United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran and Syria React Angrily to Israeli Strikes

      Iran and Syria both lashed out angrily at Israel for two reported airstrikes on Syrian military targets on May 3 and 5, 2013. Both also warned of possible retaliation. The following are select quotes from senior officials in Tehran and Damascus.

 

Iran
Ali Akbar Salehi, foreign minister
            “We reject any foreign intervention in Syria and we don’t want Syria to plunge into crisis…Consequences for the region are very heavy, and must be peacefully settled within the framework of a Syrian-Syrian solution. [If] any political vacuum occurs in this country, its consequences would affect all [surrounding] countries…
            We have called on the [Syrian] opposition to negotiate with the government and form a transitional government and determine their own future.” May 7 at a joint press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh
            “Israel is playing with fire…” May 6 in a meeting with Turkmen Foreign Minister Rasit Meredow
            “Such savage acts contradict the basic humane principles…” May 5 in a telephone conversation with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem
 
Ramin Mehmanparast, foreign ministry spokesman
            “The Zionist regime must realize that the atrocities it committed in Syria will not go unanswered and it must await a crushing response … This regime is trying to deal a blow to the Muslim world and [sow] discord among Islamic sects by using all means at its disposal… oppression and crime in the region will not endure…” at a May 5 press briefing
 
Ahmad Vahidi, minister of defense
            “This is a dangerous game… Syria is a powerful country…and will give a strong response to the Zionist regime at the right time and will deliver heavy blows to it… [Israel] cannot easily escape from this adventurism...” May 6 to Iranian news media
            “The inhumane measures and adventures of the Zionist regime in the region will surge anti-Zionist waves and shorten the life of this fake regime…. [Israel's] attack in Syria, which occurred with a green light from the U.S., pulled the curtain back on the relationship between the mercenary terrorists and their supporters and the Zionist regime… [Iran] condemns the Zionist regime attack and recommends the regional countries to wisely stand against such aggressions…” May 5 to Fars News Agency
 
Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, commander of Iran’s regular Army ground forces
            “As a Muslim nation, we back Syria, and if there is need for training we will provide them with the training. But we won’t have any active involvement in the operations…” May 5 at a press briefing
 
Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, assistant to the chief of staff
            “[Iran] will not allow the enemy to harm the security of the region…the resistance will retaliate to the Israeli aggression against Syria… The Syrian people and government have been resisting against a wide range of hostile enemies for more than two years and the US and its allies have done whatever they could against this country… Our region is now witnessing the biggest foreign-sponsored terrorism throughout the contemporary history…” May 5 in an interview with Al Alam television station
            I deny “Western and Israeli media reports that an Iranian weapons depot has been targeted in Syria… The Syrian government does not need Iran's military aid, and these sorts of reports are propaganda and psychological war…” May 6 on Revolutionary Guards website according to AFP
 
Syria
Faisal al Mekdad, deputy foreign minister
            “When they attack, this is a declaration of war…We dealt with this on several occasions, and we retaliated the way we wanted, and the retaliation was always painful to Israel, and they will suffer again...
            This is direct Israeli support for al Qaeda ... and the other forces fighting against Syria, to undermine Syria and to weaken Syria” May 5 in an interview with CNN
 
Walid Mouallem, foreign minister
            “The blatant Israeli aggression has the aim to provide direct military support to the terrorist groups after they failed to control territory…  [Israel’s] aggressive acts would increase tension in the region, and drag it into a large-scale regional war that would threaten peace and security in the region and the world.” In a May 5 letter to the U.N. Security Council according to state television
 
