MESOPOTAMIA NEWS INTEL BY MEIR AMIT INTELLIGENCE & TERRORISM INFORMATION CENTER / ISRAEL – Spotlight on Iran

March 22, 2020 – April 5, 2020 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
The Commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami (Defa’ Press, March 28, 2020)

The Commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami (Defa’ Press, March 28, 2020)

Overview
  • Additional reports about the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) among pro-Iranian militiamen operating in Syria. Syrian opposition sources reported that several dozens of Shi’ite militiamen were transferred to medical care in the Damascus area after becoming infected with the virus.
  • The transfer of medical equipment from China to Iran through Iranian freighters previously used for shipping weaponry from Iran to Syria continues. At the same time, Iranian flights from Tehran to Damascus have not stopped. These flights likely contain equipment and weaponry.
  • Iran is closely following reports about possibly American preparations for significant military action against the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Iraq. In light of these reports, senior Iranian officials, including the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces and the secretary of the Expediency Council warned the United States against carrying out such action and called on the United States to withdraw from Iraq.
  • Against the backdrop of escalating tensions in Iraq and ongoing talks concerning the formation of a new government in Baghdad, the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Esmail Qa’ani, conducted a visit to Baghdad. According to reports in Arab media, Qa’ani met with the leaders of the Shi’ite factions in the Iraqi parliament in an effort to find an agreed-upon candidate for the role of prime minister of Iraq, due to Iran’s opposition to the prime minister-designate, Adnan al-Zurfi.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department announced the imposition of new sanctions against 20 entities and organizations in Iraq and Iraq, due to their involvement in financing the IRGC and pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Iraq.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
  • The Lebanese newspaper al-Modon reported (March 23) based on the claims of Abd a-Salam Abd a-Razzaq, a former commander in the Zenki Movement, a Syrian rebel group, that Russia imposed a policy of distancing the forces in the Syrian Army, especially those supported by it, from the pro-Iranian militias operating in the country, due to fears about the spread of COVID-19 among the Syrian Army and Russian forces operating in the country. The former commander stated that bases of the 5th Corps and Division 25, which are supported by Russia, were separated from outposts of the Shi’ite militias, following reports about the outbreak of the virus. The credibility of this report is unclear.
  • At the same time, Syrian opposition sources continue to report about the spread of COVID-19 among fighters in the ranks of the Shi’ite militias. According to these reports, several dozens of fighters in the pro-Iranian militias were taken to medical care in the area of Damascus after contracting the virus (Orient News, March 28). Doctors in the Tishreen hospital in Damascus also reported recently that several fighters in the ranks of the Shi’ite militias were treated in this military hospital after developing symptoms of COVID-19 (Syria in Context, March 17).
  • Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the Iranian regime continues to deploy freighter jets that were once used to transfer weaponry from Iran to Syria, to move medical equipment from China to Iran. Jets of the Fars Qeshm Air that were used previously to carry out cargo shipments from Iran to Syria, transferred in the second half of March medical equipment from Xinjiang in China to Iran (AkhbarAlaan.net, March 26). However, Iranian flights to Damascus have not stopped, likely carrying materiel (the Twitter account @obretix, based on flight radars, March 27).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
  • Iranian media highlighted reporting on possible U.S. preparations for significant military action against pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The New York Times reported (March 27), that the U.S. Department of Defense ordered its military command to prepare for attacking the Shi’ite militia Kataeb Hezbollah following the launch of rockets, carried out by the militia against bases in Iraq hosting American troops. The report described disagreements among U.S. military leadership concerning the appropriate response to the latest escalation in Iraq. The newspaper al-Quds al-Araby reported (March 30), that the pro-Iranian militia began adopting precautionary measures due to fears of incoming U.S. strikes. According to this report, Kataeb Hezbollah reduced the number of deployed fighters, removed some of their weaponry and switched to using unmarked cars. The newspaper quoted a senior Iraqi military intelligence official who claimed that some of the militiamen withdrew from their bases and that the leadership of the Shi’ite militias called on its members to vacate checkpoints they had previously occupied.
  • Against the backdrop of reports about a possible American attack against the Shi’ite militias in Iraq, the Commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, warned the United States against such action. In a television interview on the occasion of IRGC Day, Salami stated that the only option the Americans have is to leave the region, since their presence in the region harms them and the peoples in the Middle East. According to him, the Americans thought that killing Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis will put out the flame of the “torch of resistance” and that they can change the political and security conditions in the region, but in fact, the assassination increased the pressure on the United States to withdraw from Iraq. Salami called on the leaders of the United States to focus on ensuring the wellbeing of their own citizens who are dying of COVID-19 in New York and other American states, instead of thinking about “Hollywood scenarios” and killing citizens in Iraq (Defa’ Press, March 28).
  • The Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Mohammad Baqeri, stated that Iran is watching closely the movement of American forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. He asserted that the attacks carried out against American bases in Iraq in recent weeks are “a natural reaction” on the part of the people and resistance forces in Iraq, in response to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and have nothing to do with Iran. Baqeri threatened the United States, stating that even the slightest threat to Iran’s security will be met with an overwhelming response (Tasnim, April 2).
