The Iranian minister of foreign affairs alongside the Syrian president (Tasnim, April 20, 2020)
- On April 20, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Javad Zarif, conducted an official visit to Syria and met with Syrian President Assad and the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Walid al-Muallem. This is Zarif’s first visit outside of Iran since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iran. During the visit, the sides discussed developments in Syria and the region and the ongoing political negotiations process in the country. Zarif declared that the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the former Commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) will not bring about any change in Iran’s support to “the resistance and war on terror.”
- After Iranian cargo flights again started taking off from Iran to Syria, Syrian jets too renewed their flights from Lattakia to Tehran. In addition, the movement of ships form Iran and Syria restarted again, after a pause of about three months. Iran also significantly stepped up the import of crude oil to Syria.
- The Iranian minister of foreign affairs spoke on the phone with his Iraqi counterpart as political factions in Iraq continue to wrangle over the formation of a new government in Baghdad. Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shi’ite militia, which is backed by Iran, announced that in the meeting between representatives of the militia and Prime Minister-Designate, Mustafa al-Kazimi, it was agreed to form a joint commission that will investigate the circumstances of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January 2020.
- On the economic front, the southern border crossings between Iran and Iraq remain closed since the outbreak of COVID-19, while the land-crossings between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan were reopened for the passage of Iranian goods. Before the United States extended the waiver given to Iraq from abiding by the economic sanctions placed on Iran’s energy sector, senior Iraqi officials announced Iraq will reduce the import of electricity and gas from Iran. The Iraqi minister of electricity stressed, however, that Iraq still needs about three to four years to wean itself off dependence on exports of gas from Iran.
- Iran condemned Israel’s intention to annex areas in the West Bank. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that the annexation is a violation of international law and called on the international community to act against Israel’s annexationist intentions. The senior adviser to the speaker of the Majlis warned that if Israel were to annex parts of the West Bank, it should expect “a new and shocking response from the Resistance.”
Iranian Involvement in Syria
- On April 20, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, arrived for a one-day visit in Syria. This is Zarif’s first visit outside of Iran since the outbreak of Coronavirus in Iran in February 2020. During the visit, Zarif met President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Walid al-Muallem, and discussed with them recent developments in Syria and the region and the ongoing negotiations process to end the war in the country. In the meeting with President Assad, Zarif stated that the assassination of Qasem Soleimani will not lead to any change in Iran’s support for “the Resistance” and the struggle against terrorism in the region. President Assad expressed his condolences to those who died of the COVID-19 epidemic in Iran and praised Soleimani and the role he played in “the war on terror in Syria” (Fars; Tasnim, April 20).
- Flight watchers who track the movement of aircrafts in the Middle East reported about renewal of flights of Syrian freighters from Lattakia to Tehran and back, for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 20, the Syrian Air Force’s Ilyushin IL-62, which took off from the Mehrabad Air Base in Tehran, landed in Lattakia in Syria, the first such flights since March 12, 2020. On April 22, an Ilyushin IL-76 freighter of the Syrian Air Force took off to Istanbul and returned to Damascus, possibly via Lattakia. Two additional cargo runs of the Ilyushin IL-76 of the Syrian Air Force from Damascus to Tehran and back to Damascus through Lattakia were spotted on April 27th and April 29th (FlightRadar24, April 20, April 22, April 27, April 29). Meanwhile, the Syrian Ministry of Transportation announced the renewal of international cargo flights to and from the country (the website of the Syrian Ministry of Transportation, April 20). In the second half of April, Iranian cargo planes also renewed their flights between Iran and Syria.
- Meanwhile, the movement of cargo ships between Iran and the Lattakia Port was also resumed. The SHIBA container ship docked in the Lattakia Port on April 15, after a 19-day journey from the Bandar Abbas Port in Iran, traversing the journey for the first time since January 28, 2020. During its voyage through the Red Sea, the container ship approached within a distance of about 2,000 meters the Iranian general cargo ship Saviz. The SHIBA container ship is under American sanctions due to its connection to Iranian shipping lines (Akhbar al-Aan, April 26).
- In addition, sources tracking the movement of oil tankers in the region reported that Iran significantly stepped up the export of crude oil to Syria in recent weeks. According to this report, at least six Iranian oil tankers reached the Banyas Post during the month of April, carrying 6.8 million barrels of oil (TankerTrackers; MEES, April 28).
