Spotlight on Iran (September 6, 2020 – September 20, 2020 ) – The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
The meeting of the senior adviser to the supreme leader with the Syrian ambassador in Tehran (SANA, September 12, 2020).
The Iranian firefighting plane taking part in putting out the massive fires raging in northern Syria. Source: SANA, September 9
Esmail Qa’ani praying at the Sayyeda Zainab Shrine (Khebr Online, September 11, 2020).
The Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masje (IRNA, September 9, 2020).
The meeting between Nouri al-Maliki with Ali Shamkhani (ILNA, September 15, 2020).
- The Adviser to the Speaker of the Majlis on International Affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, declared that Syria continues to be a strategic matter for Iran, and that relations between the two countries are a “red line” that Iran will not allow anyone to cross. In a TV interview, the senior Iranian official declared that Iran will continue to provide Syria with political and military backing despite the efforts of “the enemies” to topple the regime in Damascus through military or economic means.
- In mid-September, Iranian media outlets published the image of the Commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Esmail Qa’ani, during a prayer in Sayyeda Zainab south of Damascus. The media outlets did not publish when the photo was taken, but it is clear from the image that it occurred during a visit by Qa’ani to Syria after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Qa’ani’s last known visit to Syria occurred in late June 2020.
- In mid-September, the former Iraqi Prime Minister and the Head of the State of Law Coalition, Nouri al-Maliki, arrived for a visit in Iran for medical treatment and meetings with senior Iranian officials, including the secretary general of the Supreme National Security Council, the adviser to the supreme leader on international affairs, and the speaker of the Majlis.
- The adviser on international affairs to the speaker of the Majlis welcomed the meeting between the leader of Hezbollah with the leader of Hamas, held on September 6 in Beirut. The adviser labeled the meeting “a crucial step for the future of Palestine and the liberation of occupied Palestinian land.” He stressed Iran’s support for the “Palestinian resistance” and mentioned that the people of the region and the Muslim nation (umma) – unlike some Arab leaders – see the Palestinian cause as the utmost important cause for the Muslim world, and will continue to struggle for the liberation of Jerusalem.
- Iran lambasted the normalization agreement between Israel and Bahrain, naming it an act of “betrayal” and threatening the leadership of Bahrain with “harsh revenge.” In mid-September, against the backdrop of the normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, a special online meeting was held by the Tehran-based International Association of Islamic Revival. The Adviser on International Affairs to the Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Velayati, stressed during the conference the religious centrality of Palestine to the Muslim world. He condemned the normalization between some Arab countries and Israel, and stressed that “resistance” is the only way to realize the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
- In an interview to the Iranian Arabic language channel, al-Alam (September 6), the Adviser on International Affairs to the Speaker of the Majlis, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, addressed the strikes attributed to Israel in Syria, stating that the intensification of the attacks reflects an Israeli attempt to obtain information about the capabilities of the Iranian air defense systems stationed in Syria, and the sites where these systems were deployed. He added that Syria continues to be a strategic matter for Iran, and that relations between the two countries are a “red line” that Iran will not allow anyone to cross. In his interview, the senior Iranian official declared that Iran will continue to provide Syria with political and military backing despite the efforts of the enemies to topple the regime in Damascus through military means, as they have done in the past, or through economic pressure.
- On September 12, the Adviser to the Supreme Leader of Iran on International Affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, met with the Syrian Ambassador to Tehran, Adnan Mahmoud, and discussed with him the developments in Syria and bilateral relations. Velayati stressed the need to bring about the withdrawal of all foreign forces who are present in Syria “illegally.” He called to end the occupation of territories in Syria and halt the “looting of oil” and Syria’s natural resources by the American forces. In addition, Velayati called for bolstering economic cooperation between the two countries to fight against the “oppressive siege and American-Western economic terrorism.” The Syrian ambassador to Tehran called for establishing joint Syrian-Iranian ventures to implement the agreements previously signed between the two countries (SANA, September 12).
- On September 16, the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, spoke on the phone with the Senior Adviser to the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Ashgar Khaji, and discussed issues pertaining to the settlement of the war in Syria, including the Constitutional Committee, the situation in Idlib, and the humanitarian situation in the country, particularly in light of the COVID-19 outbreak in Syria. During the call, Khaji stressed the need to implement the agreement concerning Idlib to maintain calm and prevent the renewed outbreak of violence in the area (ISNA, September 17).
- The Syrian pro-opposition website, Deir Ezzor 24, reported (September 17) that commanders from the Iraqi Shia militias, the IRGC and Hezbollah met on September 16 in Albu Kamal, on the Syrian-Iraqi, to plan a join military operation in the Albu Kamal region against ISIS cells operating in the region.
