to this, the spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had stated that he does not have any information concerning a planned visit of the Iraqi prime minister to Tehran.
The Iraqi prime minister’s adoption of the American position in opposition to the will of the Iraqi people (Tasnim, August 12, 2018)
  • The statement of the Iraqi prime minister raised a firestorm in the Iraqi political arena as well. The spokesman of the Shi’ite Iraqi militia, the pro-Iranian “Movement of the Noble” (Harakat al-Nujabaa’) lambasted al-Abadi’s position, accusing him of collaborating with Iran’s enemies, which according to him, assisted Iraq in the campaign against ISIS. He added that his movement will not allow Iraq to become the 51st state of the United States (Fars, August 9, 2018).
  • The Iraqi Shi’ite cleric, Muqtada Sadr, who usually adopts a critical position concerning Iranian involvement in Iraq, declared that Iraq will not remain silent as the United States imposes an economic blockade on the people of the region (IRNA, August 9, 2018). The leader of the Shi’ite party, the National Alliance, Sayyed Ammar al-Hakim, also took Iran’s side in the dispute. In a meeting with the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, the Shi’ite cleric stated that ties between Iran and Iraq must be bolstered. Prior to the meeting, al-Hakim criticized the re-imposition of economic sanctions against Iran, which he called “Iraq’s strategic depth.” He declared that Iraq’s standing by the Islamic Republic is a “moral and religious duty” (IRNA, August 9, 2018).
Sayyed Ammar al-Hakim (Tasnim, August 9, 2018)
  • The Arab daily al-Hayat, which is published in London, reported (August 17, 2018) that the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, arrived in Iraq on August 15 to hold deliberations concerning the formation of a new government in Iraq. The newspaper quoted Iraqi sources who claimed that Iran is not interested in Haider al-Abadi continuing for a second term as Iraq’s Prime Minister. Instead, Iran is striving to achieve an agreement with different political actors in Iraq concerning the nomination of an alternative candidate for the position.
  • On August 18, Iranian media published new photographs of Soleimani during a visit to the construction projects at the Imam Ali Mosque compound in Najaf, works that are being financed by Iran.
Qassem Soleimani visits Najaf (Tasnim, August 18, 2018)
  • On August 7, the Fars news agency published an interview with a senior IRGC commander, Naser Shabani, in which he claimed that Iran was the one that ordered the Houthi rebels in Yemen to target the two Saudi oil tankers in the Bab al-Mandeb Straits on July 25. “We told the Yemenis to hit the two Saudi tankers and they did,” Shabani was quoted as saying. The senior officer also stated that Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen are Iran’s rear depth in the region.
  • Shortly after the publication of the report, the news agency removed the section of the interview in which Shabani admitted that the IRGC ordered the Houthis to fire on the Saudi tankers.
  • Shortly afterwards, the Fars agency published a clarification stating that the statement of the senior officer was unintentionally misreported, and that he, in fact, denied the claims made in the West about Iranian orders to the Houthis to target the two Saudi tankers. Instead, the agency claimed, the officer emphasized that “the spiritual offspring of the [Islamic] Revolution” in the region are capable of carrying out such actions by themselves. According to Fars, the clarification was published to prevent “the reactionary media” from exploiting the matter, after a screenshot of the original report was widely shared on social media.
  • The Spokesman of the IRGC, Ramazan Sharif, also rushed to deny the report and stated that Shabani’s statements were reported in a partial and incorrect manner. He added that the senior officer no longer serves in any official capacity in the IRGC (Tasnim, August 7, 2018).
    • Iranian Majlis member, Mahmoud Sadeghi, responded to the statements of the Iraqi prime minister on his Twitter account (August 3, 2018), writing that due to the hardships of the Iraqi people, Iran did not insist that Iraq repay it a debt of $1,100 billion as compensation for the Iran-Iraq war, and now, instead of compensating Iran, the Iraqi prime minister is joining the campaign of sanctions against it.
    • The Iranian Vice President of Iran for Women and Family Affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, also criticized the statement made by the Iraqi prime minister. She took to Twitter (August 9, 2018) to write that Iraq should pay billions of dollars in compensations, in part due to the environmental damage it caused to the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War and the Persian Gulf War.