  • The Secretary of the Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezaei, also addressed the possibility of an American military strike in Iraq and claimed that any military action in Iraq is akin to an attack by ISIS, and that there is no difference between the aggression carried out by a state or a militant organization. In a tweet on his Twitter account (March 31), Rezaei wrote that all Americans must leave Iraq, and if they do not do so, the Iraqi people will force them to do so.
  • The Foreign Affairs Adviser to the Speaker of the Majlis, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, posted on his Twitter account (March 31), that the American military moves in Iraq and the region may be a form of psychological warfare. He warned that if the United States makes another military mistake, this will bring about its rapid departure from the region and the end of Zionism.
  • The Speaker of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abbas Mousavi, demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. He claimed that U.S. military actions in Iraq are a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and contravene the official and public demand of the government, the parliament, and the Iraqi people, and may escalate the situation in the region (Tasnim, April 1).
  • The Senior Security Adviser of the Supreme Leader of Iran and former Commander of the IRGC, Seyyed Yahya Rahim Safavi, also addressed the developments in Iraq. In a commentary published by the Tasnim and Fars news agencies, which are affiliated with the IRGC, he warned (April 1), that if the United States ignores the demand of the Iraqi parliament to remove its forces from Iraq, it will have to face the consequences for its illegal presence in Iraq. He stated that the economic and political situation in the United States, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and upcoming presidential elections, are hindering its ability to oversee a military campaign in the region. Safavi called on the U.S. government and military leaders to examine the repercussions of any action they decide to take, and warned that the Iraqi people, the Iraqi youth and resistance groups are willing to act against any American military action.
  • In light of growing tensions in Iraq and the ongoing talks concerning the formation of a new government in Baghdad, Arab media outlets reported that a senior Iranian delegation, led by the Commander of the Qods Force of the IRGC, Esmail Qa’ani, arrived in Baghdad in recent days. According to several reports, Qa’ani met with the heads of the Shi’ite blocs in the Iraqi parliament, Hadi al-Ameri, Nouri al-Maliki and Omar al-Hakim, in an effort to find an alternative compromise candidate for the Iraqi premiership, due to the opposition of some Iraqi Shi’ite factions and Iran to the nomination of Adnan al-Zurfi for prime minister (al-Marsad news, March 31; al-Akhbar, April 1). The reports about Qa’ani’s visit to Iraq were reported in Iranian media, likely to counter the rumors spread about Qa’ani’s alleged assassination in an attack on Syria on the night of March 31, which was attributed to Israel.
  • On March 21, the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, visited the Iraqi border crossing of Zurbatiyah and the Iranian border crossing of Mehran, which link the two countries. The ambassador met with officials in charge of the operation of the crossings and discussed ways to facilitate the movement of goods and people between Iran and Iraq, considering the COVID-19 outbreak. Accompanying Masjedi on the visit was Mostafa Moradian, the Iranian Military Attaché to Baghdad. In addition, Masjedi met with Qasem Soleimani Dashtaki, the Governor of Ilam Province, and with Houshang Bazvand, the Governor of Kermanshah Province in western Iran, and stressed the need to bolster economic cooperation between Iran and Iraq through the border crossings located in those provinces. In the meeting the governor of the Kermanshah province, the ambassador stated that the main role of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad is expanding ties, economic cooperation and trade between the two countries. He remarked that the provinces bordering on the Iran-Iraq border have an important role in the economic ties with Iraq. He also expressed hope that the border crossings will be reopened and return to regular operation following the end of the COVID-19 crisis (IRNA, March 21-22).
  • The U.S. Treasury Department announced (March 26) the imposition of new sanctions on 20 entities and organizations in Iran and Iraq, which were involved, according to the U.S. government, in exploiting Iraq’s economy to finance the IRGC and pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Iraq, including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaeb ahl al-Haqq. These entities were involved in, among other things, smuggling materiel from Iraq to Yemen; money laundering; smuggling Iranian oil; selling Iranian oil to the Syrian regime; promoting Iranian propaganda in Iraq; and transferring donations collected from the public to the Qods Force, under the guise of donations to religious institutions. One of the sanctioned bodies in the Headquarters for Restoration of Holy Sites in Iraq, which is operated by senior Qods Force officials in Iran and Iraq. According to the U.S. government, Iran is operating a network of companies, whose goal is to fundraise for its terrorist activities (Reuters, March 26).
  • The Prime Minister designate in Iraq, Adnan al-Zurfi, called on the international community to assist Iran in the effort to deal with the coronavirus. In a post on his Twitter account (March 29), al-Zurfi wrote that assistance with Iran will help prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” harming the Iranian people, and that the international community should assist Iran by lifting or easing the sanctions, as well as offering medical assistance. He stated that the situation in Iran will have health and security implications on Iraq, due to the long border between the two countries and the ties between them.
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
  • The Spokesman of Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, harshly condemned the continued imposition of American sanctions against Iran, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Abu Zuhri claimed that maintaining the sanctions is worsening the outbreak of the virus and places public health in Iran under great risk. He labeled the sanctions “a crime against humanity” and called for their removal, to allow Iran to deal with the challenges stemming from the outbreak of the virus (al-Ahed, March 27). Prior to this, the Head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, Ismail Hanniyeh, also urged the lifting of American sanctions in readout of a phone call he held with the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif (Mehr, March 21).

