Interview of Consul General of Iran in Mumbai H.E. Mr. Abolfazl Mohammad Alikhani by Sachin Diwan
Exclusive interview done at Iranian Consulate on November 1, 2023
Question: What is your general take on the ongoing Gaza war and the relations between Iran and India?
Answer: In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Thank you for being here to report about Gaza to your addressee all over India.
First of all, Iran and India’s bilateral relations have grown steadily, but economically compared to pre-2018 years when India was importing crude oil from Iran, we are not at a level where we want to be. It is mostly because of economic sanctions against Iran. Culture-wise, we have excellent relations. I have to note that Indian embassy in Tehran has been really cooperative and for our turn we are providing more extensive facilities to those who wish to visit Iran for sightseeing, private and family visits, or business purposes. Of course, there is always room for the expansion of ties in all the fields of interest. One point to mention is that if India opts for the resumption of crude oil imports, we could be at a position to import more basic commodities such as rice, corn and sugar from India.
Q. Do you think the US assassination of General Soleimani played a part in Iran’s import of Basamati rice from India?
A. The trade is now regularized in some specific areas such as pharmaceuticals. The status of importation of rice is better but not as desirable as it can be. The reason is the lack of Iran’s export to India to have enough rupees so that the traders would be able to import Indian rice.
Q. How is the Rial-Rupee mechanism coming up?
A. It has not been implemented yet. It might be due to some RBI (Reserve Bank of India) concerns and regulations, but from our side we are ready.
Q. Has the oil export totally stopped?
A. Yes. There are windows of opportunity open as it is the case with the heavily-sanctioned Russian oil, and India could make good use of the considerable discount provided over every barrel. We have had negotiations in this regard, but due to some political concerns on the Indian side and the US pressure, they have stopped the talks.
Q. Coming to Gaza conflict, many countries are saying Iran is supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, what is the truth behind that?
A. Very frankly, Iranian general policy is to support all the oppressed and suppressed around the world. There is no sectarian bias whether they are Sunni or Shia, or even Muslim or non-Muslim. During the ISIS crisis, the Islamic Republic of Iran supported the people in pain and suffering, an example of which is General Soleimani’s efforts to force ISIS combatants to release 46 Indian hostages after 23 days of captivity by the ISIS. With regard to the Gaza conflict started on the 7th of October, Iran had no involvement. The decision was made by the Palestinians in Gaza themselves, and that was the cumulative effect of more than 75 years of oppression, occupation, bombardments, genocide, and crimes against humanity committed by the Zionist regime. On the other hand, more than 30 years of negotiations have been ongoing between the two sides, regionally and internationally, but it is the lack of commitment on the Israeli side and their expansionist policy that disrupted them.
Since the starting day of the war was specific, it came as a big shock to the Zionist apparatus and their western allies. It proved to be a real blow to the invincible image the Zionist regime had been promoting on the media.
Q. Some say that the rockets fired by Hamas and their technology were provided by Iran. Do you think the assumption is right?
A. In today’s world that is an open global village, technology could be easily obtained over the dark web and black market. Even some believe that some of the armaments that are supplied to Ukraine find their way to other countries.
Q. How about Hezbollah?
A. It is a very popular and well-organized party in Lebanon enjoying their government support since they have a very strong political presence with a cabinet minister as well. The decisions that resistance groups adopt are their own based on their assessments of the developments in the region. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy, I should reiterate, is to support the suppressed whether financially, morally, or through consultation. With the updates in Gaza, there is not a possibility left to help the besieged people with food, medicine, and other humanitarian aid. It is not limited to Iran’s aid; many trucks sent by the international agencies have been grounded at the Rafah crossing (on Egypt-Gaza border), they only let few trucks to pass after inflicting vandalism and stealing from them. Water, electricity, and connectivity have been cut off. The Zionist regime managed to introduce a new type of barbarism in the world and use of military and occupied community as a guinea pig. The level of barbarism is unbelievable, force mass migration from north to south of Gaza claiming that it would be safe and then targeting civilians mostly women and children in the south of Gaza. The Zionist regime is just used to deceit, deception, and manipulation. Their ultimate goal is usurping the land of Palestinians to evacuate Gaze, to then turn to the West Bank and from there to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the rest of Arab countries.