- The Syrian state agency, SANA, reported (September 9) that an Iranian fire-fighting plane participation in efforts to put out the large fires that broke out in early September in western Hama in northern Syria. The fires broke out due to an extreme heat wave affecting the region.
- The Representative of the Supreme Leader of Iran to Syria, Ayatollah Seyyed Abolfazl Tabatabai Ashkezari, conducted a four-day trip across Syria, during which he met with citizens, clerics, and families of Syrian fallen fighters across different governorates of the country. He visited Aleppo governorate, the Shia towns Nubul and Zahraa, Homs and Lattakia (Aleph, September 18).
- On September 11, Iranian media outlets and social media accounts published the image of the Commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Esmail Qa’ani, during a prayer in Sayyeda Zainab south of Damascus. The media outlets did not publish when the photo was taken, but it is clear from the image that it occurred during a visit by Qa’ani to Syria after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Qa’ani’s last known visit to Syria occurred in late June 2020.
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
- The Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, announced conclusively that this year, the pilgrimage of Iranians to Shia holy sites in Iraq will not be made possible during the Arbaeen holy day, which marks the end of the 40 days of mourning for the death of the Shia Imam Hussein in the Battle of Karbala in the 7th century. Masjedi stated that due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Iraqi authorities will not allow any foreign pilgrims, including Iranians, to enter Iraq for the purpose of participating in the ceremonies. In an interview to the IRNA news agency (September 7), the ambassador stated that he was informed about this by the Iraqi government, and denied a report published earlier according to which the governor of Karbala is willing to welcome foreign pilgrims during the Arbaeen.
- In an Interview to the IRNA news agency (September 9), the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, claimed that despite the problems in the region and the COVID-19 outbreak, economic ties between Iran and Iraq have not contracted, but in fact expanded further. He reported that the Iranian embassy in Baghdad established a special committee to monitor the economic and commercial cooperation between the two countries, including investments, the work of Iranian companies, cross-border trade and banking. Masjedi added that despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the border crossings between the two nations are gradually opening up for commercial and economic activity. The border crossings have recently saw an expansion of their operation from two days to four days per week. Masjedi also mentioned that since the formation of the new government in Iraq, he held dozens of meeting with minister of senior officials working on the economy, including the ministers of finance, oil, agriculture, transportation, planning, housing, trade and energy, all in an effort to bolster the economic ties between the two countries.
- In mid-September, the former Iraqi Prime Minister and Head of the State of Law Coalition, Nouri al-Maliki, arrived for a visit in Iran for medical treatment and meetings with senior Iranian officials. In his meeting with al-Maliki, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, stressed the need to maintain Iraq’s unity and solidarity, particularly between the Shia parties, groups and leaders, due to the intention of the enemies of Iraq to undermine Iraq’s unity ahead of the upcoming 2021 elections. He warned about an American effort to weaken the countries of the region to ensure the security of the “Zionist regime” and to allow Israel to gain control of Arab and Islamic countries, in line with the vision of ruling “from the Nile to the Euphrates.” Shamkhani also proclaimed that the blood of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were assassinated by the United States in January 2020, will bring about the removal of the roots of the United States and the “Zionist regime” from the region. Nouri al-Maliki praised in the meeting Iran’s role in the war on terror and establishing stability and security in the region, and stressed the need to maintain cooperation between Iran and Iraq on important regional and international matters. He remarked that similarly to how terrorism was excised from Iraq and the region through unity and resistance, it will be possible to thwart the threats facing Jerusalem and Palestine’s existence through cooperation among Muslim countries (ILNA, September 15). During his visit to Tehran, al-Maliki also met with the Speaker of the Majlis, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and the Adviser to the Supreme Leader on International Affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati.
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
- A resident of east Jerusalem, Yasmine Jaber, was arrested by the Shin Bet (General Security Service) due to suspicions that she was recruited by Hezbollah and the IRGC’s Qods Force to assist recruiting additional agents among Israeli citizens and Palestinians in the West Bank. The Shin Bet investigation indicates that the young woman was identified and marked for recruitment by Hezbollah members when she attended a conference in Lebanon in 2015. During Jaber’s visit to Lebanon the next year, Ataya Abu Samahanda and Muhammad al-Hajj Musa, who are known to be members of the joint Hezbollah-Qods Force unit in charge of terrorist activity, introduced Jaber to a senior operative in the unit, Jaafar Qubaisi, who is known for his involvement in other efforts to recruit Palestinians in the West Bank to carry out militant attacks. Since her recruitment by Hezbollah, Jaber maintained contact with her handler by using pre-agreed secret messages on social media in accordance with instructions and a security protocol she had received from Hezbollah. Along with her, a number of other suspects were arrested in east Jerusalem and Ramallah, all of them Jaber’s acquaintances, who are suspected of being involved in the cell headed by her (Shin Ben Spokesperson, September 17).
