Velayati’s comments are the latest in a series of indications that no such compromise will be forthcoming. But in a larger sense, those comments also reflect a surge of anti-American propaganda coming from the highest levels of the Iranian regime in the wake of the July 14 nuclear agreement.
That propaganda has been supported by a range of familiar, threatening statements and actions aimed at portraying the Iranian government as prepared for open conflict with the US. Last month, these gestures famously included the broadcast on Iranian state media of images from Iran’s secret missile launch sites. This followed closely on the heels of the test firing of an advanced ballistic missile, which some in the Obama administration identified as a violation of existing UN resolutions.
The latest contribution to these vague military threats came on Thursday when Brigadier General Massoud Rouzkhosh claimed that Iran had successfully overhauled American-made jet fighters, according to Aviation Pros. The claimed developments involved an F-14 and an F-7 fighter jet, as well as a Pilatus PC-7 training aircraft.
Iranian military officials routinely claim major strides in domestic development of weapons and equipment, but few such claims can be independently verified, while some have been explicitly called into question on the basis of photographs and video of the purported production lines or overhauls. Even so, the Iranian media reports serve to project an image of strength, sometimes specifically matching it against US arms, as in the present case.
This image is especially valuable to the Iranian regime as it continues to project Iranian military force throughout the broader Middle East, as with its involvement in the Syrian Civil War. That involvement appears to have expanded significantly since last month, when Russian air strikes began in support of ground operations involving the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iran-controlled Lebanese paramilitary Hezbollah.
But during that same period, some question have arisen about whether Iranian and Russian interests in the region might diverge at a later date. The National Interest outlined this issue in an article on Thursday, wherein it concluded that any political solution that might be negotiated for Syria by the other international powers, including Russia, would be considered a change for the worse by Iran. That is to say that eventually Russia could concede to the removal from power of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whereas there is no indication that Iran might do the same.
Thus, Russian support has strengthened Iran’s position in Syria in the short term, but if Iran does not take advantage of the situation that strength could wane over the long term, as Russia support softens. Earlier this week it was reported that Iranian officials recognized the potential for a relative loss of Russian support. So those same officials may be feeling the pressure to shore up Iran’s own forces.
But because Iran still denies having its own fighting forces on the ground in Syria, this may primarily involve the reinforcement of Iranian proxies including Hezbollah and other Shiite militias. The Guardian reported on Thursday that Hezbollah is officially the largest foreign fighting force in the Syrian Civil War, while a close second is the Fatemioun, mainly consisting of Afghan fighters recruited from among refugee communities in Iran.
The Guardian reports that recruitment for the Fatemioun is taking place on a daily basis, as are funerals for Afghan refugees killed in the fighting. Many have criticized this practice as exploitation of vulnerable peoples, especially in light of the fact that Afghan refugees are frequently denied employment and basic rights, but have been offered cash and permanent resident status in exchange for their participation in the fight for the preservation of the Assad government.
As all of these developments indicate that Iran will remain committed to non-cooperation with the international community, it will likely fall to other regional powers to arrange and enforce a political solution there which overrides Iranian interests. These may include both Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of which have been at odds with US policy in the region, to one degree or another.
Saudi Arabia has tended to begrudgingly go along with US decisions, including the decision to allow Iran into the discussion over the Syrian crisis. But Israel has struck a more defiant tone, campaigning very aggressively against last summer’s nuclear agreement. There are, however, signs that the rift created by that deal is beginning to be healed. Toward that end, Voice of America News reports that President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting with each other on Monday, and will focus their conversations upon the Middle Eastern security situation, including Iran’s role in the Syrian Civil War.