Omran al Zoubie, information minister
            “The Israeli enemy has committed…a blatant attack against the Syrian Arab Republic while using missiles to target military facilities, in a flagrant violation of all rules of international law... this aggression opens the door wide open to all possibilities and … reveals… the close ties between the forces of war upon Syria… this linkage in objective, tools and means connecting the takfiri mentality [accusing others of apostasy], Zionism, the terror gangs, and the Nusra Front, which is al Qaeda’s arm in Syria…
            This aggression… came at a time during which our brave forces… were able to achieve major accomplishments in combatting terrorism and terrorists coming from various countries around the world who are funded by the entities of Arab humiliation and servility…
            All countries supporting Israel have to clearly understand that our people and government won’t accept servility and that Israel and its agents in the region cannot act alone and interfere with regional security… [Syria] always has the right, but also the duty, to protect the nation, the government, and the people from any internal or external aggression by all available ways, means and capabilities…” May 5 in a statement broadcast on state television
 
Hezbollah
Nabil Qaouk, member of the Implementation and Jihad Councils
            "If Israel did not have U.S. and Arab League cover it would never have carried out these airstrikes on Damascus." Reported by Ahul Bayt News Agency on May 6
 
 

New U.S. Sanctions on Nuclear Program, Bank and Shipping

            On May 9, the State Department imposed new sanctions on four Iranian companies and one individual for providing “goods, technology, and services that increase Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and/or construct a heavy water” research reactor. U.N. Security Council Resolutions prohibit supporting Iran’s efforts on those fronts. “Iranian private sector firms should heed the risks incurred by conducting business with those who support Iran’s proscribed nuclear activities,” warned Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell.
            On the same day, the Treasury sanctioned a front company for trying to evade sanctions on Iranian oil sales. It also designated the Iranian Venezuelan Bi-National Bank for engaging in financial transactions on behalf of the previously sanctioned Export Development Bank of Iran. “As Iran becomes increasingly isolated from the international financial system and energy markets, it is turning increasingly to convoluted schemes and shady actors to maintain its access to the global financial system,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. The Treasury also added eight more vessels to its list of blocked property, bringing the total to 64. The following are excerpts from State Department and Treasury press statements.

            Today the Secretary of State imposed sanctions on four Iranian nuclear support companies and one individual as Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators and their Supporters pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13382.  These entities and individual were designated because they provide the Iranian government goods, technology, and services that increase Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and/or construct a heavy water moderated research reactor, both of which are activities prohibited by UN Security Council Resolutions.  These designations generally prohibit transactions between the named entities and any U.S. person, and freeze any assets the designees may have under U.S. jurisdiction.  This action was taken in light of the ongoing concerns that the international community has with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, which  Iran continues to refuse to address….
 
            The U.S. Department of the Treasury is taking a number of actions today against Iranian attempts to circumvent international financial sanctions.  As part of the Treasury Department’s continuing vigilance against Iran’s efforts to use front companies and deceptive business practices to sell their oil on the international market, today Treasury identified Sambouk Shipping FZC as subject to sanctions under Executive Order (E.O.) 13599, which, among other things, targets the Government of Iran (GOI) and persons acting for or on behalf of the GOI.  Sambouk Shipping is tied to Dr. Dimitris Cambis who, along with a network of front companies, were sanctioned in March 2013 under E.O. 13599 and the Iran Threat Reduction Act and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA) after the U.S. government uncovered Dr. Cambis’s scheme to evade international oil sanctions against Iran.  In an attempt to continue his scheme, Dr. Cambis is using the recently formed Sambouk Shipping to manage eight of the vessels that he operates on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).  These vessels have been used to execute ship-to-ship transfers of Iranian oil in the Persian Gulf.  These transfers are intended to facilitate deceptive sales of Iranian oil by obscuring the origin of that oil.
            Today, the Treasury Department also imposed sanctions against Iranian Venezuelan Bi-National Bank (IVBB).  IVBB was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382, which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their supporters, for engaging in financial transactions on behalf of the previously sanctioned Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI)...
 
 

Report: Religious Freedom Abuses

            Iran continues to engage in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused,” according to an annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
            Religious freedom conditions have particularly regressed since the disputed 2009 presidential elections. “Killings, arrests, and physical abuse of detainees have increased, including for religious minorities and Muslims who dissent or express views perceived as threatening the legitimacy of the government,” according to the report.
            The State Department first designated Iran as a “country of particular concern” on religious freedom in 1999. The United States has imposed restrictions on imports and exports to Iran under the International Religious Freedom Act since 2011. The following are excerpts from the report, followed by a link to the full text.

