Advertisement
Protest against Israeli attacks in Gaza and killing of children, in the Palestine square in east of Tehran. Alamy Stock Photo
Iran in Dublin

Iranian diplomat in Dublin denies Iran is involved in 'proxy war' in Middle East

Dr Kazem Sharif Kazemi is Charge d’Affaire of the Iranian Embassy and he spoke about the alleged proxy wars in the Middle East and human rights.

AN IRANIAN GOVERNMENT official based in Dublin has denied that Iran had involvement in the 7 October attacks in Israel and rejected suggestions that it is engaged in a proxy war against the West. 

Dr Kazem Sharif Kazemi is Charge d’Affaire of the Iranian Embassy in Dublin and he sat down with The Journal recently to discuss how his government views the crisis in the Middle East.

In a wide-ranging interview, the diplomat also answered questions about the recent bloodshed in his own country where the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody after her arrest for allegedly being in breach of Iran’s strict religious dress code for women sparked a resistance movement that reached his workplace in Dublin.  

The Iranian Embassy is located in Blackrock – behind an imposing high railing with an extensive CCTV surveillance system is a property that was once home to Catholic Church officials. 

In May, demonstrators gathered at the premises to protest against the treatment of women in Iran. Graffiti in the form of red bloodied hands was daubed on the gate pillars. Four people were charged over the incident. 

Proxy War

Kazemi, a historian who has a background in academia in his home country, spoke extensively about the risk of a contagion effect in the region and the possibility of a wider conflict. Although he denied that Iran was involved in a proxy war in the region, he admitted that there was support from his government for what he terms “resistance groups”.

The diplomat did not mention the resistance groups by name but Hamas is the most active in the Palestinian territory and has been declared a terrorist organisation by the EU and US Government. 

Although Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon is widely acknowledged in the West, US officials have confirmed Iran’s position that it did not have advance warning of the brutal 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel. 

A proxy war is one in which a larger power uses smaller factions to fight with an opposing power – the larger State sponsors groups. It facilitates a deniability for those funding the activities of the smaller groups. In Iran’s case a number of studies have identified Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza as two particular groups Iran is funding. 

Earlier this week, Reuters reported from Dubai that Iran’s supreme leader told the head of Hamas at a meeting in Tehran that the country will not enter the war on its behalf. 

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Ismail Haniyeh at the start of November that Hamas had Iran’s political and moral support but that it would not intervene directly. 

Image of Dr Kazem Sharif Kazemi Nov 2023 Dr Kazem Sharif Kazemi of the Iranian Embassy in Dublin.

Gaza

Back in Dublin, Kazemi spoke at length about the dramatic escalation of hostilities in Palestine and said that the fighting between Israel and Hamas was a result of a failure of the international community. 

As many as 1,200 Israelis were killed when Hamas fighters launched a devastating early morning raid inside Israel on 7 October. The majority of those killed were civilians. Another 241 hostages, many with dual citizenships, were taken by Hamas to Gaza.

In the aftermath of the shock attack, a bombing and ground offensive was launched by Israeli forces on Gaza which has killed more than 11,000 people, according to health ministry officials inside Gaza. The majority of those killed were civilians. 

Kazemi made no condemnation of Hamas but stressed that the conflict should not just be looked at from the 7 October attacks but, he said, that the violence of Hamas was a response to the preceding 70 years of conflict in the region.

The Iranian official was careful in his language when asked by The Journal if Iran would seek to escalate hostilities in the region.  

“Actually nobody knows if this war killing machine [Israel] will continue killing people. Many analysts believe, maybe an extension of the war will happen by resistance groups.

“Nobody knows at this time because there is no action by the international community to
stop Israel bombing hospitals, refugee camps and schools.

But the Iranian position is clear that Iran does not want an extension of the war at all.

