MENA NEWS BACKGROUND : IRANIAN INVOLVEMENT IN SYRIA AND LEBANON

Baghdad. (Shia News, August 22)  September 2, 2021Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has assumed his new position as Iran’s minister of foreign affairs.

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MENA WATCH REPORT: Iranian Involvement in Iraq

  • On August 27, the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fuad Hussein, spoke on the phone with the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and congratulated him on the occasion of assuming his position.
  • The Iranian minister of foreign affairs stressed Iran’s ongoing support to Iraq, and its willingness to deepen the relationship between the two countries. He also called for implementing cooperation agreements previously inked by leaders of both countries (ILNA, August 27).
  • The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, took part in a conference on regional cooperation, which was held on August 28 in Baghdad, upon the initiative of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi. The conference was also attended by the Jordanian king, the Egyptian president, the French President, Emanuel Macron, and representatives from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar. Before his departure to Baghdad, Abdollahian stated that Iran supports any regional initiative of the government in Iraq. He added that Syria should have been invited to the conference as well, as an important neighbor of Iraq. He made sure to mention that Iran consults Syria’s leadership concerning regional security and will hold direct discussions with it concerning any regional initiative (Tasnim, August 28). During his visit to Baghdad, Abdollahian met with senior Iraqi government officials, chief among them Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi, and Iraqi President, Barham Salih (Fars, August 29).
  • The Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, conducted a visit to the work site at the shrine in al-Kazimiya in northern Baghdad, where laborers are expanding and renovating the pilgrimage site. The development works in the region, where the seventh and ninth Shia imams are buried, is being carried out by Iranian engineers working for the headquarters for the rehabilitation of Shia holy sites in Syria and Iraq (Sha News, August 22). In recent years, the organization has worked to expand and reconstruct Shia pilgrimage sites, a few of which have been damaged in the wars in Syria and Iraq.
  • The Iranian Organization for Trade Development reported a significant rise in the volume of trade between Iran and Iraq in recent months. According to the data of the organization, the value of Iranian exports to Iraq during the first four months of the Persian year (March until July 2021) has increased by 23 percent compared to the same period in 2020, reaching 2.817 billion dollars. Iraq is ranked second (after China, and ahead of the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Afghanistan) among Iran’s top export destinations. In parallel, a significant rise took place in the volume of Iraqi exports to Iran. The value of Iranian imports rose by 540 percent compared to the same period last year, reaching 140 million dollars (ISNA, August 25).

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MENA WATCH REPORT: Taliban victory inspires pro-Iran militias in Iraq

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has encouraged Sunni extremist armed groups in Syria and pro-Iran Shiite militias in Iraq.

Shelly Kittleson August 31, 2021 AL MONITOR – ERBIL — As the world focuses on the end of the US military presence in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rapid takeover of most of the country, culminating with the handover of Kabul on Aug.15, Iraqis are watching closely.

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MESOP NEWS : IRAN IS POISED TO EXPLOIT THE UNCERTAINTIES OF THE AFGHAN COLLAPSE

by Farzin Nadimi – PolicyWatch 3522 – August 18, 2021

Since the fall of Kabul—and well beforehand—Iranian officials have signaled how they might use a Taliban victory to further their goals in the Middle East, though they remain concerned about the fate of Afghan Shia.

 

Based on official statements and media coverage so far, the Iranian regime seems pleasantly surprised by the sudden collapse of nascent liberal democracy in Afghanistan, with commentators expressing cautious satisfaction at the Taliban takeover and the chaotic final days of the Western-supported government. In 1998, Iran almost went to war with the Taliban after years of arming and financing the group’s local opponent, the Northern Alliance. And as late as 2015, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was still referring to the Taliban as a “bunch of cruel, fanatical mercenaries who know nothing about Islam or international norms.”

Today, however, senior Iranian figures such as Foreign Ministry official Rasoul Mousavi are readily calling the group the “Islamic Emirate,” the Taliban’s preferred name, and state media are portraying it as a revamped movement. Meanwhile, new president Ebrahim Raisi shed no tears for the ousted government, instead calling the U.S. “military defeat and withdrawal” an opportunity for all Afghans to achieve lasting peace. What is behind this shift, and what implications does it hold for Iran’s near-term policy in Afghanistan and beyond?

