Commanders from the Russian, Iranian, and Syrian militaries have established a “coordination cell” in Baghdad to work with the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, according to a report by Fox News. A senior U.S. official told Fox News that Russian military personnel are “popping up everywhere” in Baghdad. The infamous leader of Iran’s expeditionary force, Qassem Soleimani, was also reported to have been in Baghdad a few days ago, where it is believed he met with both Shiite militias and Russians. The U.S.-designated terrorist has also twice, in recent months, traveled to Russia in violation of international sanctions. Iran seeks to expand its dominance and influence over Iraq though the use of Shiite militias.
In May, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board asserted, “Iran is combining Shiite Islamist revolutionary fervor with traditional Persian imperialism in a bid to become the dominant power across the Middle East. Its militias or proxies already dominate Lebanon and much of Iraq and Syria and are making a play in Yemen.”
Furthermore, on Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that U.S. officials have seen a Russian drone and manned aircraft in the skies over western Syria, marking “the most aggressive military maneuver” by the Russians since their escalation in Syria began a few weeks ago. The recent Russian movement into Syria prompted Vice President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Jonathan Schanzer to tweet: “Question: Has Russia joined the Iranian axis or has Iran, Syria and Hezbollah joined the Russian one?”
The sanctions relief provided to Iran through the recently-inked nuclear deal has caused many experts to raise concerns over the use of those funds. Matthew Levitt, a terror finance expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in submitted testimony to the Senate Banking Committee that the money would “direct substantial funding to foreign adventures, proxies and allies in keeping with [Iran’s] longstanding track record.”
Major General Ataollah Salehi, the commander-in-chief of the Iranian army, said this week that the army is “glad” to be at the “forefront” of those carrying out the wishes of Iran’s Supreme Leader to destroy Israel, the Washington Free Beacon reported Wednesday.
“Israel only barks, no matter how much weapons are given to [it], we are going to destroy them, we will promise this task will be done,” Salehi was quoted as saying by the Fars News Agency.The Free Beacon commissioned a translation of the original Farsi report.
Salehi expressed pride in Iran’s support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah that seek the Jewish state’s destruction. The military leader also said that Iran has been directly responsible for attacks on Israel.
“We are glad that we are in the forefront of executing supreme leader’s order to destroy the Zionist regime,” he said. “They have been hit by those supported by us [Iran] even though they have not confronted us directly; if they confront us directly they will be destroyed.”
An English translation of Salehi’s remarks that appeared on the Fars news agency website suggested that Salehi was referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’sdeclaration earlier this month that Israel would be destroyed within 25 years.
During and following the negotiations that led to the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 nations, top Iranian officials have threatened Israel and called for its elimination. In March, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij militia, calledIsrael’s destruction “nonnegotiable.” Shortly before the agreement was reached, a reported moderate, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran and ally of current President Hassan Rouhani, called Israel an “alien existence” that he believes will “be wiped off the map.” A week after the deal was signed, Khamenei praised crowds who were shouting “Death to America, ” and “Death to Israel.” Last month, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, that the nuclear deal presented a “historic opportunity” to confront Israel. That same month, Hussein Sheikholeslam, a senior adviser to Iran’s parliament speaker, rejected a plea from British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond for Iran to moderate its views about Israel, saying, “Israel should be annihilated.”
Last month, following rocket attacks into northern Israel launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran, an arms expert assessed that Hezbollah possessed rockets that could reach all of Israel. Earlier this week, Avi Issacharoff reported that Iran had boosted its financial support of Hezbollah and Hamas in anticipation of the billions it will be receiving in sanctions relief.