October 27, 2016

Supreme Leader's Adviser Discloses Details on Iranian Efforts Abroad

Key takeaway: The Islamic Republic remains a revolutionary state dedicated to its founding principles of exporting its ideology to neighboring countries. A recent interview with Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, a senior military advisor to the Supreme Leader, provides valuable insight into the regime’s perceptions of its soft and hard power efforts.[1] Firouzabadi is a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and served as armed forces chief of staff from 1992 until his retirement in June 2016. Firouzabadi’s rhetoric is likely an accurate reflection of the regime’s consensus over its broader outlook and priorities.  

In the interview, Firouzabadi underscores the reality that Iran’s commitment to building a network of armed and unarmed proxies, partners, and allies is deeply ingrained within the regime’s core principles. This priority will continue to shape Iran’s foreign policy regardless of any transactional agreements with the U.S. or its allies. Firouzabadi also details Iran’s support of actors in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the Levant, and publicly confirms Iranian military deployments to Gaza. Iran’s support of Hamas and other Sunni militant organizations is an important reminder that sectarian divisions do not necessarily limit Iran’s regional aspirations.

The interview is translated below. Please refer to the translator notes for further commentary. For an analysis and translation of other portions of Firouzabadi’s interview, please see the forthcoming publication, “A New Era for Iran’s Military Leadership.”

Reporter: We are currently observing our nation’s strategic presence in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and in the aid that is being given to Yemen. The Islamic Republic has a duty to protect the oppressed, according to the commands of religion and the principles of the Islamic Revolution. The hostile media and the hegemonic nations always express concerns that our nation wants to interfere in the internal affairs of the other nations in the region, however.  What is the need for Iran’s presence in these nations and for the preservation of the Axis of Resistance?

Firouzabadi: The presence of Iranian advisers in Iraq and Syria or Iran’s support for Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is a completely clear and revolutionary concept, and it has already been stipulated in its entirety. We do not interfere in other countries. We have absolutely no intention of territorial expansion. We do not have any expectations regarding the territory or the resources of these nations. What is clear is that our system is revolutionary.

When the Islamic Revolution was victorious, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered that we must support Muslims and the oppressed people of the world. This is a feature of every religious, revolutionary, and human idea. It is accepted that wherever there is a flood or an earthquake, other nations express regret and ask the nation hit by the disaster what help it needs so they can deliver it. It is completely acceptable for other nations to provide financial assistance to the afflicted nation and also to send resources and personnel there.

Now let us bring the same case to the concept of the Islamic Revolution. We said Iran is at the center of the Muslim world. In other words, it is where the Islamic Revolution has come forth and is growing. The Revolution is being exported to the world. This Revolution is made of light and thought; it is not a physical or material revolution. Values and revolutionary thinking are exported, and the media publishes reports about our Islamic Revolution. People are interested in it in various parts of the world, and they think about these values.

The Revolution has no intention of warring with other nations or interfering in their affairs and interests. It is not this way at all. This is an Islamic region and the countries are Islamic, however, and our Revolution is an Islamic revolution. It presents pure Islamic values. Pure Islamic values are appealing in other countries and among Muslims. Muslims turn to them and believe in them.

Individuals join together and demand these values. These people begin Islamic activities in their own countries in the face of democratic circumstances and their countries’ culture. We endorse those people. In other words if a group in some country wants to develop revolutionary values, we endorse that group because we share similar viewpoints, and there are no problems at all with this situation. Their countries must also not have a problem with this because various groups with different ideas live in countries.

But now the rulers of countries come and oppress these groups that advocate values. For example they arrest their cleric, as happened in Saudi Arabia. We support this cleric.[2] Is there a problem with this? We must use the resources we have so we can give maximum support to that person. This particular case is progressing; the people are coming together to support that cleric. We must support these people. Spiritually, we must support the people who have come together to support that cleric and the individuals who share his views.

What has happened in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen is different. Look at the catastrophe in Iraq. When Saddam ruled in Iraq he was at war with us. A group of Iraqis was opposed to Saddam. They came, gathered in Iran, and formed the Badr Organization. Later when the circumstances were right, the Badr Organization went from there into Iraq and continued its struggle. Then the Americans came and occupied Iraq. After the Americans left, planning was done and various opposition groups formed within Iraq.

The Shias and most of the people of Iraq asked us for aid, so we had to give them cultural and economic assistance. They also made political efforts and formed the Iraqi government. However, the U.S. created ISIS and the takfiri groups. ISIS launched an attack and now wants to take the Iraqi capital and enslave the entire nation of Iraq. In this situation the government of Iraq wants help from us. Should we not help them? Is helping a lawful government that requests help considered intervention?

The government of Iraq wants help from us, and we are helping. It wants equipment from us, and we are selling equipment to it. It wants advisers, and we are sending advisers to provide training. Therefore this is neither intervention nor anything else. We have never told them to give us something or that we will intervene in their policies.

The nation of Iraq manages its country. They have their own political parties and groups. They have their own religious scholars. They have asked us for help, and we have sent them military advisers. We have trained them so they can be organized and have the ability to fight their enemies. This is not intervention. This is friendship, brotherhood, and cooperation.