Damaging U.S. Interests While Safeguarding Iran’s

Well before the recent public rebranding, Iran was apparently working behind the scenes for months to reap benefits from the final episode of the long war, including assurances about the safety of Shia Muslim co-religionists in Afghanistan. For example, Tehran did not express concern when Herat and its sizable Shia community fell to radical Sunni Taliban fighters on August 15, perhaps indicating that a deal had been struck with the group beforehand. According to Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency, Taliban officials recently reassured Tehran that Afghan Shia could pursue their religious activities freely and safely, including the ongoing Muharram ceremonies that culminate in the holy day of Ashura. Yet new social media videos from Herat showed Taliban fighters disrupting such proceedings.

Iran’s tilt toward the Taliban and away from the pro-Western Afghan government is nothing new. For the past two decades, Khamenei has been careful to dismiss America’s role in the group’s original 2001 defeat while calling for the country to establish an independent and deeply Islamist regime—which the Taliban once again seems bent on doing today. Then, after years of dismissing the Taliban’s legitimacy, he suddenly stopped excoriating the group in 2015. Whatever his reasons, he has since focused on promoting resistance against American “evildoing” in Afghanistan, repeatedly making analogies between the Afghan, Syrian, Iraqi, and Yemeni “resistance.”

At the regional level, the emerging situation in Afghanistan is adding a huge element of uncertainty for U.S. policy in the Middle East, and Iran will likely exploit that by encouraging its numerous local proxies to increase their activity in the coming weeks and months. It may even attempt to recruit the Taliban into its “axis of resistance,” which in practical terms could entitle the group to fuel shipments, money, and advanced Iranian-made arms. Tehran has already provided some arms—when Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani visited Kabul in December 2018, he reportedly told the Afghan government that Iran was supplying the Taliban with light arms.

Throughout its cross-country offensive, the group has also been seizing large caches of advanced U.S. weapons worth billions of dollars. Some of those weapons may now end up in the hands of Iranian forces, proxy militias, or terrorist groups. In return, Tehran might offer to help the Taliban maintain its seized arsenal in operational condition.

What Role for Iran’s Afghan Militia?

Before the latest dramatic developments, the Iranian proxy militia Liwa Fatemiyoun—comprising thousands of seasoned Afghan fighters who have helped prop up Syria’s Assad regime since 2012—was expected to take an active part in countering a potential Taliban takeover, at least in the Shia regions of Afghanistan. On August 12, however, the militia denied rumors that any of its forces had been or would be deployed to Afghanistan; the statement also cheered the U.S. withdrawal and derided Afghan liberal democrats.

Yet this denial need not be taken as the gospel truth. Fatemiyoun members would hold immense intelligence collection value for Iran’s Qods Force if Tehran deployed them to Afghanistan, so it seems highly plausible that some of them are operating there amid the current chaos. Notably, though, such activities would still constitute significant restraint compared to the major opposition that Iran organized in Iraq several years ago to counter the Islamic State—a Sunni jihadist group that shares many ideological similarities with the Taliban. Withholding a large-scale Fatemiyoun deployment might also be Iran’s way of preserving the unit as a valued military and political asset for use in future Afghanistan plans.

Conclusion

As the dust settles and the situation on the ground becomes clearer, Iran can be expected to reconfigure its approach to Afghanistan in whatever manner it believes will make the most out of the collapse. In addition to pursuing relations with the Taliban, this will likely mean pressuring the United States and its partners with increased determination and confidence, particularly in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Tehran will also presumably reexamine its old plans for cross-border military action in Afghanistan, mainly to ensure that its forces are prepared to fight the Taliban if existing arrangements or future accords with the group falter. Iranians will never see the Taliban as a natural ally—anti-American affinities aside, they remain ideological competitors with historical resentments toward each other. Relatedly, Iran will keep a closer eye on its own Sunni population in provinces bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially after top Iranian Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid Ismailzahi openly congratulated the Taliban on August 17. The regime may also be worried about a surge in drug trafficking from Afghanistan given the Taliban’s heavy involvement in such activity in the past.

