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January 2, 2024 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1736

IRGC Spokesman Sharif Asserts That Hamas's October 7 Massacre Was 'One Of The Resistance Axis's Acts Of Vengeance Against The Zionists For The Killing Of [IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem] Soleimani' – And His Statements Were Later Edited In Iranian Media Coverage Of Them

January 2, 2024 | By A. Savyon*
Iran, Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1736

Marking the third anniversary of the January 3, 2020 killing of the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. air strike, along with the December 25, 2023 killing of senior IRGC officer Gen. Razi Moussavi in Damascus in an Israeli air strike, IRGC spokesman Ramazan Sharif said that the Hamas massacre of Israelis on October 7, 2023 was "one of the resistance axis's acts of vengeance against the Zionists for the killing of [IRGC Qods Force commander Gen. Qassim] Soleimani." (See below for screenshot of Fars News publication of Sharif's statements).

These statements are an acknowledgement by Sharif that Iran had known about, and perhaps had actually been a partner in the planning of Hamas's the October 7 massacre – in contradiction of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's instructions. Khamenei had said on October 10, in an apparent attempt to avoid damaging Iranian national interests in the West, that while Iran was proud of the Palestinian resistance for the attack on Israel, and encouraged its continuation, it had not been involved in it.[1] In accordance with Khamenei's instructions, Iran has also denied involvement in activity by its other proxy organizations in the resistance axis – Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and the Shi'ite militias in the Syrian Golan Heights, Syria proper and Iraq – that are attacking Israel and the U.S. on several fronts. According to Iran, they, like Hamas, are operating independently.

Indeed, several hours after Fars News published Sharif's statements on its website, his sentence stating that the October 7 Hamas operation was revenge for Soleimani's killing was removed.

Senior Iranian regime officials also took to media in an attempt to rectify Sharif's deviance from the official regime line – that is, that the October 7 massacre was planned and carried out by Hamas alone. IRGC commander Hossein Salami said on December 28, the day after Sharif made his remarks, that "as a servant of the IRGC with in-depth knowledge of the complete story, [I am telling you that you must] know that the Al-Aqsa Flood operation was a completely Palestinian operation, planned and implemented by the Palestinians themselves, and no movement outside of Palestine was involved in creating this astounding success, this great storm – it was a completely Palestinian matter."[2]

Additionally, IRGC Qods Force commander Esmail Qaani reiterated emphatically several times, on December 29, that the operation was planned solely by the Palestinians: "Today, the resistance in the entire region has its own independent structure. The resistance groups grew, stage by stage, and today all the elements of the resistance front on the regional level are in control of their own decisions. At this time, the Palestinian resistance has begun, with fortitude, to work on a plan that it prepared, and for the first time in this stage, due to the extensive crimes committed by the Zionist regime against the Muslim people in Palestine, they [the resistance?] have themselves planned, and carried out, stage after stage, all the things that they themselves planned. They did this by planning, and how well they did it [!]"[3]

The Iranian Regime's Practice Of After-The-Fact Alteration Of Officials' Published Statements Incriminating Iran In Involvement In Terror Operations Against Other Countries

This instance of after-the-fact alteration of statements by a top Iranian official that deviate from the official regime line and that could make Iran appear directly responsible for terror operations against other countries is not unique. On December 14, 2023, the Iranian news agency ISNA altered its report of Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani's warning to the U.S. not to establish a multinational task force in the Red Sea to secure international shipping lanes against attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. Ashtiani added: "[T]his region is ours. Nobody can maneuver in a region we control." A few hours after publication of its report, ISNA added a sentence about Ashtiani's statements making it seem that his words "the region is ours" had referred to the Persian Gulf, where Iran also claims, against international  law, to have the right to prevent shipping traffic. (See Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani Responds To Proposed U.S.-Backed Red Sea Force: 'If Americans Make Such A Foolish Move, They Will Be Faced With Extraordinary Problems'; 'This Region Is Ours'.)

In another occurrence, in August 2018, senior IRGC official Gen. Nasser Shab'ani acknowledged that Tehran had instructed the Iranian proxy in Yemen, the Houthis, to attack Saudi oil tankers. Then, too, the news report was altered after it was published, and the incriminating sentences were removed. (See Statements By Top IRGC Official Gen. Sha'bani Published By Fars News Agency: 'We Told The Yemenis To Attack The Two Saudi Tankers, And They Attacked'.)