- The Special Adviser to the Speaker of the Majlis on International Affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, welcomed the meeting between the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, with the leader of Hamas, Ismail Hanniyeh, held on September 6 in Beirut. The adviser labeled the meeting “a crucial step for the future of Palestine and the liberation of the occupied Palestinian land from the Zionist terrorists.” Abdollahian averred that the uprising of the Palestinian people and the resistance are the primary reasons for the defeat of the “Deal of the Century” of President Trump, and the “conspiracy of normalization” between a number of leaders of Arab countries and the “Zionist regime.” He expressed hope that the Palestinian groups and their focus on continuing down the path of resistance will bring about the dissolution of the compromise agreements, and the start of new popular intifada against the Zionists. He added that today, it is crystal clear to all Palestinians that resistance and force are the only language that the “Zionist occupiers” understand. The adviser to the speaker of the Majlis stressed Iran’s 40-year-long support for the “Palestinian resistance” and mentioned that the people of the region and the Muslim nation (umma) – unlike some Arab leaders – see the Palestinian cause as the utmost important cause for the Muslim world, and will continue to struggle for the liberation of Jerusalem and the occupied territories (Tasnim, September 6).
- The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the normalization agreement reached between Israel and Bahrain. The statement labeled Bahrain’s decision to normalize relations with Israel “shameful” and a sacrifice of the Palestinian cause on the altar of the American elections. The statement also proclaimed that from now on, the leaders of Bahrain will be partners in the crimes of the “Zionist regime,” which pose a constant threat to the security of the region and the Muslim world, and a source of decades violence, killing, wars, terrorism and bloodshed in Palestine and the region. The statement warned Bahrain that it will bear the responsibility for the insecurity stemming from Israel’s presence in the Persian Gulf following the conclusion of the agreement (Fars, September 12).
- A statement condemning the normalization deal issued by the foreign relations office of the IRGC stated that “the executioner,” the leader of Bahrain, should expect harsh revenge from the “fighters for Jerusalem and the Muslim nation.” The statement called the Bahraini regime’s decision “a shameful step” that contravenes the desires of the Muslim people of Bahrain and lacks any legitimacy. The statement added that “the domino effect of the normalization between the Zionist regime and leaders of some Arab countries,” which was engineered by the White House to humiliate the Muslim people, rob their natural resources and empower the “occupiers of Palestine and Jerusalem” will never succeed, and will only increase the power and determination of the Islamic nation, and will bring to the surface the hidden capacities of the anti-Zionist resistance to remove “the cancerous tumor called Israel” from the geography of the Muslim world. The IRGC warned in their statement the leaders of Bahrain against opening the gates of the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea to the “Zionist regime” and threaten then with retribution from the Islamic nation, and particularly the Shia of Bahrain (Tasnim, September 12).
The header of the daily Kayhan (September 14): The occupiers of the Bahraini province [reflecting Iranian stance that Bahrain is an Iranian province and should be an inseparable part of Iran, since it was under Iranian control in the 17th and 18th centuries] recognized the occupiers of Palestine.”
- On September 16, Tehran witnessed the gathering of a special meeting of the International Association of the Islamic Awakening. The annual meeting was held remotely this year, and including about 50 representatives from Muslim-majority countries. The meeting focused on the normalization agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. In a speech before the attendees of the conference, the Adviser on International Affairs to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Akbar Velayati, who also serves as the Secretary General of the International Association of Islamic Awakening, stressed the religious centrality of Palestine for the Muslim world, and the efforts of the enemies of Islam over the past 70 years to gradually remove Palestine from the map of the region, and replace it with “the regime occupying Jerusalem” and to remove the Palestinian cause from the list of priorities of the Muslim world. He remarked that the dozens of rounds of talks and negotiations held since the 1967 war between the Arabs and Israel, not only failed to deliver a single accomplishment for the Palestinian people, but actually produced the opposite effect: continuation of settlement expansion and demands for new concessions. He argued that the only way to realize the aspirations of the Palestinian people is through resistance. According to Velayati, the normalization of relations between some Arab countries and Israel is a joint American-Israeli plan, which intends to eliminate the Palestinian cause and take over the wealth and vital resources of Arab countries (Tasnim, September 16).
Ali Akbar Velayati during his speech before a special assembly of the International Association of Islamic Awakening (Tasnim, September 16, 2020).