At the same time, there are logical reasons to expect an Iranian-Taliban alliance, even one limited to the tactical level. After all, Shia-Sunni differences have not stopped Iran from forming close relations with similar groups (e.g., Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad), so long as they share common enemies. Partnering with the Taliban could meet several Iranian interests: keeping even more extreme groups at bay (e.g., the Islamic State); establishing closer economic and political relations with those who run Afghanistan; and, perhaps, enabling Iran to access Shia-majority regions as far away as Gilgit-Baltistan, a strategic portion of Kashmir that connects with Afghanistan and China.

As for al-Qaeda, it remains to be seen whether the regime will allow senior members of the group currently residing in Iran to relocate to Afghanistan. In light of that possibility and other security risks, the United States needs to ensure that sufficient intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities are focusing on Afghanistan and its border with Iran and Pakistan around the clock—a requirement that will place even more importance on existing U.S. bases in the Middle East.

Farzin Nadimi is an associate fellow with The Washington Institute, specializing in the security and defense affairs of Iran and the Gulf region.


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MESOP NEWS – Look Right: Iranian President Raisi Appoints a Government

By Raz Zimmt – INSS Inside 18.8.2021

Conservatives with anti-Western views and former officeholders in the Ahmadinejad government: whoever hoped that Iran’s incoming president would try to form a balanced government must be disappointed with Raisi’s list of proposed ministers, who espouse hardline views. What does the composition of this designated government signal about Raisi’s intentions? And what might happen should he fail?

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MESOP NEWS : Raisi to Macron: Iran’s ‘rights’ must be upheld in nuclear talks

Al-Monitor Staff August 9, 2021

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday told French President Emmanuel Macron that Iran’s rights must be upheld as part of the nuclear negotiations with the West, Raisi’s office said of his first call with a Western leader.

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MESOP WATCH NEWS : Raisi ready to support ‘any diplomatic plan’ that lifts sanctions on Iran

 
7 Aug 2021 – Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, offered some mixed messages to those looking for clues as to how he will conduct his foreign policy.

To those hoping for a hint of pragmatism, Raisi, speaking at his swearing-in ceremony at the Islamic Consultative Assembly (or parliament) Aug. 5, said the “crises of the region must be resolved through real intra-regional dialogue and on the basis of ensuring the rights of nations,” adding, “I extend a hand of friendship and brotherhood to all countries in the region, especially neighbors, and I warmly shake their hands.”

For those looking for signs of the hard-line revolutionary, Raisi lauded Iran’s model of “religious democracy” and committed his country to resisting “the extravagance of the arrogant and oppressive powers,” including in Syria, Yemen and Palestine, adding, “The people want the Islamic Revolution to be realized in the true sense of the word, and all the features of the Islamic Revolution to be visible in the structures, processes and beliefs of the statesmen.”

“Listening to those words were delegates from the Palestinian movements Hamas and the Islamic Jihad as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, groups Iran backs and funds for what it calls legitimate causes,” our correspondent reports.

The presence of a European Union representative at the inaugural ceremony sparked condemnation from Israel, human rights groups and others.

Iran will “support any diplomatic plan” to lift sanctions

With regard to the Iran nuclear talks, Raisi sent a flare to Washington and the EU that a deal may still be possible.

Raisi repeated the fatwa of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that nuclear “weapons have no place in the defense strategy of the Islamic Republic,” adding, “Sanctions against Iran must be lifted and we will support any diplomatic plan that achieves this goal.”

The Biden administration responded Aug. 5 by urging Iran to return to the talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that were suspended in June.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the nuclear talks are an “urgent priority” and that “this process cannot go on indefinitely.”

“If President Raisi is genuine in his determination to see the sanctions lifted, well, that is precisely what’s on the table in Vienna,” Price added.

As we have written here and here, there are four reasons why Raisi may consider closing on the nuclear deal negotiations: The Iranian economy needs relief from US oil and financial sanctions, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic; the JCPOA was popular, and Raisi’s victory as president was marked by voter apathy and the lowest turnout ever for an Iranian presidential election; Raisi did not oppose the JCPOA during his presidential campaign; Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in his “final report” on the JCPOA, wrote that he leaves with a “framework for a possible deal” in place.

Closing the deal is not simply about showing up in Vienna for the seventh round of the talks. Differences remain, as we report here, over “Iran’s willingness to come back into compliance, the sanctions relief offered by the United States and the sequencing of a mutual return to the deal.” And Iran has no interest in expanding the talks beyond the nuclear file to address regional issues and Iran’s missile programs, as the Biden administration has proposed.

