October 1, 2020 – October 18, 2020Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
The meeting of the Iraqi president with the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad (Mehr, October 4, 2020).

The meeting of the Iraqi president with the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad (Mehr, October 4, 2020).

  • Negotiations are continuing apace between Iran and Russia concerning the war in Syria: following the visit of the Iranian minister of foreign affairs to Moscow in late September, the Iranian ambassador met with the Russian deputy foreign minister and discussed developments in Syria. Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that a meeting between representatives of Iran, Russia and Turkey, as part of the Astana Talks, is set to be held by the end of October. The officials representing the three countries will likely be the respective deputy foreign ministers.
  • The bodies of eight fighters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were killed in the vicinity of the town of Khan Touman southwest of Aleppo city, were identified as part of ongoing efforts of the IRGC in Syria to identify the location of dozens of Iranian fighters who have gone missing in action during the Syrian civil war.
  • Media sources in Iraq reported that the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Esmail Qa’ani, arrived for a visit in Baghdad and met with senior commanders of the Shia militias, as part of ongoing discussions between the Iraqi government, the Shia militias and the Iranian regime. The deliberations were held in recent weeks following a threat voiced by the United States, warning that it would shutter its embassy in Baghdad and act militarily against the Shia pro-Iranian militias. Meanwhile, the spokesman of the pro-Iranian Shia militia Kataeb Hezbollah announced a conditional ceasefire, as part of which the militias will halt attacks on American targets in Iraq, to allow for setting a timetable for the withdrawal of American groups from Iraq. The statement of the Shia militias about a temporary ceasefire may indicate Iran’s desire to avoid an escalation with the United States in Iraq, at least until the presidential elections in the United States.
  • The governor of the Iranian Central Bank visited Baghdad and announced that the two countries reached an agreement concerning the release of Iranian funds, totaling in five billion US dollars, which have been frozen in accounts in Iraq due to U.S. sanctions. The funds will be used to purchase goods to be imported to Iran. The Central Bank governor, who previously visited Iraq in mid-June 2020, did not provide information regarding the timetable for the implementation of the agreement.
  • Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former Iranian President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and a prominent reformist activist, made an extraordinary statement calling to reexamine her country’s policy toward Israel, for recognizing the regional and international reality, based on Iran’s national interests. As expected, her statement aroused harsh criticism from Iranian hardliners .
Iranian Involvement in Syria
  • The Step News Agency, aligned with the Syrian opposition, reported (October 10), that military reinforcements of the IRGC arrived at the Albu Kamal region, through the al-Qaem crossing connecting Syria to Iraq. The force included 25 armored vehicles, ten armored personnel carries, give trucks, communications equipment, and armored vehicles with heavy machine guns. According to the report, the force reached the Imam Ali base in south Albu Kamal. The report, whose veracity is unclear, alleged that Iranian forces prevented Syrian regime forces from approaching the reinforcements or taking their photos.
  • On October 12, the Iranian Ambassador to Russia, Kazem Jalali, met with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Vershinin, and discussed developments in Syria and the region and bilateral relations. During the meeting, the two discussed the situation in Idlib, the ongoing negotiations to settle the war in Syria, the issue of Syrian refugees, and Syria’s chemical weapons file. The two stressed the need for Moscow and Tehran to continue deliberating and cooperating with regards to developments in the region. Meanwhile, the Deputy Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, stated during his weekly press conference that the Astana process concerning the settlement of the war in Syria is continuing apace, and that a meeting between the representatives of Iran, Russia and Turkey (probably deputy foreign ministers), is set to be held by the end of October, to discuss the situation in Idlib, east of the Euphrates, and the constitution (Fars, October 13).
  • The Iranian Deputy Minister of Trade and the Head of the Organization of Development of Trade, Hamid Zadboum, stated in an interview to Iranian Arabic-language television, al-Alam (October 4), that Iran wishes to play a role in the reconstruction of Iraq and Syria, and that Iranian companies that provide technical and engineering services are currently operating in both countries. He remarked that Iran sees the reconstruction of Iraq, Syria and any other Muslim country as a religious obligation, and that Iran is willing to assist any country in need to infrastructure-related assistance. Zadboum added that Iran wishes to be involved in projects concerning natural resource extraction and agriculture. He reported that Iran established its largest trade office in Damascus, and that Iranian companies are working in Iraq in the spheres of reconstruction, as well as building power station and paving roads. He also mentioned, at the same time, that Iranian activities in Iraq encounter difficulties, including delays in payments.
  • On October 11, the official in charge of fallen fighters in the ranks of the IRGC, Abolqasem Sharifi, reported that the bodies of eight IRGC fighters, killed in the area of Khan Touman southwest of Aleppo city, were tracked and identified through DNA tests. He mentioned that the bodies were located by an IRGC investigative team, which operated in the area for several months, and were returned to Iran (ILNA, October 11).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
  • Iraqi media outlets reported (October 9) that the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Esmail Qa’ani, arrived for a visit in Baghdad and met with senior commanders of the Shia militias. Iranian sources did not confirm the reports about the visit. The visit was held at a time when the Iraqi government, the Shia Iraqi militias and the Iranian regime are conducting talks following a warning, issued by the United States, which threatened to shutter its embassy in Baghdad and act militarily against the Shia pro-Iranian militias, due to ongoing attacks by the militias against American targets in Iraq. On October 10, following these deliberations, the official Spokesman of the pro-Iranian Shia militia, Kataeb Hezbollah, Ali al-Askari, announced that the “resistance” groups in Iraq agreed on a conditional ceasefire. As part of it, the militias will halt attacks on American targets in Iraq to allow the American forces to withdraw from the country. He warned, however, that the “resistance” will resume its military activity with all the tools at its disposal, unless a timetable is set for the pullout of American forces from Iraq (Tasnim, October 12).