Q. There are claims that Hamas militants cut open a pregnant lady’s womb. Is that right?
A. This particular incident was never reported by media outlets and I think posted on the ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) by someone who claimed his friend is the source. The horrific issue is that even with the Hamas concessions in releasing more prisoners and expressing willingness to release them all in exchange of a respite in the blind bombardments by the Zionist regime on the hospitals, churches, mosques, and refugee camps, the Zionist regime refuses to accept a ceasefire. To this date, the Zionist regime has dropped over 18,000 tons of bombs accounting for 5 tons to each square meter in Gaza, a really horrific carpet bombing campaign, massacring over 8 thousand Palestinians, 70 percent of which are women and children leaving more than 20 thousand people maimed and displacing over 1.4 million people. The political intricacies within the Zionist regime with the growing discontent with Netanyahu and the unpopular judicial reforms by him might be another factor for him to gain political favors in fanning the flames of war. The US unwavering support of the Zionist regime can also be assessed in line with the next year’s elections and the sway the Zionist lobby and media have over them.
Q. Does Iran support the two-nation solution?
A. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy in this regard is holding a referendum with the participation of all Muslim and Jewish as well as the displaced people to determine their future. Iran will respect the result no matter what it is. The problem is the Zionist regime and their expansionist policy of occupation and usurpation. Even with this conflict, they do not respect any international laws and conventions.
Q. Do you think Israel will venture into mounting a full-scale ground attack on Gaza?
A. Even the US does not support this because they know it will turn into another war of attrition such as the one we see in Ukraine. The US will be affected as they have many military bases in the region; yesterday, one of their major logistic and intelligence bases was attacked by the Iraqi resistance group.
Q. In which direction will the war go?
A. Nobody can predict that. Some say it will take 6 weeks to 6 months; it resembles the situation on the ground with Ukraine, nobody knows. Pundits at the time thought Russian military will overpower Ukraine in just one week. The Palestinians are supported by many Muslim and non-Muslim people all around the world, so it is even more resilient than Ukraine. The protest against the war in Gaza found its way to the US Congress sitting in the back of the chamber with red-painted hands, the protesters yelled at Blinken: “You have blood on your hands!”
Q. In recent years, Israel has made efforts to make peace with the regional countries. Is that so?
A. It was trying to establish diplomatic relations with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and the Saudis; peace process is different.
Q. Do you think that Hamas was trying to disrupt the peace process? Even recently, China had brokered a peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. How would that be affected due to the current crisis?
A. Any action in the region bears an overarching effect on the bilateral and multilateral ties.
Q. Coming back to Iran and India relations: purchase of oil stopped due to the US sanctions and meanwhile Iran signed a 25-year military pact with China?
A. Well, let me correct you. It is called the “Comprehensive Agreement” that is more economic-oriented; a while ago we have proposed the same long-term all-encompassing pact to India, we have not received any official response though.
Q. Can you say that Iran has grown to lean more towards China and there is a distance in its relations with India?
A. With regards to Chabahar port, my personal opinion is that although India enjoys sanction exemption for Chabahar, but it looks that India is reluctant to advance the project. Fortunately, the draft agreement for the long-term project is virtually finalized. Additionally, India has shown more interest in the operation of Chabahar after the Ukraine crisis. Chabahar is not only trade-focused but also is a strategic port. China is also looking forward to participating in the Chabahar project because of their heavy investment in ‘One Belt One Road Initiative’ (Belt and Road Initiative). Of course, we have given priority to India because of our long-term deal.
Let me be frank, China has shown to be more independent in their decision-making process; a member of the UN Security Council with veto power. India is also trying to be so as it is now becoming a major economic player in the world, but political-wise, they try to be coordinated with certain countries.
Q. India used to support the Palestinian Cause …
A. Still they are, but they seem to be leaning towards one side.
Q. Do you think that if Hamas adopted similar non-violent measures like Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian freedom struggle from the British, the world could support them more openly?
A. The experience of peaceful resistance was really unique suited the time. Now that many nations (not governments) support the oppressed, there is not much ground to do so. The Palestinians are driven out of their homeland, and now under dozens over dozens of bombardments, they had to be able to do something to defend their lives. The Zionist regime’s response has been disproportionate with blind bombings targeting civilians taking refuge to civilian premises; their ultimate goal is to wipe out Palestinians, it seems that they were only looking for an excuse.
Surprisingly enough, some western countries and the US opposed the UN General Assembly vote on ceasefire in Gaza, even more surprising so was the fact that certain countries abstained.
Q. Before we end, I just want to ask one thing. Recently, there were reports that India has supplied indigenously developed Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher systems to Armenia via Bandar Abbas port in Iran. Is that true? What is the recent agreement between India, Iran and Armenia about?
A. (Laughs) You should be knowing more than me. No, those were the rumors. I do not think India would be involved in such a risky business. Yes, there is an agreement. But it is just a transit agreement.