“The officials have been clear from the beginning. We say that we don’t intend to extend the war. We have many common areas with many countries, including Ireland, in demanding a ceasefire, humanitarian access, access to medicine for hospitals, as well as the releasing of hostages from both sides,” he said. 

a-demonstrator-holds-a-poster-of-the-late-iranian-revolutionary-guard-gen-qassem-soleimani-who-was-killed-in-a-u-s-drone-attack-in-2020-as-the-other-one-holds-up-a-pro-palestinian-placard-during-a A demonstrator holds a poster of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone attack in 2020, as an other holds a pro-Palestinian placard during a gathering at the Felestin (Palestine) Sq. in Tehran, Iran. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A similar message was transmitted to the US – through back channels – by Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, according to the Financial Times on Friday. However, he also warned that continued Israeli action in Gaza could make escalation in the region inevitable. 

“Over the past 40 days, messages have been exchanged between Iran and the US, via the US interests section at the Swiss embassy in Tehran,” he said. “We said that Iran does not want the war to spread, but due to the approach adopted by the US and Israel in the region, if the crimes against the people of Gaza and the West Bank are not stopped, any possibility could be considered, and a wider conflict could prove inevitable.”

Evidence

The so-called axis of resistance is a loose coalition in the Middle East characterised by anti-Israeli, anti-Western sentiments and includes militant groups in Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. 

Amirabdollahian also denied that these militant groups in the region were Iran’s proxy forces. However, evidence exists to the contrary. In 2019, the US think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies published a study on Iran’s use of proxies to fight wars with enemies. 

Now, for the first time, the group has mobilised on a number of fronts. On the day of our visit to the embassy in Blackrock, a number of Iranian Revolutionary Guards troops were killed in US airstrikes in Syria where US officials claim that Iranian troops are attacking their positions. 

The same accusation has been levelled at Iranian proxies in Iraq. The Houthi rebels in Yemen are engaged in a war against the Government. They are also pitted against Saudi Arabia in a conflict in which there has been an active and complex US Special Forces involvement. Iran has been accused of financing and equipping the Houthis. 

In February, an Iranian General Amirali Hajizadeh had warned that his country was still seeking to kill former US president Donald Trump and his secretary of state Mike Pompeo in revenge for assassinating top commander Qasem Soleimani.

Tehran has repeatedly vowed to avenge the killing of Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations, in a US drone strike on Baghdad airport in January 2020.

Soleimani was claimed at the time to have led operations targeting US military and civilians with some of the attacks perpetrated by proxy elements.  

Sanctions

The Iranians have also supplied weaponry -  including drone technology – to Russia which has been used in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Extensive sanctions have been imposed by western powers on Iran in response to concerns over their nuclear weapons programs. 

Another article from the International Institute of Strategic Studies also cites extensive evidence of Iran’s use of proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah. 

When we asked Kazemi if Iran was engaged in a proxy war in the region he immediately denied, unprompted, Iranian involvement in the 7 October attacks by Hamas. 

“Since the beginning of the 7 October, unfortunately many times America and a few countries, try to play with words,” he said. 

In the wake of the Hamas attacks, US officials said that there was no evidence to support an accusation of Iranian involvement. 

“Iranian policy is clear in its support of resistance groups in oppressed countries based on international law and justice. Any country occupied needs resistance groups to be free, including in Ireland in the last centuries,” Kazemi said. 

Those “resistance groups” he is referencing are Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as other groups such as the Houthis in Yemen. 

“The problem is that everybody is trying to somehow say that there is a proxy war and
drag Iran in [to the conflict] in some way, but Iran wasn’t involved in the 7 October.

“Resistance groups makes their own decision,” he added. 

iranian-demonstrators-watch-a-speech-of-the-lebanons-militant-hezbollah-leader-sayyed-hassan-nasrallah-on-a-screen-as-one-of-them-holds-the-hezbollahs-flag-right-and-the-other-one-holds-a-palestin Iranian demonstrators watch a speech by Lebanon's militant Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on a screen as one of them holds the Hezbollah flag. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Lebanon

On Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has been engaged in a number of deadly skirmishes with Israeli Defence Forces soldiers and aircraft. Sources, with a direct knowledge of events in the area, have said that Hezbollah is particularly targeting Israel’s observation positions and military infrastructure. 

Most recent reports from AFP said that at least 87 people have been killed in Lebanon since hostilities began: more than 60 Hezbollah fighters, 12 other combatants including from Palestinian groups, and 11 civilians.

