Iran News Round Up - March 16, 2016

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 contributors Ken Hawrey and Alice Naghshineh. 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: A senior Artesh officer stated that the Artesh will send its special forces as advisors to Syria and Iraq.

Artesh Ground Forces Coordination Deputy Brigadier General Ali Arasteh stated that members of its newly-formed quick reaction force will act as advisors in Syria and Iraq “in some cases.” This marks the second time in approximately two weeks that senior Artesh Ground Forces commanders have discussed the Artesh acting in an advisory role in Syria. If the Artesh does deploy advisors to Syria, this would mark an important shift in the role of the Artesh, which has historically been limited to defending Iran’s borders.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani denied that Russia’s partial withdrawal from Syria was a “surprise.” He stressed that “the Syrian army will continue in the areas where terrorist groups still threaten the people and the region’s safety with Iran and Russia’s joint aid.” 

An IRGC member was reportedly killed in fighting near Palmyra, Syria. The Assad regime is currently advancing on the city under the cover of Russian air strikes.

Frederick W. Kagan has published an annotated translation of a transcript from Vladimir Putin’s meeting with his Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense. In the meeting, Putin ordered the withdrawal of some Russian forces from Syria. Read the translation here.

Matthew McInnis discusses Iran’s calculations following the partial Russian withdrawal from Syria and the consequences if Russia scales back its use of airpower in his latest blog, “Did Putin just leave Iran holding the bag in Syria?

Military and Security

  • Artesh Coordination Deputy: We will use Artesh special forces as advisors in Iraq and Syria. Brig. Gen. Ali Arasteh spoke at a ceremony for soldiers graduating from special forces training to join the recently-formed Artesh quick reaction force. The Artesh Ground Forces Coordination Deputy stated that the Artesh quick reaction force would be used to combat “bandits and smugglers” on Iran’s “western and southern borders.” Arasteh also noted that individuals from the quick reaction force will “be used as advisors in Syria and Iraq in some cases.” (Tnews)
  • Rouhani reiterates regime stance on missile program. President Hassan Rouhani stated, “We have not, do not, and will never have the intention of encroaching on any countries, especially our neighbors, with our missiles. Our weapons are purely for the defense of our nation…. We have been preparing ourselves for better relations with the world.” Rouhani also stated that “Iran’s oil and condensate [export] will reach two million barrels per day in the coming days.” (IRNA)
  • Araghchi: Whether our missile tests disrupt regional security is separate from the issues of the nuclear deal and UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araghchi defended the IRGC’s ballistic missile tests. Araghchi, who was also a member of Iran’s negotiating team during the nuclear talks, claimed that the missile tests violate neither the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nor UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Araghchi stated that Iran’s Emad ballistic missile was not “designed to carry a nuclear warhead” and added, “No one can say a word about the resolution being violated… Of course, they also said that testing these missiles is not in the interest of regional security and stability. This issue is its own particular debate.” Araghchi also stated that Iran is “satisfied overall” with how the JCPOA has been implemented thus far.
    • Araghchi denied reports about his “appointment” to the Supreme National Security Council. He stated, “I heard about this news for the first time on Monday… It is interesting. Maybe someone wanted to start the new year by making people laugh.” (YJC)
  • Explosion in Tehran marketplace injures at least 39. Ali Asghar Naserbakht, the political and security deputy to the governor of Tehran, told reporters that a gas cannister caused the explosion in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar on March 16. He ruled out “sabotage” and blamed the explosion on “negligence.” (IRNA)


Domestic Politics 

  • Najafabadi: “Indifference to the fate of the revolution is the greatest sin.” Ayatollah Ghorbanali Najafabadi stated that “indifference to the fate of the revolution is the greatest sin. The elite should not be indifferent to the revolution and its future nor… have destructive criticism about it.” Najafabadi, who retained a seat in the Assembly of Experts during the February 26 elections, “expressed that if we want the [Islamic] Revolution to be preserved, the seminaries must retain their identity as before and remain revolutionary.” Najafabadi’s comments are likely in reaction to President Hassan Rouhani’s March 14 commentschallenging the use of the term “revolutionary.” (Mehr News Agency)
  • Guardian Council confirms more election results. The Guardian Council confirmed parliamentary election results in an additional 50 districts on March 16, bringing the total number of finalized districts to approximately 100 out of 207. (Fars News Agency)
  • Larijani: Parliament must “abstain” from addressing “fringe” issues. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani stressed the need for Parliament and the Rouhani administration to prioritize economic issues in a meeting with legislative staff on March 16. Larijani stated that “strengthening the economy is what increases the might of the Islamic Republic” and added that “lofty ideals” cannot be achieved without “economic infrastructure.” Larijani called for politicians to focus on the Resistance Economy and “abstain” from addressing “fringe issues.” In a separate meeting, Larijani also acknowledged that an educated but unemployed work force is a serious issue facing Iranian society. (Tasnim News Agency)
  • Hassan Khomeini receives 55,000 votes in Bushehr’s Assembly of Experts race despite disqualification. Hojjat ol Eslam Hassan Khomeini reportedly received the second-highest number of votes in the Assembly of Experts race for Bushehr despite being disqualified from the elections by the Guardian Council. Ayatollah Hosseini Bushehri, who was endorsed by the Rafsanjani-backed People’s Experts electoral list, won Bushehr’s single Assembly seat. Bushehri was formally running against one other candidate, who was neither native to Bushehr nor “well-known.” Khomeini may have been a popular write-in candidate in part because the race was so “predictable” for Bushehri, according to reports. (Ensaf News)

Regional Developments and Diplomacy

  • Shamkhani: Russian withdrawal wasn’t “a surprise in any way.” Ali Shamkhani stated that the partial Russian withdrawal from Syria “was conducted based upon coordination and predetermined programs, and has not been a surprise in any way.” The Supreme National Security Council secretary continued, “The Syrian army will continue in the areas where terrorist groups still threaten the people and the region’s safety, with Iran and Russia’s joint aid and within the joint framework.” (Asr Iran)


  • Parliament makes progress on annual budget and extends 5th Five-Year Development Plan. Member of Parliamentary Joint Budget Commission Mohammad Reza Pour Ebrahimi announced that the Commission has finished reviewing “a portion of the revenues and costs within the annual budget.” He also stated that a review of the annual budget will begin in an open session of Parliament after the recess for the Iranian New Year. (Fars News Agency)
    • On the 6th Five-Year Development Plan: Head of the Parliamentary Joint Commission for the 6th Five-Year Development Plan Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam stated that review of the 6th Five-Year Development Plan will likely be on Parliament’s agenda after the finalization of the annual budget. The 5th Five-Year Development Plan will be extended until the end of the next Iranian year (≈ March 20, 2017). Approval of the 6th Five-Year Development Plan will abrogate the previous plan. (ISNA) (Tasnim News Agency)

Casualties in Iraq and Syria

  • Iranian killed near Palmyra. IRGC member Majid Nanvar was killed in fighting near the Syrian city of Palmyra. No unit or rank affiliation was provided. (Ghatreh