    • In an article published on the website Iranian Diplomacy (August 9, 2018), Iranian political commentator, Mohammad Sadeghi Hashemi, wondered how al-Abadi can cooperate with U.S. sanctions knowing that they will bring about hunger, poverty and diseases. He argued that the support the Iraqi prime minister offered to the American sanctions will not benefit the Iraqi people, and that the motivation for al-Abadi’s decision was to win American support during the process of forming the new government in Baghdad.
    • A commentary published on the news website Khabar Online (August 13, 2018) entitled: “How Iraq’s Prime Minister became Iran’s enemy,” claimed that al-Abadi is trying to incite Iraqi public opinion against Iran due to his political troubles since the general elections in Iraq and the ongoing wave of protests in southern Iraq. The op-ed argued that al-Abadi’s support for the American sanctions against Iran only further complicates his position, placing him in opposition to the majority of Iraq’s politicians, and in opposition to the position of Syria, Turkey, China, India and the European Union.
    • In light of the criticism in Iran of the prime minister’s statement, the French AFP news agency reported (August 12, 2018) that al-Abadi canceled a planned visit to Tehran due to “a busy schedule.” Prior to this, the spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had stated that he does not have any information concerning a planned visit of the Iraqi prime minister to Tehran.
    • The statement of the Iraqi prime minister raised a firestorm in the Iraqi political arena as well. The spokesman of the Shi’ite Iraqi militia, the pro-Iranian “Movement of the Noble” (Harakat al-Nujabaa’) lambasted al-Abadi’s position, accusing him of collaborating with Iran’s enemies, which according to him, assisted Iraq in the campaign against ISIS. He added that his movement will not allow Iraq to become the 51st state of the United States (Fars, August 9, 2018). The Iraqi Shi’ite cleric, Muqtada Sadr, who usually adopts a critical position concerning Iranian involvement in Iraq, declared that Iraq will not remain silent as the United States imposes an economic blockade on the people of the region (IRNA, August 9, 2018).
    • The leader of the Shi’ite party, the National Alliance, Sayyed Ammar alHakim, also took Iran’s side in the dispute. In a meeting with the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, the Shi’ite cleric stated that ties between Iran and Iraq must be bolstered. Prior to the meeting, al-Hakim criticized the re-imposition of economic sanctions against Iran, which he called “Iraq’s strategic depth.” He declared that Iraq’s standing by the Islamic Republic is a “moral and religious duty” (IRNA, August 9, 2018).
    • The Arab daily al-Hayat, which is published in London, reported (August 17, 2018) that the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, arrived in Iraq on August 15 to hold deliberations concerning the formation of a new government in Iraq. The newspaper quoted Iraqi sources who claimed that Iran is not interested in Haider al-Abadi continuing for a second term as Iraq’s Prime Minister. Instead, Iran is striving to achieve an agreement with different political actors in Iraq concerning the nomination of an alternative candidate for the position.
    • On August 18, Iranian media published new photographs of Soleimani during a visit to the construction projects at the Imam Ali Mosque compound in Najaf, works that are being financed by Iran.
    • On August 7, the Fars news agency published an interview with a senior IRGC commander, Naser Shabani, in which he claimed that Iran was the one that ordered the Houthi rebels in Yemen to target the two Saudi oil tankers in the Bab al-Mandeb Straits on July 25. “We told the Yemenis to hit the two Saudi tankers and they did,” Shabani was quoted as saying. The senior officer also stated that Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen are Iran’s rear depth in the region.
    • Shortly after the publication of the report, the news agency removed the section of the interview in which Shabani admitted that the IRGC ordered the Houthis to fire on the Saudi tankers.
The highlighted section in red: “We told the Yemenis to hit the two Saudi tankers and they did” was removed from the updated version published by Fars
    • Shortly afterwards, the Fars agency published a clarification stating that the statement of the senior officer was unintentionally misreported, and that he, in fact, denied the claims made in the West about Iranian orders to the Houthis to target the two Saudi tankers. Instead, the agency claimed, the officer emphasized that “the spiritual offspring of the [Islamic] Revolution” in the region are capable of carrying out such actions by themselves. According to Fars, the clarification was published to prevent “the reactionary media” from exploiting the matter, after a screenshot of the original report was widely shared on social media.
    • The Spokesman of the IRGC, Ramazan Sharif, also rushed to deny the report and stated that Shabani’s statements were reported in a partial and incorrect manner. He added that the senior officer no longer serves in any official capacity in the IRGC (Tasnim, August 7, 2018).