            Already poor religious freedom conditions in Iran continue to deteriorate, particularly for religious minorities, especially Baha’is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims, as well as for dissenting Shi’i and Sunni Muslims. Harassment, arrests, and imprisonment intensified, a trend likely to worsen as the June 2013 presidential election approaches.
 
            The government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused. Iran is a constitutional, theocratic republic that discriminates against its citizens on the basis of religion or belief. During the past year, the already poor religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate, especially for religious minorities, in particular for Baha’is as well as Christians and Sufi Muslims. Physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment intensified. Even some of the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities protected under Iran’s constitution—Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians—face harassment, intimidation, discrimination, arrests, and imprisonment.
 
            Majority Shi’i and minority Sunni Muslims, including clerics who dissent, were intimidated, harassed, and detained. Dissidents and human rights defenders were increasingly subject to abuse and several were sentenced to death and even executed for the capital crime of “waging war against God.” Heightened anti-Semitism and repeated Holocaust denials by senior government officials and clerics continue to foster a climate of fear among Iran’s Jewish community. Since the 1979 revolution, members of minority religious communities have fled Iran in significant numbers for fear of persecution…
 
            Since the disputed 2009 elections, religious freedom conditions in Iran have regressed to a point not seen since the early days of the Islamic revolution. Killings, arrests, and physical abuse of detainees have increased, including for religious minorities and Muslims who dissent or express views perceived as threatening the legitimacy of the government. During the reporting period, the government continued to use its religious laws to silence reformers and critics, including women’s rights activists, journalists, and lawyers for exercising their internationally-protected rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. With the June 2013 presidential election approaching, the Iranian government will likely increase its efforts to crush any form of dissent and scapegoat religious minorities, as it has done in the past.
 
Click here for the full text.
 
 

How Iran Ranks on World Press Freedom Day

            Iran’s crackdown on the press, including detention of 24 journalists, was highlighted by two reports to mark International Press Freedom Day on May 3. Iran ranks among the world’s worst-rated countries on press freedom, according to a new index by Freedom House. The organization assigns countries a numerical rating from 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free). Iran and Cuba are tied with 92 points.

            Freedom House claims that in the worst-rated countries, “independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression.” The following infographic maps the relative freedom ratings of countries.


            The International Federation of Journalists claims Iran, China, Turkey and Eritrea have the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. In Iran, at least 24 journalists are imprisoned for allegedly breaking the law, according to the federation's affilitate, the Association of Iranian Journalists.
 
            Iran has reportedly targeted reformist publications ahead of the June presidential election, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Iranian Students’ News Agency reported that two monthlies and one weekly were banned in early March.
 
Click here for the full list of press freedom rankings from Freedom house.

 

Iran Takes Tough Stance on Chemical Weapons in Syria

            On at least one issue—and at least rhetorically—Iran and the United States agree. Both Tehran and Washington are now on the record in calling the use of chemical weapons “a red line.” Iran’s toughening position may reflect its own experience when Saddam Hussein repeatedly used several types of chemical weapons against Iran during the 1980-1988 war launched by Iraq. The United Nations verified at least seven uses of mustard or nerve gasses in specific operations.
            On April 30, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria is Iran’s “red line.” The United States recently called for a U.N. investigation based on new evidence of sarin gas use in Syria’s civil war. But Salehi reportedly suggested that the rebels might be responsible. Iran accuses Western and Arab countries of fueling the conflict and supporting foreign fighters against President Bashar Assad. The following are excerpted remarks by top leaders on Syria.