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS – Sanctions relief isn’t necessary to assist Iran’s coronavirus response

By Katherine Bauer and Dana Stroul, opinion contribtuors — 03/31/20 05:00 PM EDT

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The rapid spread of the coronavirus in Iran is deeply alarming, as are the severe difficulties facing the Iranian government — which continues to mishandle its response — in dealing with the outbreak, treating the ill, and taking necessary preventive measures. Iran ranks sixth worldwide for confirmed cases of COVID-19, and fourth for deaths from the virus. The reality is likely far worse, considering the lack of testing capacity and the government’s inclination to lie. Given what public health experts anticipate about the lethal trajectory of this virus, the instinct to assist other countries — such as Iran — in their efforts to flatten the curve is perfectly understandable.

weiterlesen / click to continue

Iran bans printing of all newspapers, citing spread of coronavirus

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS IRAN : COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS

Washington, D.C., March 31, 2020 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern over Iranian authorities’ decision to suspend all newspaper printing and distribution in the country, where newsgathering and distribution is already tightly restricted.

Yesterday, Iran’s Coronavirus Combat Taskforce issued a decree suspending all newspaper printing, delivery, and distribution, citing the need to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to news reports and the decree, which was reprinted by local outlets.

weiterlesen / click to continue

 MESOPOTAMIA NEWS WEEKLY REPORT IRAN – KURDISTAN

 

31 März 2020

  • After tens of thousands of coronavirus cases resulted in the death of thousands of Iranians across the country, the Iranian regime released a number of prisoners on “prison leave.” The released prisoners excluded those who have outstanding execution sentences and the political prisoners with long term sentences. Several Kurdish civilian activists were released from Marivan, Dehgolan, and Sanandaj. However, in Mehabad and Saqqaz riots in prisons resulted in the escape of tens of inmates after fears of the spread of coronavirus. In Mehabad city the security forces and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) killed two and wounded three more of the escapees from the prison break. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Human Rights Association (KMMK) reported the escape of 80 prisoners from Saqqez prison on Friday. The coronavirus deaths in the Kurdish region reached 315 according to the Hengaw organization for Human Rights, while thousands of Iranian Kurds suffer a lack of medical attention, especially in Mehabad city.

Mehr via www.mesop.de

MESPOTAMIA NEWS SHORT CUTS : IRAN CONTRA ERDOGAN

 

  1. March 2020 – Iran: Iranian authorities said they halted natural gas exports (Reuters) to Turkey after a militant attack on a pipeline on the Turkish side of the countries’ shared border.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-turkey-pipeline-attacks/iran-says-natgas-exports-to-turkey-halted-after-attack-by-terrorists-idUSKBN21I113?utm_source=dailybrief&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DailyBrief2020Mar31&utm_term=DailyNewsBrief

Iraq’s post-pandemic future depends on breaking Iran’s hold

 
 
Iraq at “Decision Point”

There is something austere these days in the US approach to Iraq. The diplomatic pleasantries and talk of “strategic partnership” are crowded out by matter-of-fact demarches and warnings. And there’s no mystery why. Iran has made Iraq a battlefield. Iranian backed militias in Iraq have killed Americans, twice, in December and again this month. American forces have been injured by Iranian or Iranian proxy attacks. Also in December, Iran-backed militias organized crowds to attack the US Embassy in Baghdad, and Iraqi security forces were initially nowhere to be found.

