On January 27, Iranian media reported that top Iranian envoy, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who visited Damascus this week, also met the Iranian supreme leader’s special representative to Syria, Abolfazl Tabatabai Ashkezari. Ashkezari was appointed by the personal decree of Khamenei in March 2016. He has been living in Syria since.

According to his biography as published in Iranian media, the 48-year old Ashkezari comes from the town of Babolsar on the Caspian Sea. A cleric by training, Ashkezari studied under Makarem Shirazi and Vahid Khorasani, two of Iran’s most hardline ayatollahs in the city of Qom. He is said to have held numerous officials positions and also published a number of theological books.

His last position before moving to Syria was that of a Friday Prayer leader in a town in Razavi Khorasan province that borders Afghanistan. In Iran, Friday Prayer leaders are all appointed by Khamenei and closely propagate the messages that are communicated by the Supreme Leader. In other words, this relatively young cleric has to be considered as someone who has been carefully selected by the Office of the Supreme Leader for his role in Syria.

It appears that one of Ashkezari’s key duties in Syria is to cultivate Syria’s religious communities, including the religious leadership of the Christian minority. This has to be seen in the context of Tehran seeking to paint itself as a non-sectarian player in the Syrian conflict. In his meeting with Abdollahian, Ashkezari is quoted to have said that Muslim states should pay “serious attention to the humanitarian crisis happening in Syria,” but does not mention Tehran’s policies in Syria that have been a contributing factor to the crisis in that country.