Iran News Round Up - January 5, 2017

A selection of the latest news stories and editorials published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by AEI Critical Threats Project Iran Analysts Marie Donovan, Paul Bucala, and Caitlin Shayda Pendleton with contributor Wali Miller. To receive this daily newsletter, please subscribe online.

(E) = Article in English

Excerpts of these translations may only be used with the expressed consent of the authors.

Key takeaway: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended Iran’s military activities in Syria as an extension of the regime’s efforts to protect Iran from domestic instability.

Khamenei stated, “If the ill-wishers and seditionists -- who are the puppets of America and the Zionists -- had not been stopped in Syria, we would be fighting them in Tehran, Fars, Khorasan, and Esfahan.” Khamenei’s comments underscore Iran’s existential interest in protecting Syrian President Bashar al  Assad’s regime. Khamenei made these comments during a meeting with families of Artesh soldiers killed in Syria. For more information on Artesh operations in Syria, please see “The Artesh in Syria: A fundamental shift in Iranian hard power.”

AEI Must-Reads

Regional Developments & Diplomacy

  • Khamenei: If we were not in Syria, we would be fighting in Tehran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended Iran’s military activities in support of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime during a meeting with the families of Artesh soldiers killed in Syria. Khamenei stated, “If the ill-wishers and seditionists -- who are the puppets of America and the Zionists -- had not been stopped in Syria, we would be fighting them in Tehran, Fars, Khorasan, and Esfahan.” He added that Iran’s casualties in Syria are “a source of pride for the entire nation.” (Mizan Online)  
     
  • Foreign Ministry denounces comments from Turkish foreign minister on Syrian ceasefire. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi responded to a statement from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu calling on Iran to pressure Iranian-backed militias to stop violating the current ceasefire in Syria. Ghassemi denounced his comments as “unconstructive” and warned that they serve only to “create more problems” for the peace process. (Asr Iran)
     
  • Boroujerdi: Ending hostilities in Syria must be conditional on the elimination of “takfiri and terrorist groups.”​ National Security and Foreign Policy Parliamentary Commission Chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi discussed the Syrian conflict during a press conference in Damascus. Boroujerdi reiterated that Iran opposes “the involvement of any group [in the Syrian conflict] without the approval of the Syrian government.” He also added that the “end of the conflict in Syria must be conditional on the elimination of takfiri and terrorist groups.” (Tasnim News Agency)

Domestic Politics

  • Foreign Ministry responds to Judiciary’s comments on Zanjani corruption case. The Foreign Ministry responded to comments from Judiciary Head Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani that the Foreign Ministry failed to sufficiently investigate the holdings of Babak Zanjani, a wealthy Iranian businessman recently convicted of corruption. The statement asserted that the Foreign Ministry cooperated completely with officials from the Judiciary in investigating Zanjani’s assets. Zanjani controlled businesses in the UAE, Malaysia, and Turkey and possessed extensive holdings in Tajikistan. (Fars News Agency)
     
  • Guardian Council: Sitting presidents are not guaranteed approval to run for second term. Guardian Council Spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodaei stated that the council reviews a sitting president’s qualifications to run for a second term as it would any other candidate during an interview on January 4. The conservative-dominated Guardian Council vets candidates for the presidency, Parliament, and Assembly of Experts. When asked about the “convention” of confirming sitting presidents’ qualifications to run, Kadkhodaei responded, “There has not been and is not a guarantee in this regard.” Kadkhodaei also noted the Guardian Council’s record of occasionally disqualifying sitting parliamentarians from running for reelection. President Hassan Rouhani has not announced his candidacy in the May 2017 presidential election, but he is widely expected to run. (Shargh)
     
  • ICT Minister: Internet users in Iran have increased from 3.5 million to 40 million in the last 3 years. Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mahmoud Vaezi stated that the number of Internet users in Iran went “from 3.5 million” to “close to 40 million” since the beginning of President Hassan Rouhani’s term. (IRNA)

Military & Security

  • IRGC Air Force Commander: We can produce any missile or aircraft we need. IRGC Air Force Commander Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh stated, “Today, we are able to design and produce any missile or aircraft the country needs...If today we are vulnerable on the cultural front, it is because we did not take the enemy’s enmity seriously. As long as we do not reach a consensus on this issue, even our economic problems will not be solved.” Hajizadeh also expressed hope that officials would cease trusting Iran’s enemies. Hajizadeh was likely referring to the recent controversy in which a hardline parliamentarian claimed that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he made a “mistake” during the nuclear negotiations by trusting the U.S., specifically U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s alleged promise to prevent the renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act. (Tasnim News Agency)
     
  • Former Special Forces commander appointed Artesh Ground Forces deputy. Artesh Commander Maj. Gen. Ataollah Salehi approved the appointment of Artesh Brig. Gen. Nozar Nemati as the new Artesh Ground Forces deputy commander. Nemati previously served as commander of the Artesh’s 65th NOHED (Airborne Special Forces) Brigade and as Artesh Ground Forces coordination deputy. Nemati was appointed Artesh Ground Forces coordination deputy in October 2016. Elements from the Artesh 65th NOHED Brigade deployed to Syria earlier this year. For more information on the deployment of Artesh special forces to Syria, please see “Translation: The Deployment of Artesh Special Forces to Syria.” Brig. Gen. Ali Jahanshahi was also appointed as the new Artesh Ground Forces coordination deputy. Jahanshahi previously served as a senior Artesh official at the Artesh operational base in northeastern Iran. (Tasnim News Agency) (Mehr News Agency