  • On October 3, the Iraqi President, Barahm Salih, met with the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, and discussed the latest developments in Iraq with him and bilateral relations. A statement, published by the Iraqi president after the meeting, conveyed that the two sides stressed their support for the steps taken by the Iraqi government to protect diplomatic missions in the country, and enforce the law. The two also stressed the need to reduce tensions in the region. Masjedi remarked in the meeting that Iran supports Iraq stability and strives to bolster its ties with Baghdad in various social and economic spheres (Mehr, October 4).
  • On October 12, the Governor of the Iranian Central Bank, Abdolnaser Hemmati, arrived for a visit in Baghdad, heading a mission of banking and trade officials, to discuss with senior Iraqi officials in the banking sector the release of Iranian funds frozen in Iraqi banks. The sums amount to several billion U.S. dollars, earned from Iranian import of gas and electricity to Iraq, which have been frozen by Iraqi banks due to the economic sanctions the United States placed on Iran. Tehran wishes to use those funds to buy goods whose purchase is not prohibited by the sanctions. At the end of his visit, Hemmati declared that an agreement was reached between Iran and the central and trade banks of Iraq concerning the unfreezing of Iranian funds, which will be used by Iran to purchase basic goods. He did not provide information on the timetable to implement the agreement. Hemmati mentioned that during his meeting with the Governor of the Iraqi Central Bank, Mustafa Ghalef Mukhif, and with the Governor of the Iraqi Trade Bank, Salem Jawab Abd al-Hadi Chalabi, the two sides discussed the trade relations between the two countries. Hemmati also met with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi, who welcomed the agreement reached between the bank governors, and vowed to continuously monitor its implementation. Hemmati expressed hope that the agreement will allow expanding the economic and banking ties between the two countries (Mehr, October 12). During a press conference he held on October 14, Hemmati updated that the sum of money that would be unfrozen under the agreement amounts to about five billion U.S. dollars (Fars, October 14).
  • This is Hemmati’s second visit to Iraq in recent months. During his prior visit, in mid-June 2020, the Central Bank governor discussed with his Iraqi counterpart the possibility of creating a joint financial mechanism, which would allow Iran to use its funds in Iraq to import basic goods that are not covered by sanctions, such as food and medicine. In 2019, the central banks of both countries signed an agreement to bolster financial cooperation between the two countries.
  • The Iraqi Minister of Transportation, Hussein Bandar al-Shibli, announced the resumption of flights between Iran and Iraq, starting on October 12. The flights were resumed between Baghdad and Najaf to Tehran and Mashhad, while maintaining health precautions due to the COVID-19 outbreak (ISNA, October 11). All flights between Iraq and Iran were halted on September 25 due to the rise in the COVID-19 cases in Iran, and the efforts made by Iraqi authorities to prevent the arrival of Iranian pilgrims to the Arbaeen ceremonies in Iraq (the pilgrimage to Shia holy sites in Iraq to mark the end of 40 days of mourning for the death of the Shia Imam Hussein).
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
  • In an extraordinary statement, Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of the former Iranian President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, called for reassessing Iran’s official position toward Israel. In an interview to the reformist newspaper Arman-e Melli (October 6), most of which dealt with women’s rights in Iran, Hashemi was asked about her position concerning the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Hashemi is a well-known activist in Iran’s reformist camp and a harsh critic of the regime’s policies. Hashemi responded that it is impossible to ignore the fact that the “Zionist regime” occupied Palestinian lands and took control of Palestine with British support, with collaboration with some among the Palestinians, while relying on killing and oppression. However, she stressed that it is also impossible to ignore historical developments since Israel’s establishment in 1948, and that Iran’s policies should be adjusted to changes in the international arena. According to her, many countries were divided and were unified throughout history, and many changes occurred during wars or following peace agreements. Hashemi remarked that support for the Palestinians is important, but there is no difference between the oppression of Palestinians by Israel, to the oppression and killing of Muslims in Syria, China or Chechnya, carried out by regimes with whom Iran maintains a close relationship. She pointed to the good relationship between Iran and Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, despite the deep ideological divide between Iran and those regimes. According to Hashemi, it is impossible to ignore Israel’s presence in the Middle East, while Qatar and Oman, countries with whom Iran maintains friendly relations, also support the agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Israel is keen to normalize its relations with Muslim countries, and Iran’s position should be grounded in its national interests, and the need to defend the rights of the Iranian people and protect Iran’s national resources.
  • Unsurprisingly, Hashemi’s statement aroused harsh criticism from Iranian hardliners. The Adviser on International Affairs of the Speaker of the Majlis, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, lambasted Hashemi’s argument. Mentioning the reportage on Hashemi’s statement by the Israeli daily Israel Hayom, Abdollahian claimed that her statements about the “fake Israeli regime that threatens the peace and security of the region” are untrue and unwise, and rejoiced the “Zionist terrorists.” He added that Faezeh’s father, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, supported Palestine from an early age, and that she must retract her statement (Farda News, October 13).