- A Syrian opposition website reported that the Head of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, visited the town of al-Qaem on the Iraq-Syria border, following which he crossed into Syria through the Albu Kamal crossing and toured the area along with Iranian officers. According to the report, all roads to Albu Kamal were blocked ahead of the visit (Sada al-Sharqiya, April 29).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
- On April 26, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, spoke on the phone with the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Ali al-Hakim, and discussed with him developments in Iraq and the region and bilateral relations (Tasnim, April 26).
- Meanwhile, the efforts to form a new government in Iraq continue. The government formation process has faced difficulties after the Shi’ite blocs in the parliament rejected the partial list of ministers authored by Prime Minister-Designate, Mustafa al-Kazimi. On April 23, Kataeb Hezbollah, one of the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Iraq, published a statement reporting that in a meeting between representatives of the militia and the prime minister-elected, the sides agreed to form a joint committee that will investigate the circumstances of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January 2020 (Shafaq News, April 23). Prior to this, Kataeb Hezbollah expressed their opposition to Kazimi’s nomination for the role of prime minister, arguing that he took part in the assassination of Soleimani and al-Muhandis as the head of Iraq’s Intelligence Services.
- On April 19, the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, met with the Iraqi Minister of Health and Environment, Jaafar Sadeq Allawi, and discussed the relations between the two countries that pertain to the fields of health and environmental preservation, including the efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on trade relations between the two countries. In the meeting, the Iraqi minister of health requested that Iranian companies take part in manufacturing a joint production line for medicine in Iraq (IRNA, April 21).
- The Head of the Joint Iranian-Iraqi Chamber of Commerce, Yahya al-Eshaq, stated in a media interview that the southern border crossings between Iraq and Iran, which were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, remain shuttered, since Iraqi authorities are yet to ensure the required measures are in place to allow the crossings to reopen without endangering public health. He remarked that the two countries are in dialogue in an effort to ensure that the crossings are open for at least two days per week to allow for the movement of Iranian goods. He added that the border crossings between Iran and the Iraqi Kurdistan region in northern Iraq are open and allow for the passage of between 700 to 800 trucks daily (Tasnim, April 29).
- The Spokesman of the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity, Ahmad al-Abadi, announced the reduction of import of electricity from Iran to Iraq, since Iraq is now more able to rely on its own capacities to generate electricity. He stated that establishing new power stations allow Iraq to generate more electricity inside the country, and that the only line now used to transfer electricity from Iran to Iraq is the Mersad-Diyala line. In addition, the spokesman of the Ministry of Electricity announced reducing the import of gas from Iran, since according to him, the power stations operating in southern Iraq no longer need Iranian gas (IRNA, April 20). The Iraqi Minister of Electricity, Luay al-Khatib, stressed that Iraq still needs three to four years to be self-sufficient and provide for its energy needs without needing to rely on imports of gas from Iran (INSA, April 24). The statements by the senior Iraqi officials come after the end of the waiver provided by the United States government to the Iraqi government to comply with the economic sanctions placed on Iran that pertain to the energy sector. On April 26, the United State announced the extension of the waiver by another 30 days.
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
- The Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abbas Mousavi, condemned Israel’s intention to annex parts of the West Bank as part of the “Deal of the Century” promulgated by President Trump. Mousavi remarked that the annexation is a violation of international law and threatens peace and security in the region. He claimed that Israel is exploiting the conditions created due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and that the Palestinian people are now simultaneously fighting the Coronavirus and other viruses, including the occupation and siege. Mousavi called on the U.N. and all other international organizations to act against Israel’s intention to annex territories and displace Palestinians from their homes. He stressed that Palestine belongs to the Palestinian people and that the only solution to the crisis in Palestine is holding a referendum among the original inhabitants of the land and establishing a Palestinian country with Jerusalem as its capital (IRNA, April 26).
- Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the Senior Adviser of the Chairman of the Majlis, also warned Israel of annexing territories in the West Bank. On his Twitter account (April 28), Abdollahian wrote that the Zionists should have no doubt that if they annex parts of the West Bank, they should expect a new and shocking response from the “resistance.”
Hossein Amir Abdollahian’s tweet
(Hossein Amir Abdollahian’s Twitter account, April 28, 2020)