Previously, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested that the Islamic Republic would respond harshly to any further incursion into the Syrian Civil War by the US – a statement that former Member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson brushed off as laughable in an editorial published by UPI. The latest elaboration upon Rouhani’s commentary highlights the fact that the Iranian response to the US military strike depends not only on exaggeration of Iran’s military capabilities but also disregard for the longstanding Iranian interference in the Syrian Civil War.
By most accounts, the regime of Bashar al-Assad was in imminent danger of overthrow early in the conflict, before Iranian intervention in the form of arms shipments and recruiting for Shiite militias turned the tide in favor of the loyalist military. Furthermore, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the foreign expeditionary Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, was credited with convincing Moscow to commit its air force to the support of Iran-backed operations on the ground. Only then did the tide of the conflict turn conclusively against moderate rebels.
Zarif’s comments on Friday appeared to blithely ignore the prominent Iranian role in the conflict while rebuking the US government for a single missile strike which resulted in minimal casualties, owing to the fact that Moscow was warned of the attack ahead of time. In this way, the Foreign Ministry can be seen as using a similar strategy in public commentary on foreign policy as it has tended to use in commenting on human rights issues.
On Thursday, it was reported that Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi had issued a statement criticizing the European Union for the extension of existing economic sanctions against Iranian entities that are believed to play a role in the country’s demonstrated human rights violations. Qassemi provided no information to refute Western criticisms of Iran’s overuse of the death penalty or its record of imprisoning journalists and activists. Instead, he simply pronounced the sanctions to be based on political motives and anti-Iranian bias.
On Friday, Qassemi repeated the same talking points, this time targeting the United States Department of the Treasury over its implementation of new sanctions against the Tehran Prisons Organization and Sohrab Soleimani, the younger brother of the Quds Force commander who is himself under UN sanctions and a travel ban as a result of his record of supporting terrorism.
Iran Front Page News quoted Qassemi as saying, “Such measures are repetitive and in line with certain political objectives of the US government.” He did not elaborate upon the claim of political bias or on his further claim that such sanctions are in violation of international law. Instead, he attempted to turn established criticisms of the Islamic Republic upon the US, alleging that due to its domestic and international record, the US government is not in a position to comment or take action on the human rights situation in other countries.”
The reference to an “international record” seems to tie Qassemi’s statements to the Foreign Ministry’s criticism of the Syria missile strike while continuing to neglect the chemical attack that apparently prompted the strike. This rhetoric was further underscored on Friday by the Tehran provisional prayer leader Hojjatoleslam Kazzem Saddiqi, who delivered a speech against the missile strike, as reported by The Iran Project. In it, he referred to the strike as “savage attacks on Syria which were against international norms and laws proved its aggressive and savage behavior to the international community.”
However, since the strike was carried out, various reports have indicated that it met with general approval from the international community, with Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano even going so far as to say that the White House’s apparent, newfound willingness to confront the Assad regime represented the start of “renewed harmony” between the US and the EU. Such commentary reflects Western concerns not just over the Idlib chemical attack, which killed approximately 80 people and wounded 200 more, but also over a long list of human rights abuses carried out by the Assad regime with the support of Tehran, including the routine use of barrel bombs against civilian populations.
At the same time that the Iranian regime refuses to comment upon the evident human rights abuses of its close allies and its own Shiite militant proxies in places like Syrian and Yemen, it also refuses to address the human rights record that was highlighted anew by the European and American sanctions measures this week.
It has been variously reported that the Islamic Republic maintains its own internal human rights monitor, but that the office primarily functions to dispute international criticisms of Iranian political imprisonment, mass executions, and so on. Recent reports have also indicated that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and the intelligence wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have been engaged in a serious crackdown on political dissent, reformist opinion, and supposedly pro-Western or anti-Islamic social activities.
As part of this crackdown, the regime has apparently been striving to tighten restrictions on the internet and social media, a trend that was highlighted in an Al Monitor article on Thursday which described the particular assault on the comparatively secure messaging service Telegram. The article pointed out that in March Iran’s attorney general boasted that between 16,000 and 20,000 Telegram channels were being shut down per week, in line with restrictions on channels that have more than 5,000 followers. As justification for the crackdown, the head of the country’s cyber police force claimed that online crimes had increased by 63 percent, but he did not explain what sorts of crimes he was referring to or how this figure had been determined.
In this way, the regime’s commentary on domestic affairs is reminiscent of its commentary on foreign-based criticisms and the actions of Western governments, insofar as it largely relies upon ideological statements while failing to address facts that might undermine the regime’s case.