Senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi has said that Iran’s military presence in Iraq and Syria prevents the United States from dominating the Middle Eastern region, Tasnim News Agency reported. “No doubt, Iran has the strongest position in the region today and all countries count on it. That is the reason America has made it a priority to overthrow the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran and it has encountered Iran’s resistance in the region. America should know that Iran will never pay ransom to this country,” the cleric said in a meeting with General Kazem Mojtabaei, the police chief of the holy city of Qom. “Iran stood by Iraq’s side and they managed to resolve a challenge. And had Iran not gone to Syria, the situation in this country would have been different today. In reality, Iran’s presence in Iraq and Syria is a hurdle to America because America wants to dominate the region,” he added. 

Comment: Makarem-Shirazi is a senior cleric and marja’iyyas (Marja-i-Taqlid or sources of emulation) in Iran’s holy city of Qom. He has been an ardent supporter of Iran’s military involvement in regional conflicts, and often spreads conspiracy theories about the U.S. role and ambitions in the Middle East. The cleric is also a staunch advocate for further restricting media and internet freedoms for security and religious reasons. Although the Iranian authorities closely monitor the internet and access to foreign media in the country, Makarem-Shirazi argue that “filtering does not solve the cyberspace problem.” He has also cautioned that high-speed mobile internet is “immoral and unlawful” and violates Islamic sharia law. Earlier this year, he called on the country’s Basij forces to counter the use and influence of foreign media in Iran. “One must not have a passive approach toward foreign media, and we should focus on investing in making the cyberspace healthy,” he warned. He also urged the authorities to increase the budget for media sources inside the country to neutralize foreign media outlets owned by Iran’s “enemies.” Makarem-Shirazi, as many other Iranian political and military leaders, believe that the United States and its allies can weaken the clerical regime in Tehran more through cyber activities and soft power strategies than through military and hard power tools.