“The Iraqi government is at a decision point,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said last week.

 
US policy toward Iraq is now a variation of “us or them,” with “them” being Iran. The future of the US-Iraq relationship depends on Iraq’s choices. There can be no claims to Switzerland-like neutrality. The Trump administration has so far shown unusual restraint and empathy with Iraq’s plight. It knows Iraq can’t change its border with Iran, and an all-out conflict is in noone’s interest. But when Americans are killed and US embassies are under siege, there is an inevitable reckoning.

US shift to military deterrence

Both Washington and Baghdad want the US-Iraq security relationship to continue. Even those Iraqi politicians who may take a nationalist tone and hedge publicly, in private often value the partnership.

In 2014, the brutal Islamic State (IS) caliphate ruled large swaths of Iraqi territory. Last year, the Trump administration announced the territorial defeat of the IS caliphate in Iraq and Syria. As we wrote in January, this success of both the Obama and Trump administrations often doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

 
Iran, in contrast, exploited the IS crisis to advance its own sectarian agenda, embedding itself even more deeply in Iraq’s security and other institutions, compromising Iraqi sovereignty.

The need to defeat IS brought US forces back to Iraq; recall the US had left in 2010. While the United States, Iraq and partner nations agree on the need to stay engaged against IS, there is no guarantee of the perpetuity of the US-Iraq security partnership beyond the counter-IS mission. In that context, the relocation and consolidation of US military personnel and equipment and the transfer of control of some bases to Iraqi security forces should come as no surprise.

The US use of force in Iraq against Iran and its proxies has been calibrated to deter, not to escalate. The recent cycle did not start with the US killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds (IRGC) Force Cmdr. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone and missile strike in Iraq on Jan. 3. Those who seek to blame the Trump administration on that score often forget or glide over the Iranian-backed attacks that killed an American on Dec. 27 and the protest at the US Embassy on Dec. 31.

Following the March 12 militia attack on Iraq’s Camp Taji military base, which killed two Americans, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that Iraq must defend US and coalition personnel and the groups responsible for the attacks “must be held accountable.” If not, the United States would continue to take matters into its own hands, meaning striking back militarily.

Iraqi President Barham Salih referred to the attacks on Taji as terrorism, adding later that US retaliatory strikes represented a “grave and systemic weakening of the state’s ability and reputation” and risked plunging Iraq into “chaos and violence.”

Avoiding state collapse

In a prescient interview, just days before the mass demonstrations began in Iraq on Oct. 1, Salih told Al-Monitor that providing job opportunities for Iraqi youth was an urgent priority. In his speech to the UN General Assembly, he labeled corruption as the “political economy of conflict.”

Salih has sought to move toward a program of reform, managing the expectations of protesters within the constraints of Iraqi politics.

And this already nearly impossible task just got harder, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drop in oil prices.

Omar Al-Jaffal reports on the government’s challenges in enforcing its policies to mitigate spread of the coronavirus, now at 458 cases and rising fast, with 40 deaths as of March 27. The United States is providing $670,000 to help Iraq battle the virus, Bryant Harris reports.

Mustafa Saadoun explains the looming budget crisis as the draft 2020 budget, which is pending before parliament, is $135 billion with a $40 billion deficit, based on a selling price of $56 per barrel of oil. However, oil prices are now close to half that.

The Iraqi state’s fragility, and potential failure, cannot be ruled out.

Getting rid of the bad blood

In the movie “The Godfather,” mafia captain Peter Clemenza explains at one point that from time to time, “things gotta happen … to get rid of the bad blood.”

In Iraq, that bad blood is Iranian-backed militias and corruprion. A sovereign Iraq can’t have its territory used by Iran to attack Americans or as an ammo dump or highway to buck up Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Hezbollah.

And the long game of Iraqi reform can’t be disentangled from the malign and corrupt influence of Iran. Iraq’s protesters get it. Their message has been for an end to corruption and Iranian influence. Demonstrators have attacked the offices of pro-Iran parties and militias, Ali Mamouri reports. More than 600 protesters have been killed and thousands injured by Iraqi security forces and pro-Iran armed groups since demonstrations started in October 2019.