But now we have seen Mrs. Clinton come to Syria and bring together the leaders of [opposition] groups, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and others as “the Friends of Syria,” in order to incite terrorist groups against the central government, which is the Syrian government, and to form a government there that supports Israel.

The government of Syria has asked us to help in these circumstances. Well, what should we have done? We went to help the government of Syria, of course. We sent advisers to show the Syrian Army how to fight the dozens of terrorist cells that were receiving all kinds of weapons.

The terrorist groups are receiving international financial aid to fight against their own central government and to behead and shoot the people of their own nation. We have answered the Syrian government’s request, and we are helping them so they can defeat the terrorists. This is not intervention and has been accepted everywhere in the world.

But at whose request did the Americans, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia go to Syria? Who asked the terrorist forces who have gathered from throughout Europe and the Caucasus and gone to Syria and Iraq? They are interfering in these states and intervening with our lawful aid.

The form of our work in Iraq and Syria is like this. It is much different in Yemen, however. We do not have any presence at all in Yemen. We don’t even have an advisory presence.[3] Iran only has a military attaché in Yemen like other nations. Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen. It has bombed the entire country. It has activated several groups of al Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorists in Yemen and has sent mercenary soldiers to Yemen from dozens of nations.

What has Iran done? First, we have supported Yemen’s revolutionaries, who are now running the lawful and populist government, and second, we have sent them medicines and resources of this type. Third, we have supported them politically.

Yemen is being blockaded and the Saudis are bombing it. We are only issuing statements in the interest of the people of Yemen. We accept groups of people for negotiations. Advising is only being done at the general level. In other words, we do not even have advisers in Yemen as we do in Iraq and Syria. Is this intervention?

We are supporting the oppressed people of Yemen. We are saying why are you bombing Yemeni children and families? Why are you hitting hospitals? Why are you hitting schools? Why are you hitting cities and populated regions? Why are you destroying Yemen’s infrastructure? What kind of intervention is this? What are these accusations they are making? Compared to the accusations that they make, where have we expanded territory? We have not gone a single meter beyond the borders we had at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, not on land or sea.

The Islamic Republic of Iran values independence, territorial integrity, and the rights of nations. The votes of nations are valuable, in our view. We defend the votes of nations, even in Bahrain, which is close to our borders and where the Shia people are under pressure. We defend the votes of the people of Bahrain.

Iran asks, why did you strip the leader of Bahrain [Sheikh Isa Qassim] of his nationality?[4] The leader of a nation cannot be deprived of his nationality. He was born there, is the religious leader of the people, and has an ideological link to the people. We condemn stripping him of citizenship. We condemn the suppression of the people of Bahrain. The people want the right to vote, and you are suppressing them and responding to them with guns. This is a mistake. Do not do this.

The Islamic Republic has not intervened, expanded its territory, or even intervened militarily in Bahrain. We have simply supported the values and the rights of nations. We have responded to the rightful demand of governments. Critics do not accept this, and they are telling us not to intervene. Iran has not committed any wrongdoings legally. These critics are changing the situation in order to alter public opinion.

Iran does not even intervene militarily in Gaza and Palestine, which is our top priority politically and religiously. We deployed advisers there, trained their forces, delivered scientific knowledge, treated their illnesses, and trained their researchers, and then they advanced on their own. We supported them.[5] We supported Muslims who want to free their country from the domination of occupiers.


[1] “Be Felestin va Ghaza mostashar ferestadim” [We sent advisors to Palestine and Gaza], Fars News Agency, October 16, 2016. http://www(.)farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13950723000259.
[2] Firouzabadi is likely referring to Saudi Arabia’s arrest of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al Nimr. For more information on Sheikh Nimr al Nimr, including Iran’s reactions to his execution, please see “Iran News Round Up - January 6, 2016,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, January 6, 2016, http://www.irantracker.org/iran-news-round-january-6-2016.
[3] Iran has had a documented history of supplying the Houthis with training and military supplies. For more on Iran’s activities in Yemen, see “Iranian involvement in missile attacks on the USS Mason,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, October 19, 2016, http://www.criticalthreats.org/yemen/iranian-involvement-missile-attacks-uss-mason-october-19-2016.
[4] Iranian officials have encouraged protests against the Bahraini government due to its treatment of Ayatollah Isa Qassim, whom Bahraini authorities stripped of citizenship in June 2016. For more on Ayatollah Isa Qassim, please see “Iran News Round Up - June 21, 2016,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, June 21, 2016, http://www.irantracker.org/iran-news-round-june-21-2016.
[5] Iran has historically preferred to rely on “train the trainer” methods in order to increase the capabilities of Hamas fighters, although unconfirmed reports do suggest that a handful of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force operatives were also active in Gaza. For more information on Iran’s military activities in Gaza, see Charlie Szrom, “Iran-Hamas Relationship in 2008,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, March 27, 2009. http://www.irantracker.org/military-activities/iran-hamas-relationship-2008#_edn76f0bd53d6af050ec60b789248c5704745.
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