Cross-border violence since 7 October has killed nine people in northern Israel including six soldiers, according to official figures.

Another seven Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria in strikes attributed to Israel.

Kazemi repeatedly justified the actions of what he termed resistance groups and also referenced Ireland’s revolutionary past in those justifications. 

“The other resistance groups will make their own decision – it is not an Iranian decision.
Resistance groups have the right and the capability to act, when and how take reaction
depending on themselves.

“Freedom from occupation and colonial power is not possible without resistance, [this is] a lesson from Irish history,” he added. 

On the likelihood of a military response directly from Iran in regard to the bombing of Gaza, the Iranian official spoke at length and criticised the international community’s failure to protect the Palestinian population. He also claimed that the wars in the Middle East were caused by the arms industry and its need for conflict to sell arms. 

people-walk-past-a-mural-highlighting-the-plight-of-women-in-iran-on-dame-street-in-dublin-the-mural-by-group-of-female-artists-known-as-the-minaw-collective-has-the-words-woman-life-freedom-in People walk past a mural highlighting the plight of women in Iran, on Dame Street in Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Mahsa Amini

The Journal also asked Kazemi about the protests and the subsequent crack down by the Iranian government on protestors following the death of Mahsa Amini.

The death of 22-year-old Amini, after her arrest for allegedly breaching Iran’s strict dress code for women, had fuelled the biggest protests seen in the Islamic Republic for years.

Young women led the charge, removing their headscarves, chanting anti-government slogans and confronting the security forces on the streets, despite a crackdown that rights groups say has killed hundreds.

Executions of protestors followed, for a variety of offences including religious offences such as “enmity of god”. The government claimed that other protesters killed police officers during demonstrations but there is no independent journalism emerging from Iran so it is difficult to verify such claims. 

An Amnesty International report said that its investigations had found that between 15,000 and 16,000 people were arbitrarily detained during the government crackdown.

It also said that torture and ill-treatment of detained people was widespread and there was an increase in executions and a resumption of public hangings. 

We asked Kazemi about his views on the treatment of women in Iran and how they match up to his experience of women’s freedoms in Ireland. We also spoke to him about human rights abuses. 

He claimed – in direct contradiction to the Amnesty report – that since the Islamic revolution in 1979 that Iran had improved on human rights. 

“We are not stopping at this position, we should continue our progress – human rights, women’s rights… Iran has a very active and dynamic society. Iran is proud of its young generation,” he said. 

He claimed that much of the protest movement was led by “influencer countries” such as the United States. An extensive trawl by The Journal of online resources and discussions with sources familiar with the movement has not been able to confirm this assertion.

He referenced the Irish government’s introduction of new sentencing regimes for people who assault gardaí in his justification for the Iranian government response. 

“In Iran after Mahsa Amini died, by provocation of outside [against from other countries] who tried to make instability inside of Iran and because of that 50 police[men] were killed…” he said. 

He claimed that there was misinformation from “western countries” that the protests were peaceful. 

At the time, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs strongly criticised Iran in a speech at the United Nations and supported reports that the right to freedom of expression and right to assembly had been reduced in Iran.

“We are deeply concerned that women, journalists, human rights defenders, teachers and members of minority communities have been particularly targeted,” the DFA said in a statement. 

“People in Iran have the right to peaceful protest. That right must be ensured in all circumstances.”

The European Union’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell said at the time: “The internal situation in Iran continues to be a source of great concern. The current uprisings reveal deep frustration. The key demands of the current protests are respect for fundamental human rights, dignity, and real change.”

Kazemi stressed the importance of connections with Ireland and said that it is viewed by his Government as a key member of the European Union.

The diplomat said that his role in Dublin was to “completely open the bilateral” relationship between Ireland and Iran.

Those connections almost certainly played a role in the recent release of Irish citizen Bernard Phelan who was held in Iran for seven months before his release in May. 

It appears that hope is reciprocated by the Irish side with an honorary consulate in Tehran. There was also a recent visit to Iran by a senior Department of Foreign Affairs official and a 2022 visit by then Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.