The challenge of the protest movement “has transformed Iraq’s political field,” write Iraq experts Toby Dodge and Renad Mansour, making the ruling sectarian elite, backed by Iran, even more dependent upon violence and corruption.

Iran, of course, is not giving up Iraq without a fight, as we explained here in November. Iraq is considered the most vital of Iran’s national security priorities. Tehran and its proxies are willing to tolerate a high degree of violence on Iraqi soil and rule amidst the ruins if it were to come to that.

The Trump administration, for its part, is also not giving up on Iraq and, as mentioned above, is not unsympathetic to its challenges. But Washington is looking to Iraq to make some tough choices. The Trump administration this week extended sanctions waivers for Iraq for its electricity needs (Iran has had a stranglehold on Iraq’s electricity sector), while sanctioning 20 individuals and groups that are linked to the IRGC and other Iran-backed terrorists and armed groups in Iraq, including those involved in Iraq’s electricity sector.

One benchmark will be whether Prime Minster designate Adnan al-Zurfi, reportedly opposed by Iran’s allies in Iraq, can form a government by April 17. If so, said Schenker, “A government that prioritizes Iraq and heeds the legitimate demands made by Iraqis for a sovereign and corrupt-free nation will receive US and international support.”

 

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : WITH COVID-19, IRAN’S DEPENDENCE ON CHINA GROWSby Kevjn Lim  – PolicyWatch 3290 – March 27, 2020

Beijing has steadily become Tehran’s economic ventilator, diplomatic prop, and military enabler, and the Iranians need this backstop now more than ever.

When the coronavirus spun out of control in Wuhan this January, Iran ignored the example of many other countries and continued to maintain direct flights and open borders with China. Even after President Hassan Rouhani’s government suspended all such flights on January 31, Mahan Air—a company affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—kept flying between Tehran and four first-tier Chinese cities, leading many to allege that the airline was instrumental in introducing or at least exacerbating Iran’s raging epidemic.

weiterlesen / click to continue

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : Coronavirus Delivers Another Devastating Blow to the Iranian Regime

By Yaakov Lappin March 27, 2020 –  BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,507, March 27, 2020 / ISRAEL

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The coronavirus pandemic has hit Iran hard, and not only on the health front. The virus is the latest in a succession of blows to the Iranian regime’s domestic status, fractured economy, and already low credibility level at home. The virus also appears to be slowing down the regime’s malign activities across the Middle East.

weiterlesen / click to continue

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS INTEL BY MEIR AMIT INTELLIGENCE & TERRORISM INFORMATION CENTER / ISRAEL – Initial Assessment of the COVID-19 Crisis on Iran’s Regional Activities – IRAN

Dr. Raz Zimmt

 Main Argument
  • The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis finds Iran is one of the toughest points in its modern history. The withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear agreement (the JCPOA) and re-imposition of economic sanctions exacerbated the economic troubles the country is facing, pushing Iran’s economy to an unprecedented crisis. The sharp drop in the oil prices risks further exacerbating Iran’s economic crisis. The closure of Iran’s borders to neighboring countries due to the pandemic is also exacting a high economic cost on Iran, whose implications will likely persist even after the health crisis passes.

The economic hardship is compounded by the ramifications of the killing of the Commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qasem Soleimani, in early January 2020. The assassination dealt a serious blow to Iran’s ability to advance its strategic goals in the Middle East, at least in the short-term. The spread of the virus from Iran to other countries in the region may also bolster criticism against Iran, which is largely blamed for the outbreak of the virus, after it was late to take the necessary steps needed to stop the outbreak.