The Alteration Of The Fars News Report And Hamas's Denial Of Sharif's Statements

Not only did Fars alter its original report of IRGC spokesman Sharif's statements by removing a sentence clearly showing Iran's involvement in the October 7 Hamas massacre, but Hamas itself denied Sharif's acknowledgement, saying that its main motivation for its October 7 operation was "the dangers threatening Al-Aqsa mosque" from Israel (see below).[4] 

Sharif himself was later forced to publish a clarification in which he stated that "the results of the Al-Aqsa Flood [October 7 attack] were part of the vengeance for the killing of the martyr Soleimani" and that his previous statements were "a misunderstanding." The Tasnim news agency, also affiliated with the IRGC, published a clarification stating: "Due to a misunderstanding of part of Sharif's statements regarding the Al-Aqsa Flood operation about the difference between the reason and the motivation for this operation and its achievements and ramifications, he said, 'As Hamas leaders have said, the oppression, the 70-year crime of occupation, the insult to Al-Aqsa mosque and the holy places, the siege and the killing of the oppressed and defenseless Palestinian people, and the thousands of Palestinian captives and prisoners in Zionist detention are the various causes and motives for the completely Palestinian 'Al-Aqsa Flood' operation. Without a doubt, part of the great historic victory of the Al-Aqsa Flood operation stems from the efforts of the martyr General Qassim Soleimani, which sets the achievements of the operation as one of the resistance axis's acts of vengeance against the cowardly killing of the martyr of Jerusalem [Soleimani].'"[5]

Iran's Connection To Hamas's Plan For Its October 7 Massacre

It should be noted that earlier, on October 10, 2023, the Iranian regime mouthpiece Kayhan had attributed the October 7 attack to planning by Soleimani in January 2020, just before he was killed. Kayhan boasted, "Today it emerges that [Soleimani's] powers of planning and operational strategy were boundless... The unity of the resistance factions based on this five-year charter is the fruit of Soleimani's martyrdom and part of the resistance factions' harsh revenge." The newspaper added that Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei himself had hinted, in August 2022, at the great victory of October 7, and a year later, in August 2023, he heralded the upcoming operation, which clearly indicates that he was aware of the Iranian plans to carry out the operation. (See Iranian Regime Mouthpiece Kayhan: Iran Is The Mind And Hands Behind Hamas; Operation 'Al-Aqsa Flood' Was Planned, Orchestrated By Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani Before He Was Killed; Khamenei Hinted In August 2022, August 2023 At 'The Complete Conquest' Of Israel.)

It should be emphasized that on October 11, the day after Khamenei ordered officials to downplay Iranian involvement in the October 7 Hamas operation, the Asr-e Iran website published an article calling on the regime, hinting at its ideological extremists, to restrain themselves in the matter of Iran's connection "to the Hamas-Israel conflict" for fear of harming Iran's national interests. The article recommended adhering to the official line set out by Khamenei on October 10, according to which, as noted above, Iran, while proud of the Palestinian resistance for the attack on Israel, and while it encouraged its continuation, was not involved in it.[6]

Furthermore, on October 15, Tasnim published an exclusive report stating that the joint "Mighty Pillar" maneuvers were the resistance organizations' planning for an attack on Israel, and that they constituted four years of training the Palestinians for the "Al-Aqsa Flood" operation. According to the Tasnim report, Khamenei himself had announced the name of "Operation Al-Aqsa Flood" years before it was carried out, and also in these statements had ordered the establishment of a joint command and control center of the resistance groups – groups operated, trained, and armed by Iran under the supervision of Soleimani and, after him, current Qods Force commander Esma'il Qa'ani.

Screenshot Of The Original Fars News Report: IRGC Spokesman Says Al-Aqsa Flood [Operation] Was "One Of The Acts Of Vengeance For The Killing Of Gen. Soleimani"

Below is a screenshot of the original report published by the IRGC-affiliated Fars News agency on  December 27, 2023, before the alteration of its title and text of Sharif's statement that the October 7 operation was "one of the acts of vengeance for the killing of Gen. Soleimani" (see yellow highlight in image). The screenshot is followed by a translation of the original article before it was altered.


Pictured: IRGC Spokesman Ramzan Sharif, FARS (Iran), December 27, 2023

IRGC Spokesman: "Al-Aqsa Flood Was One Of The Resistance Axis' Acts Of Vengeance For The Killing Of Gen. Soleimani"

"The struggle against the enemies of security is still ongoing, and has been since the beginning of the [Islamic] revolution [of Iran]. The IRGC will continue to fulfill its duty to defend the Revolution.

"The martyr Sayyed Razi [Mousavi, the IRGC officer in Syria killed in the December 25, 2023 airstrike attributed to Israel] was responsible for empowering and supporting the resistance axis. We are not worried about the continuation of his path, because his path will continue. [Even] after the killing  of Hajj Qassem [Soleimani], you see that the resistance against the Zionists has grown stronger, and this path will continue.

"This honorable martyr [Mousavi] was very experienced in providing equipment to the resistance and in facing the Zionists, and he contributed greatly to the foreign diplomacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. When ISIS tried to divide Syria and assist the Zionists, Sayyed Razi's work alongside the fighters of the resistance front was praiseworthy. Today, all fighters who fight the Zionists benefit from Sayyed Razi's presence and work.

