Iran addresses claims of using Hezbollah, militias to suppress protests - analysis

Iran is worried by widespread reporting on it importing foreign Arab-speaking militias to murder Iranians, which may provoke anger at home.

People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's "morality police", in Tehran, Iran, September 21, 2022. (photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)
People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's "morality police", in Tehran, Iran, September 21, 2022.
(photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

The state-controlled Fars News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, addressed claims that the regime in Tehran has used Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi-based Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) to suppress recent street protests. The article is an insight into the regime’s thinking and its fears that reports abroad need to be addressed.

For instance, the article included reports from Iran International, BBC Persian and screenshots of an article from The Jerusalem Post in an attempt to bolster claims refuting these reports.

What is Iran’s concern?

Iran is concerned that widespread reporting about its importing of foreign, Arab-speaking militias to murder its own citizens might provoke anger at home.

This isn’t the first time that the Islamic Republic has done this. The IRGC, through the Quds Force, has for decades supported and recruited proxies all over the Middle East. The most powerful of these is Hezbollah in Lebanon, a terrorist group with a stockpile of more than 100,000 missiles that threaten Israel and the region at large.

 Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, gather as they carry flags, marking the commemoration of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, in Adaisseh village near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, May 25, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/AZIZ TAHER) Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, gather as they carry flags, marking the commemoration of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, in Adaisseh village near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, May 25, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AZIZ TAHER)

In Iraq, the Iranians supported the Hashd, which includes dozens of fighting brigades and some 100,000 men under arms. The group was mobilized to fight ISIS but includes pro-Iranian groups like Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization that have historic roots in Iraq and have worked with Iran for many years.

Iran's protests worsen 

Iran has been worried about inflaming recent protests in the country after Iranian morality police killed Mahsa Amini some 40 days ago, sparking protests worldwide. Many locals have said that during demonstrations following her death, their country brought in foreign, Arabic-speaking militias to suppress the protesters.

This could be because the regime is worried that its own police might not follow orders to suppress Iranians. It could also be related to the way Tehran pits minorities against each other, because there are many minority groups in Iran.

Although Iran often ignored reports of protest suppression in the past, the regime is now more sensitive. It knows that Iranians are reading foreign media and that these media are likely reporting some accurate information from inside the country.

This threatens the regime, which is keen to counter foreign reports. The decision to suppress or contradict these reports is not for foreign consumption. Tehran isn’t actually interested in contesting the reports abroad; this is Farsi media responding to these reports at home.

For Iranians who didn’t even see these reports, they are now being made aware of them. This shows that the regime believes these widespread rumors are making a major impact inside the country. It is clearly concerned that for the first time in decades of rule, the average person is challenging the very nature of the regime.

One pillar of the regime is its interest in backing Shi’ite groups abroad and creating proxies to wage conflicts for Iran around the region. In the past, protesters have been angered by their government wasting money in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and also by supporting various Palestinian groups.

“The claim of the presence of Iran’s regional allies such as Hashd al-Shaabi and Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the internal events of our country is a precedent,” The Fars News report says. “This proposition is repeated every time that some people have heard the repression forces speak with an Arabic accent in the gatherings!”

After seeking to dispel rumors and refute claims, the report takes aim at what the regime thinks about why these press stories have emerged. The report claims that the West is using “cyberspace” to promote rumors designed to undermine what Iran has “achieved” in the region. Fars News claims that the West aims to defeat Iran and cause its collapse “without firing a shot.”