  • In Syria, Iran has to contend with the COVID-19 crisis at a time characterized by growing Iranian involvement in Idlib and an Iranian effort to covey a message of “business as usual” after Qasem Soleimani’s killing. In its activities in Syria, Iran is forced to deal with challenges and constrains stemming from continued Israel and Turkish involvement in the arena. At this stage, it is too early to asses the effects of COVID-19 on Iranian patterns of deployment and action in Syria, but there are initial indications about a certain reduction in the pace of transfers of weaponry to Syria from Iran. The COVID-19 outbreak does not only pose additional challenges to Iranian activities in Syria but may endanger the lives of fighters in the ranks of the IRGC, Hezbollah and the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias operating in Syria.
  • In Iraq, the COVID-19 crisis occurs at a time when Iran is in the midst of an ongoing campaign to maintain its political, economic and military clout, following the killing of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and increasing efforts by Iran and its proxies to compel the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. These efforts are clearly evident in the escalating military actions in recent weeks in Iraq between the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias and American forces stationed in the country. The statement of the United States about redeploying its forces inside Iraq may encourage Tehran to continue and even intensify the military pressure on American forces in Iraq, via the Shi’ite militias operating under its guidance there, in an effort to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Meanwhile, Tehran’s fears are growing due to the possibility of the formation of a new government in Baghdad led by the former governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi, who is considered to be close to the United States and whose candidacy for the premiership is supported by Washington. Meanwhile, Iran is acting to ensure that as much of the trade between it and Iraq is not disrupted, in an effort to maintain its vital economic interests in Iraq, despite the outbreak of the pandemic.
  • It is too early to assess whether the Iranian regime, which has proven its ability to withstand prior crises, will be able to contain the current emergency and how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect the national set of priorities of Iran’s leadership. At this stage, Iran is not giving up on its efforts to influence developments in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq and Syria. In addition, there is no sign that Iran is willing to give up on its strategic goals, including its regional policies, despite the intensifying crisis due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Similar to developments in crises Iran has faced in the past, the IRGC is exploiting the current crisis to bolster their involvement in the administration of civilian affairs in the country. The growing influence of the IRGC and radical circles in Iran at the expense of pragmatic elements led by President Rouhani, whose statue has been significantly diminished in recent years, may further bolster the influence of the hardliners in Iran’s leadership.
  • The longer the health and economic crisis persists, the more likely that the COVID-19 pandemic and Iran’s economic crisis may force the Iranian regime to conduct a new assessment of the situation and reexamine its national set of priorities. In our assessment, while it is unlikely that Iran’s strategic goals will change, Iran may struggle, over time, to finance its ongoing intensive campaign across the Middle East, which is already facing domestic criticism in Iran, particularly in light of the growing economic crisis.
The Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis and Iran’s Economic Crisis on Its Strategic Position
  • The COVID-19 crisis is on of the toughest challenges Iran has ever faced. The withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear agreement and re-imposition of sanctions exacerbated the difficulties the country is facing, pushing its economy to unprecedented depths of crisis. The economic impact of the pandemic is even graver, particularly because it impact sectors that were less affected by the sanctions, such as tourism, domestic trade and export of non-oil products. Authorities are attempting to provide immediate solutions to citizens, such as an aid package to three million Iranians who lack a steady source of income, and providing loans with favorable conditions to business owners, but it is clear that they do not have long-term solution.
  • For the first time since 1962, Iran’s leadership was forced to ask for a five-billion-dollar loan from the Rapid Credit Facility established by the International Monetary Fund. The American administration already announced that despite the COVID-19 crisis, it does not intend to reduce the sanctions it has placed on Iran or alter its maximum pressure policy against it. The sharp drop in the prices of oil risks further exacerbating Iran’s economic crisis. The closing of Iran’s borders to neighboring countries is also exacting a high economic costs, whose impact will likely be felt even after the passing of the health crisis, which has cost the lives of over 1,900 Iranians to date.
  • The economic hardship is compounded by the implications of the killing of the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Qasem Soleimani, in early January 2020. His killing dealt a significant blow to Iran’s ability to promote its strategic goals in the Middle East, at least in the short-term, and forces it to reexamine its policies, particularly in light of the growing external and domestic challenges it has been facing in recent years.
  • In addition, the spread of COVID-19 from Iran to other countries in the region may also increase criticism against it, as it is perceived to be largely responsible for the outbreak of the virus in the Middle East. Iranian authorities were slow in taking necessary steps, such as imposing lockdowns and halting flights between Iran and China, steps that may have stymied the spread of the pandemic. The failure of Iranian authorities to deal with the virus is bolstering voices in the Arab world against Iranian penetration and meddling in the Arab world, which were clearly heard in protests in recent months in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in Lebanon as well.
Iranian Activities in Syria in Light of the COVID-19 Crisis

In Syria, Iran is forced to deal with the COVID-19 crisis at a time of increasing Iranian involvement in the fighting around Idlib, and an Iranian effort to convey a message of “business as usual” following Qasem Soleimani’s assassination. Starting in January, Iran reinforced its forces in the area, which included units of Lebanese Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias operating under the guidance of the IRGC. The death of several IRGC members in the past two months in the area of Idlib provides further testament to the growing involvement of IRGC fighters and forces operating under their control in the campaign against the last rebel stronghold in Syria.