Chemical Weapons
            “We have always emphasized that using chemical weapons, by anyone, is our red line… [The United Nations should] identify the main culprit behind the use of chemical weapons in the country before it is too late and the situation gets out of control in Syria… We oppose any type of production, stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction, and this stance is the clear message and consistent policy of Iran…” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian news media on April 30

            “Chemical weapons have been used by the Nusra Front and a number of irresponsible armed groups… We have precise information that some foreign parties have supplied terrorists with their needed possibilities in a bid to help them use chemical arms against the Syrian people and the army to… pave the ground for foreign intervention in Syria.” Deputy Foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian to Al Alam TV on April 28

            “Westerners accuse the Syrian government of using chemical weapons while such a claim is very ridiculous and fabricated…” Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabdi to Iranian media on April 29
 
Western and Arab Involvement
            “The problem that the people of Syria are facing… is an external problem…We know that because of the intervention of other countries specifically Western countries [and] with the cooperation of the Zionist regime [of Israel] and also some reactionary governments in the region, they are fighting against the people of Syria…” Ali Akbar Velayati, senior foreign affairs advisor to the supreme leader, in an April 29 interview with Press TV
 
            “In Syria, some Arab countries are spending money to make conditions tense, but the nation and government of Syria are resisting…” Revolutionary Guards chief Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani to war veterans on April 16
 
            “Foreign adversaries such as the US and the Zionists, who are sworn enemies of the [Islamic] Revolution [of Iran], and certain Arab countries as well as Turkey are mounting pressure on Syria to overthrow its government before Iran’s election…” Maj.Gen. Yahya Rahim-Safavi to Iranian media on April 27
 
            “Mercenaries and non-Syrian armed forces are deepening the Syrian crisis and unfortunately certain countries are supporting them… If other countries stop supporting mercenaries, the situation in Syria will swiftly progress towards stability…” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian news media on March 2
 
            “The West is trying to “foment discord and turn these movements [Arab uprisings] into bloody sectarian, ethnic and national conflicts. Currently, this plot is being seriously pursued by intelligence services of the West and Zionism with the help of petrodollars and bribed politicians from East Asia to North Africa and particularly in the Arab region…” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the World Conference of Ulama and Islamic Awakening on April 29
 
            Foreign and “regional players have turned Syria to a haven for extremism and al-Qaida as well as a hub for spreading violence to all the region…” Deputy Foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian to Al Alam TV on April 28
 
            “Terrorists are seeking to protect the interests of the United States and Zionists in a bid to crush the spirits of the Syrian nation…” Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabdi to Iranian media on April 29
 
            “Resistance of the Syrian people and government against pressures exerted by the world powers will protect the country against foreigners’ avarice in the future… [Iran] will not allow the [current] foreign conspiracy to undermine the independence and sovereignty of Syria.” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, to Syria’s ambassador to Iran, Adnan Mahmoud, on April 16
 
Possible Solutions and the End Game
            “The Syrian problem… should be solved by the people of Syria. Those who are supporting the government, those who are against the government should sit together, talk together to have a peaceful solution… The majority [of rebels] are not Syrian people… they are fighting against the people of Syria…” Ali Akbar Velayati, senior foreign affairs advisor to the supreme leader, in an April 29 interview with Press TV
 
            “If you really feel sorry about the ongoing situation in Syria, you should force the opposition to sit at the negotiation table with the Syrian government and put an end to bloodshed… Why do you encourage the opposition to continue these acts of violence?” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian news media on March 2
 
          “A group coming into power through war and conflict will lead to continued war and security problems for a long time…The lack of security in Syria will endanger the security of other countries and will threaten the entire region…” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to an Egyptian delegation on April 28
 
Ethnic and Religious Conflict
          “Propaganda campaigns of the West and dependent and mercenary media in the region pretend that the destructive war in Syria is a Shia-Sunni conflict, and they create a safety margin for the Zionists and the enemies of resistance in Syria and Lebanon. This is while the two sides of the conflict in Syria are not Shia and Sunni, rather they are the supporters and opponents of anti-Zionist resistance... [T]hey have managed to make use of religious sentiments of simple-minded people to kindle this deadly fire...” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the World Conference of Ulama and Islamic Awakening on April 29

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