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Leaked Documents Reveal What’s Behind Ebrahim Raisi’s Visit to Syria

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Early May, the Iranian regime’s president Ebrahim Raisi flew to Damascus and met with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, notoriously famed as the butcher of Damascus. While international media printed headlines that Tehran seeks to bolster its political and economic influence over the Assad regime, many overlooked the actual intentions of this posturing.

Accompanied by four cabinet members, Raisi was welcomed by the Syrian Minister of Economy and Trade, Mohammad Samer Khalil, at the Damascus Airport. Syrian official news agency SANA reported that four Iranian ministers, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Minister of Roads and Urban Development and Chairman of the Iran-Syria Joint Economic Committee Mehrdad Bazrpash, Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, and Oil Minister Javad Owji accompanied Ebrahim Raisi. The delegation was driven straight toward the presidential palace.

Iranian state media mainly tried to paint the visit as a historic political event, emphasizing that the regime had saved the Syrian dictator from downfall. Reporting from Damascus, the Iranian official IRNA news agency put weight on the economic aspects of the event, attempting to seize the occasion as if both regimes are enjoying their prime and strategic flourishment.

On May 7, 2023, a member of the NCRI was invited to Simaye Azadi, an Iranian opposition TV network, to disclose documents and evidence that shed light on what has been happening in the shadows of the murky ties between Tehran and Damascus.

حقایق پشت پرده ـ واقعیت روابط رژیم آخوندی با دیکتاتور سوریه از زبان اسناد درون رژیم ـ ۱۷اردیبهشت۱۴۰۲

Mr. Majid Hariri showed several classified documents that have been obtained from sources inside the regime which the country’s principal opposition, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), network inside Iran has managed to acquire. Explaining how both the regimes of Syria and Iran, struck by the uprising and besieged by and grappling with an overwhelmingly discontent society, are attempting to project strength. Presenting the documents, he explained in detail what the evidence revealed about both dictatorships.

The first document shown was the minutes of a meeting conducted on May 11, 2021, at Qadir Investments Company that discussed the agreements between different state-affiliated corporations that wanted to enter the business of mining, transporting, and selling phosphate with the Syrian regime.

Part of Document #1 reads:

Subject: Pursuing Iran’s Petrochemical Commercial Company International (PCCI)’s partnership with Kimia Mining Company (KOMKA) for the marketing and sale of phosphates in Syria and using the capacity of Ghadir Transport Holding to supply bulk carrier vessels and sea transportation of phosphates for KOMKA.

The document also indicates the Iranian regime’s strong skepticism toward the Assad regime and its stability. In clause 2 of the script, it read:

Ghadir Planning Department: Considering there is a political risk of regime change in Syria concerning the contracts that the previous government concluded with other countries (such as the 50-year contract between Syria and Iran for Iran’s use of Syria’s phosphate reserves), these might eventually be lost. Hence, high-yield scenarios for Ghadir to enter the Syrian phosphate industry is a priority, such as PCCI’s partnership with KOMKA for marketing phosphates and using the capacity of Ghadir Transport Holding to provide a bulk carrier to transport phosphates for KOMKA compared to other scenarios with a long-term return on investment, such as creating infrastructure for the enrichment of phosphate rock in Syria.

This practically indicates that officials at the IRGC-affiliated Ghadir Holding contracts concerningly observe the Assad regime’s brinkmanship and want to exploit Syria as soon as possible. Despite the political posturing about the strategic alliance, both regimes understand that the other might be overthrown soon, as both very well know that clinging to power through force is a ticking clock.

Another document that was obtained from the Ghadir Investment Company, which works with the regime’s Department of Defense, reveals details about a meeting conducted in May 2021 in Syria’s phosphate industry between PCCI authorities — which is actually a front company to evade sanctions — and representatives of the Operating Company of Khatam al-Analbia Manufacturing Headquarters, a subsidiary of the IRGC Engineering Corps.

After handing over several mines to the IRGC, they discussed different operational phases on how to extract, transport, and sell the material.

KOMKA: Syria’s phosphate rock reserves are 1.8 billion tons, 70% of which are available to Iran with a 50-year contract due to the Syrian government’s debts to Iran. Loading and selling Syrian phosphate rock is done via the Port of Tartus. The bay of this port is only 8.5 meters deep, and therefore small ships with a maximum loading capacity of 20,000 tons can dock there. Phosphate rock is transported from Syrian phosphate mines near Palmyra to Tartus Port by road and rail. The distance between the mines and the port of Tartus is about 300 km. Negotiations are underway between the governments of Iran and Syria to use the port of Hamidiyeh for the export of phosphate rock. This port has the capacity to berth ships up to 100,000 tons. Of course, if there is an agreement, it is necessary to build a solid bulk export terminal in this port. Because there is no solid peak export infrastructure available. Before the civil war, Syria used to produce 3.7 million tons of phosphate rock annually, of which 1 million tons were consumed domestically. However, 700,000 tons and 2 million tons were exported to Lebanon and Eastern European countries, respectively.