  • In Syria, Iran is forced to content with challenges and limitations stemming from continued Israeli and Turkish activities in this arena. Israeli activities against Iranian entrenchment efforts have hit Iranian targets and managed to slow down Iran’s attempt to cement its military presence in the country, provide precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah, and challenged Iran’s ability to significantly retaliate against Israeli strikes. Turkey’s activities in Idlib are also posing a growing threat to Iranian activities in Syria. In light of the growing conformation between Turkey and the forces backing the Assad regime in Idlib, the Iranian Military Advisory Center in Syria published an extraordinary statement in early March, in which it threatened to retaliate against the ongoing Turkish attacks in the area, which killed an Iranian cleric and a number of fighters in the ranks of Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias (Tasnim, March 1, 2020).
  • In an effort to display continuity following Soleimani’s assassination, the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, Esmail Qa’ani, recently conducted his first visit to Syria since assuming his position. During the visit, which was likely held in late February 2020, Qa’ani toured the various fighting fronts where IRGC, Hezbollah and pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias operate. Qa’ani visited the western Aleppo countryside, near the Shi’ite villages of Nubul and Zahraa’, in the southern countryside near the town of Khan Tuman, and in the Iranian base in Jabal Azzan south of Aleppo. In addition, Qa’ani visited the frontlines in Idlib, Hama and Lattakia. In an interview to the Iranian news agency Mehr (March 10), Omar Rahmon, a member of Syria’s National Reconciliation Committee, stated the Qa’ani’s visit sent an important message to regional and international players and attests to Iran’s continued support for the Syrian government and the “Resistance Front” and its determination to maintain its presence in the war on terror even after Soleimani’s assassination.

Esmail Qa’ani alongside the former Majlis member, Ali-Mohammad Bozorgvari, who left to the frontlines in Syria during February. The photograph was likely taken during Qa’ani’s last visit to Syria in February 2020 (Telegram channel linked to Esmail Qa’ani, March 7, 2020)
Esmail Qa’ani alongside the former Majlis member, Ali-Mohammad Bozorgvari, who left to the frontlines in Syria during February. The photograph was likely taken during Qa’ani’s last visit to Syria in February 2020 (Telegram channel linked to Esmail Qa’ani, March 7, 2020)

  • At this stage, it is too early to assess the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on Iranian patterns of behavior in Syria, although there are initial indications about a drop in the volume of weaponry Iran is moving to Syria. In recent days, Iranian freighters that routinely transfer weaponry from Tehran to Damascus on behalf of the IRGC, were instead dispatched to collect medical equipment from Shenzhen in China to Iran (Twitter account @Gerjon_ relying on flight trackers, March 21-22, 2020). The Mahan Air company, linked to the IRGC, has maintained its flights to Damascus, but using a smaller jet, model Avro RJ85 (Twitter account @ava_today relying on flight trackers, March 18, 2020)

Transport of medical equipment by the Mahan Air company (Fars, March 20, 2020)
Transport of medical equipment by the Mahan Air company
(Fars, March 20, 2020)

  • The outbreak of the Coronavirus not only poses additional challenges to Iranian activities in Syria, but may also endanger the lives of fighters of the IRGC, Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias operating in Syria. Only on March 22, did Syrian authorities acknowledge the first case of COVID-19 in the country but five medical personnel in Damascus reported about patients displaying COVID-19 symptoms. Two doctors in the Tishreen military hospital reported that foreign Shi’ite fighters were treated at this closed military facilities after developing what appear to be COVID-19 symptoms. These testimonies join reporting of Syrian pro-opposition media about the spread of the virus among foreign Shi’ite militiamen in Syria (Syria in Context, March 17).
  • It appears that the ongoing traffic of civilians and fighters from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon into Syria is increasing the likelihood to the virus outbreak in the country, especially in light of the poor state of Syria’s health infrastructure after years of war. The Lebanese news website al-Modon reported (March 12, 2020) that according to local sources in Deir Ezzor, despite the decision of the Syrian cabinet to shutter the borders with Iraq and Jordan, the movement of Iranians and Iraqis through the Albu Kamal crossing between Syria and Iraq has not stopped. According to this report, convoys of Iranian and Iraqi “pilgrims” continue to move into Syria and move around the country, despite the concerns of the locals.
Iranian Activities in Iraq in Lights of the COVID-19 Crisis

In Iraq, the COVID-19 crisis came at a time when Iran is waging an ongoing effort to maintain its political, economic and military influence in light of the fallout of the killing of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and growing efforts by Iran and its proxies to bring about the removal of American forces from the country.