Bennett: Israel knows “how to send a message to Iran in our own way”

In Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has put down his marker on Iran, after claiming that his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was more talk than action.

The United States, Israel and the EU have blamed Iran for a drone attack on an Israeli-linked tanker in the Gulf of Oman on July 29 that killed two — a Romanian and a British citizen. Iran denies the charge. The Pentagon has not ruled out a role in a “collective response” to the attack promised by the Biden administration, Jared Szuba reports.

Bennett, addressing the Cabinet on Aug. 1, said, “We expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake.”

“In any case,” he added, “we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”

“Expectations of an Israeli response are high,” writes Mazal Mualem. “Bennett knows that the eyes of the world, especially regional leaders and the United States, are looking to him and his policy now. He understands that he faces a test not just before the Israeli public, but before Israel’s enemies, foremost among them Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, who are now testing the limits of the new government he heads.”

Bennett is also being tested on its northern border, where rockets fired into Israel from Lebanon in recent days has led to retaliatory airstrikes, as we report here.

Although some Israeli military and security sources blamed Palestinian groups for the attacks this week, Hezbollah took credit for the rockets launched into Israel on Aug. 6.

“Israel is trying to formulate a coherent policy on its complex northern front that addresses not only Hezbollah and other pro-Iran militias operating out of Syria, but also Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and the Iran-sponsored project to upgrade Hezbollah’s rockets into a precision missile arsenal of hundreds of rockets. Such an arsenal would be a tie-breaker,” writes Ben Caspit.

“Bennett is also hearing from voices calling for strikes against Hezbollah precision rockets, given the recent attacks,” said Micky Aharonson, who served on Israel’s National Security Council and is now an international relations expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

“In doing so, Bennett will have to consider timing and proportionality,” she added, as any military response would only be a temporary fix and not solve the problem of Hezbollah. Israel’s response, if not carefully considered, could also play to Iran’s public relations advantage, and the motivation would remain for further action.

“Israel is trying to have its cake and eat it, too — to retaliate aggressively without escalating things just weeks ahead of Bennett’s visit to Washington, before it has fully exploited the global diplomatic campaign it is waging against Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, funder and operator,” writes Caspit.

 

 

MESOP NEWS : IRAN’S INTELLIGENCE ORGANIZATIONS & TRANSNATIONAL SUPPRESSION

by Saeid Golkar PolicyWatch 3517 – August 5, 2021

MOIS and other agencies have been surveilling, abducting, and murdering dissidents for nearly four decades now, brazenly conducting operations in foreign countries under hardline and “pragmatic” Iranian governments alike.

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MESOP NEWS : Israel ‘Ready to Attack Iran’

5 8. 2021 – TL/DR: Israel’s defense minister has further increased tensions between Israel and Iran

Israel’s defense minister Benny Gantz has said that his country is ready to attack Iran and that there must be a global response to the threat that the Islamic republic poses. His comments come amid growing tensions following a deadly drone strike on an Israeli-operated tanker off the coast of Oman. Israel, along with the U.S. and the U.K. have blamed Tehran for the attack on the Mercer Street last week that killed two people. Iran has denied involvement.

“Israel is ready to attack Iran, yes,” Gantz told Ynet. “We are at a point where we need to take military action against Iran. The world needs to take action against Iran now,” he added according to a translation of his comments tweeted by Ynet journalist Attila Somfalvi. On Wednesday, Gantz had said that Iran has “violated all of the guidelines” in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which President Joe Biden wants to restore.

What happens now? NATO and the United Nations are still hoping tensions can be de-escalated but analysts say neither Iran nor Israel look likely to back down any time soon

MESOP NEWS : Seized tanker heads for Iran; four ships immobilized in mysterious “incident”

DEBKA FILES ISRAEL  4.8.2021 – The hijacking of a Panama-flagged ship by armed men in the Gulf of Oman on Tuesday, Aug 2, was confirmed by Lloyds Maritime intelligence Wednesday morning. when it was tracked heading towards the Iranian port of Jask.

Earlier, on Tuesday, four oil tankers reported that they were “not under command,” meaning that a vessel has lost power and cannot steer. One of the ships later has begun moving. It is unclear whether this episode is connected with the MV Asphalt Princess hijacking. These events are still clouded in mystery excepting only for unconfirmed reports.

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