Interestingly, it also read:

Shipping from Syria, due to the embargo of this country, is one of the main problems in the sale of Syrian phosphate rock. It was stated that PCCI, due to its experience and expertise, can help in changing the origin of shipment (Syria) in documents and preparing new documents. Also, considering that the sale of phosphate rock at the international level is through letters of credit (LC), PCCI, thanks to its experience and expertise, and considering that it is considered a clean company and free of the unilateral sanctions of the United States against it, can be very helpful.

Besides acknowledging that international sanctions are causing trouble for both regimes, the document also reveals that the IRGC-affiliated company has expertise in forging documents. They wanted to fake the country of origin, as Syria is severely sanctioned.

In 2017, the National Council of Resistance of Iran exposed a deal worth $20 billion between the Iranian and the Syrian regimes that aimed to harden Tehran’s foothold in the war-torn country. On January 17, 2017, following the capture of Idlib by the Syrian army, backed by the IRGC and Russian air support, both regimes met and signed an agreement. As exposed by the NCRI, the agreement was made under the direct supervision of the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and discussed in the regime’s Supreme Council of National Security. Among others, the contracts included 5,000 hectares of farmland, running a cow farm in Tartus, a phosphate mine contract, several oil terminal contracts, telecom contracts, and a contract for constructing a wharf in Tartus.

The documents obtained by the Iranian Resistance also disclosed minutes of a meeting that took place on May 2, 2021. It comprised initial discussions on how to draft the agreement about entering Syria’s phosphate industry.

A separate document entitled ‘Mission Report’ that covered October 10- 14, 2021, cited Reza Golgun from the Ghadir Investments Company, Amir Mehdi Taefi from Ghadir International Industries and Mines Development, Akbar Ghorbanpour and Farhad Bagheri from Petrochemical Commercial Company (PCCI), and Ahmad Arkab from Iran Marine Services Company. The Document reads:

Summary of the visit:

1- Visiting Khanifis and Al-Swaneh mines together with the technical deputy of KOMKA company

2- Visiting the port of Tartus, the surrounding area, and the dedicated phosphate loading dock along with the commercial vice president of KOMKA company

3- Meeting with the honorable CEO of KOMKA Company

It further added

 

Important points of the visit:

1- The two Syrian phosphate mines named Khanifis and Al-Swaneh are located approximately 45 kilometers from the completely destroyed city of Tadmur (Palmyra).

2- The estimated amount of phosphate reserves in the Khanifis area is 300 million tons with a purity of 31-35%, and considering the current amount of extraction from the existing area using the open pit method and very little tailings, there is no need for additional exploration in this mine for at least the next five years.

3- The previously damaged refinery is being repaired and commissioned (by a Lebanese company in exchange for receiving phosphate) and considering that they will soon start the testing and commissioning phase, it is very likely that before the end of the year 1400 (on Persian calendar) the facilities will be put into operation. Currently, phosphate is sold as raw soil.

4- Al-Savaneh mine is located approximately 25 kilometers from the Khanifis area and has a phosphate reserve of 1.5 billion tons with a purity of 24-28%. In order to obtain a higher grade, after transferring to Tartus port and before loading on the ship, Savaneh and Khenifis soil are mixed together in a ratio of 70 to 30 and then loaded.

 

Summary and suggestions:

1- Currently, our main bottleneck and limitation is, first and foremost, sea transportation, and then marketing and sales.

2- Due to security considerations and Syria’s conditions due to sanctions, the price of transferring phosphate from Syria is much higher than other routes with similar lengths, so there is an opportunity for Ghadir Transport Holding to become more active in this regard and find, secure and conclude a contract for sea transportation with vessels of different companies to generate income for themselves.

4- Given our entrance into the new market and the exclusion of active suppliers, it is sometimes necessary to offer discounts; thus, it was agreed in the negotiation with the CEO of KOMKA to show flexibility and offer discounts to PCCI for new customers in the announced prices of KOMKA. PCCI would, therefore, just cover its own expenses and then apply price policies after having penetrated the new market.

The evidence clearly shows that neither regime has benign intentions toward the other, but rather, they are trying to stay above water. According to the documents obtained by the Iranian Resistance, as no insurance company is willing to risk international scrutiny, the Iranian regime has been trying to acquire low-cost vessels to transport the phosphate. This is another indication that the regime is playing with the lives of its own staff.

In the interview with Simaye Azadi, Mr. Hariri also cited a book published in 2016 by the Iranian Resistance. Titled “How Iran Fuels Syria War,” it explained in detail how the regime in Iran used more than $100B and deployed about 70,000 troops to save the Syrian dictator. According to Mr. Hariri, Ebrahim Raisi’s visit was reminiscent of the Shah regime, which was weakened in the late 1970s by a wave of popular uprisings. Yet he invited Romanian President Nicolae Ceaușescu and tried to bolster ties and project strength. Despite international inaction and failure to acknowledge the aspirations of both nations, eventually, both dictators were confronted with the consequences of their crimes, and people wrote history.