  • In recent weeks, conflict escalated between the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Western Coalition forces following a series of rocket attacks against bases hosting American forces. In an attack carried out on March 11 on the al-Taji military base north of Baghdad, resulted in the death of two American soldiers and one British servicewoman. On March 14, another attack was carried out against the al-Taji base, during which dozens of rockets were fired at the base, resulting in the injury of a number of Iraqi and American soldiers. On March 17, a third rocket attack was carried out in the span of a week, this time against the Basmaya military base south of Baghdad, where forces belonging to the International Counter-ISIS Coalition are stationed. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any Iranian involvement in these attacks, declaring that the U.S. president should reexamine the presence of his forces in the region instead of engaging in “baseless” accusations (Fars, March 13, 2020).
  • Meanwhile, the United States announced the redeployment of its forces in Iraq, including evacuating its forces from three smaller bases and concentrating forces in larger bases, whose security will be bolstered. As part of this process, the American forces transferred responsibility over the base in al-Qaim to the Iraqi Army. The spokesman of the Iraqi Army declared that this is the first stage in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq (BBC, March 16, 2020; Rudaw, March 19, 2020). The reports about the shrinking footprint of U.S. presence in Iraq, as well as the agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban, which will result in the gradual reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, may encourage Tehran to continue ratcheting up pressure on American forces in Iraq via the Shi’ite militias operating under its guidance in an effort to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. An Iranian assessment that the U.S. President, Donald Trump, it preoccupied with the COVID-19 crisis himself and will struggle to act militarily against Iran under these circumstances may contribute to Iran’s decision to adopt a more confrontational approach.
  • In the political arena, Iran maintains its efforts to influence the process of new government formation in Iraq, particularly in light of Tehran’s concern about the prospect that the former governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi, who was appointed in mid-March as the incoming prime minister, will succeed in forming a new government. Al-Zurufi is considered to be close the United States and supported by it, and thus his nomination is opposed by some Shi’ite groups in Iraq, chief among them the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias.
  • Iran’s efforts to influence political developments in Iraq can be seen in the visit recently conducted to Iraq by the Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani. During the visit, Shamkhani met with senior Iraqi officials and the leaders of political currents in the country. Shamkhani stressed the need to continue the struggle to remove American forces from Iraq. His dispatch to Baghdad, as well as claims of former Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad al-Allawi, that the Senior Adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader on International Affairs, Ali-Akbar Velayeti, recently meddled in efforts to establish a new government in Iraq (BulatNews.Com, March 3, 2020) may indicate that following Soleimani’s assassination, some of his responsibilities, particularly in the political sphere, were delegated to other senior Iranian officials.

A meeting between the Iraqi President, Barham Salih, and Ali Shamkhani (ILNA, March 9, 2020)
A meeting between the Iraqi President, Barham Salih, and Ali Shamkhani
(ILNA, March 9, 2020)

  • In addition, Iran seeks to secure its trade relations with Iraq, in an effort to preserve its vital economic interest in the country. In recent days, the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, visited two of the border crossings linking the two countries, the Iraqi border crossing Zurbatiyah and the Iranian border crossing Mehran, and discussed with officials managing both crossings measures to facilitate the movement of goods and travelers between Iran and Iraq, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. In the visit, which was accompanied by the Iranian Military Attaché to Baghdad, Mostafa Moradian, the ambassador also met with the governors of the Kermanshah and Ilam provinces in western Iran and stressed the need to bolster economic cooperation between Iran and Iraq through the border crossings located in those provinces (IRNA, March 21, 2020).

The Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad (center) and the Iranian military attaché (left) in a meeting with the governor of Kermanshah province (right) (IRNA, March 22, 2020)
The Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad (center) and the Iranian military attaché (left) in a meeting with the governor of Kermanshah province (right) (IRNA, March 22, 2020)

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS CORONA IN IRAN : MULLAH’S SAY “NO” TO MSF HELP

raz zimmt and Randa Slim liked Golnaz Esfandiari@GEsfandiari

25 March 2020 –  2h

The trip was in full coordination with the government. But then the usual thing happened; a group of hard-liners interfered and blocked valuable help by MSF at a time when hospitals and medical workers are overwhelmed.

 

Abas Aslani@AbasAslani

  • 3h

#Iran government spokesman on @MSF delegation trip to Iran: The trip was in full coordination w relevant organizations…Ministry of Health will use their donated equipment in the area required. Our policy is to receive aid of every institution, whatever the amount.-Isna #COVID19

 

More via www.mesop.de

ältere Artikel / previous articles »