SDF Begins Mass Release of ISIS Members and Sympathizers in Syria / INSTITUT  FOR THE STUDY OF WAR (ISW)

17 Oct 2020 – Key Takeaway: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has begun large-scale releases of ISIS detainees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), including ISIS sympathizers and the families of ISIS members. The SDF declared a general amnesty for detained criminals and ISIS fighters on October 15 and ISIS sympathizers in the al Hawl IDP camp on October 14.

The SDF clarified that the amnesty does not apply to ISIS members found guilty of killing Syrians, an effort to mitigate public backlash. However, the SDF cannot consistently apply that standard, as it does not have the ability to investigate and prosecute all of its detainees or IDPs. The SDF does not have a process to deradicalize or reintegrate released ISIS sympathizers.

The SDF released 631 detainees from Alaya Prison near Qamishli on October 15 and 289 IDPs from al Hawl on October 13. More releases will likely follow in coming days. ISIS will benefit from the injection of new fighters into its insurgency and will likely intimidate and recruit vulnerable civilian returnees.


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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS ANALYSIS : How the Abraham Accords affected the Turkish Foreign Policy?


In this issue of Turkeyscope, Zoltán Egeresi, research fellow at the Hungarian Institute for Strategic and Defence Studies, analyzes the negative Turkish reaction to the normalization deals made between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. – Date – October 15, 2020

Recent weeks have brought a number of historical breakthroughs in Arab-Israeli relations. The existing ties among Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were cemented with the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement, that was signed in Washington on August 13.[1] This normalization deal demonstrates the changing perception of Arab (Gulf) countries concerning the Palestinian issue.