"The martyr Razi was in charge of advising and supporting the resistance axis in Syria and Lebanon for over 25 years, and his death is another motivation for supporters of the [Iranian] regime to continue on this path of light. These actions [i.e. his killing] cannot disrupt the IRGC movement.

"The strengthening of the resistance front, which is significantly different today from what it once was, is the result of martyr Razi's efforts to convey experience and technology to the [Iran-backed] resistance factions.

"This blind operation [i.e. killing Mousavi] was caused by the Zionist regime's chain of failures in Gaza, and it carried out this operation to rid itself of these failures, and the IRGC knows the reason behind this assassination.

"Al-Aqsa Flood was one of the resistance axis's acts of vengeance against the Zionists for the martyrdom of Gen. Soleimani.

"The Zionists lost over 200 commanders and had over 1,500 wounded in the Al-Aqsa Flood, and these numbers relate to a regime that claims to be undefeated when it comes to military operations. This is a sign that the Zionist regime is sinking.

"Our response to the martyrdom of Mousavi will be a combination of direct action and [action through] the resistance front.

"The reason why [the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias] are targeting American [bases] in the region, and in Iraq especially, is that prior to the [Al-Aqsa] Flood [operation], Iraq confirmed that the Americans [must] withdraw, and after the operation, the wrath of the Iraqi people was awakened, and it struck the Americans. It is important that the Americans accept that they must leave the region, because they have reached an impasse.

"The Israelis are under extraordinary pressure, and in order to exit that pressure, they want to expand the war's scope and drag other countries into the war too. Our confrontation with the [Zionist] regime is an ongoing process, and not a momentary, localized confrontation. We have also avenged the murder of our nuclear scientists, but the Israelis are not allowing the publication of those reports due to the closed media space. If you assassinate a senior Israeli officer, which has happened in other revenge operations, they [Israel] do not allow media reports to be published.

"The number of Zionist victims in the war in Gaza against the resistance axis cannot be compared to previous [wars], and the strengthening of the resistance axis is one of the acts of vengeance against the Zionists. Thanks to its capabilities, the IRGC carries out vengeance and also gives the enemy no excuses.

"One of the enemy's strategies has been to turn the war between Palestine and Israel into a war between Iran and America. Supreme Leader [Khamenei] announced on the first day of the operation that the Al-Aqsa Flood was a Palestinian action, but the Israelis are still trying to use this strategy [of turning the war between Palestine and Israel into a war between Iran and America] – but the Iranian authorities have always responded appropriately to this strategy.

"The circumstances of the killing of Soleimani were different from those of the assassination of the martyr Mousavi, and the difference is that today there is an ongoing conflict in the field [the war in Gaza]. This does not mean, however, that something special will not be carried out.

"Yemen's actions [the Houthis' targeting of ships in Bab el-Mandab] are purely a struggle against the Zionist regime, and are not intended to make [this] international waterway unsafe. On the other hand, the Americans have failed strategically by forming a coalition against Yemen, and even its traditional allies have refused to cooperate with them.

"The Yemenis [Houthis] are telling the Zionists that if they stop bombing Gaza they will respond by stopping their own operations. The alertness of the Yemenis when it comes to supporting the oppressed residents of Gaza must be commended.

"Yesterday morning, the bizarre Zionist prime minister reiterated what was said on the first day [of the war in Gaza], saying that they want to uproot the Palestinians, purge Gaza of Hamas, murder its leaders, and free the hostages. None of those four goals has been achieved in the past 80 days. In addition, you can be certain that the first aftershock of the Al-Aqsa Flood will be the fall of the Zionist government, which we have been witnessing thus far."

Hamas's Denial Of IRGC Spokesman Sharif's Assertion That October 7 Massacre Was Vengeance For 2020 Soleimani Killing

Hamas denied Sharif's statements about the motivation for its "Al-Aqsa Flood" operation. Below is a translation of its announcement:

"The Islamic Resistance Movement-Hamas denies what was presented in the name of IRGC spokesman Gen. Ramazan Sharif concerning the Al-Aqsa Flood operation and its motives. We have stressed repeatedly the motivations and factors in the Al-Aqsa Flood operation, headed by the dangers threatening Al-Aqsa Mosque.

"Likewise, we stress that every Palestinian resistance operation is a response to the existence of the occupation and its ongoing aggression against our people and our holy places.

"The Islamic Resistance Movement-Hamas

"December 27, 2023

"The Hamas official website."


Screenshot of the Hamas announcement on its website, T.me/hamasps/18662, December 27, 2023.

 

* A. Savyon is director of MEMRI's Iran Media Studies project.

 


[2] Farsnews.ir, December 28, 2023.

[3] ISNA (Iran), December 29, 2023.

[4] T.me/hamasps/18662, December 27, 2023.

[5] Tasnim (Iran), December 27, 2023.

[6] Farsi.khamenei.ir, October 10, 2023.

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