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“Targeting Life in Idlib” – Syrian and Russian Strikes on Civilian Infrastructure – October 15, 2020 Witness – By BELKIS WILLE –

In April 2019, the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, launched a major military offensive to retake Idlib governorate and surrounding areas in northwest Syria— one of the last areas controlled by anti-government armed groups. Over the next 11 months, the Syrian-Russian alliance showed callous disregard for the lives of the roughly 3 million civilians in the area, many of them people displaced by the fighting in other parts of the country.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS Top of the Agenda : Israel, Lebanon Begin First Talks in Decades

Officials from Israel and Lebanon met today for negotiations—the countries’ first direct civilian diplomatic talks in thirty years—aimed at resolving their disputed maritime border (Haaretz). The talks ended after roughly an hour (Reuters), with an agreement to meet again in two weeks.

​U.S. officials mediated the talks, held at a UN base in Lebanon. Israel and Lebanon are still formally at war. Israeli officials stressed that the talks would focus exclusively on the delineation of both countries’ territorial waters to allow for future oil drilling, and that they did not signal a normalization of relations (Times of Israel) akin to Israel’s recent agreements with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah also said the talks did not signal peace with Israel.

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Autumn Chills: Israel-China Relations and the Normalization Agreements with the Gulf States – Eyal Propper – INSS Insight No. 1389, October 12, 2020 – ISRAEL – Chill from the East: The festive signing of the Abraham Accords on the White House lawn cooled the relations between Jerusalem and Beijing, which believes that any gain for Trump is a loss for the Communist Party. Israel must learn to walk between the raindrops and distance itself as much as possible from the struggle between the superpowers

China responded coolly to the normalization agreements between Israel and the Gulf states,

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : Russia’s outreach to Syrian Kurds highlights dual-track approach

While Russia blames the United States for adding fuel to the fire of Kurdish separatism, it calls on the Syrian Kurds to lay the groundwork for constitutional reform, so as to contain conflict in the territories over which Damascus has long lost control.

Anton Mardasov Oct 9, 2020 – AL MONITOR – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued a warning during an Oct. 5 press conference over the risk of an escalation of the Kurdish problem due to the US attempts “to cobble up a Kurdish autonomy.” Washington, he said, is known to be talking the Turks “into not objecting to the idea of creating such autonomy, assuring them that the Americans will ensure the Kurds’ loyalty.”

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS :  IntelBrief: U.S. Sanctions Iran-led Axis

Bottom Line Up Front  5 Oct 2020 THE SOUFAN CENTER

  • The Trump administration imposed additional sanctions on Iran, Syria, and Lebanese Hezbollah to weaken the Iran-led ‘axis of resistance.’
  • The sanctions are intended to isolate members of the Iran-led axis from the international banking system and to reduce their financial resources.
  • The sanctions are unlikely to compel any members of the axis to alter their fundamental goals or behaviors.
  • The axis is able to mitigate the effect of U.S. sanctions through their relationships with Russia, China, Venezuela, and other actors.

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The Baku Balance: How Azerbaijan Juggles Israel & Iran

David Pollock David Pollock is the Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on regional political dynamics and related issues. FIKRA FORUM Also available in العربية October 7, 2020

The current conflict in the Caucasus between Azerbaijan and Armenia is an extraordinary case where Israel and Iran, while both claiming neutrality, are actually tilting toward the same side: Azerbaijan. Israel buys Azerbaijan’s oil and sells it advanced weapons, now being used to deadly effect; while Iran proclaims its support for Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity”—code words for its claim to Nagorno-Karabakh and adjoining bits of territory held by Armenian separatists. How does this small though oil- and gas-rich country of 10 million mostly Shia Muslims, right on Iran’s northern border, manage this remarkable geopolitical feat?

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 (Unmittelbar vor und auch während der Kämpfe in Nagornyj Karabach hatten mindestens vier schwere aserbaidschanische Frachtmaschinen den israelischen Militärflughafen Uvda angeflogen, über deren Inhalt bislang nur spekuliert wird.)

Konflikt in Nagornyj Karabach : „Mit einem Sturmgewehr gegen Artillerie“

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