Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, an influential Iranian politician and Shia cleric who survived an assassination attempt in 1984, has succumbed to COVID-19. Mohtashamipour, 74, was until his death considered one of the last living members of a generation of Iranians who played essential roles in the founding of Iran’s largely theocratic state, following the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah. During the 1980s, Mohtashamipour was a confidant and former student of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the future Iranian supreme leader. Mohtashamipour, then a young cleric, accompanied Khomeini into exile, first in Najaf, Iraq, and later Paris, France. After exile, Mohtashamipour played an important role in the foundation of Hezbollah as Iran’s ambassador to Damascus from 1982 to 1986 and was the Iranian minister of the interior under Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi from 1985 to 1989. Having spent time in the Arab world prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he was one of the new regime’s experts on Palestinian affairs and helped found Iran’s revolutionary guards — a paramilitary organization to defend the regime. “He was Iran’s ambassador to Syria and was a diplomatic facilitator that oversaw among other things the transfer of Iranian military officials to Lebanon to help train Hezbollah,” said Mohammad Kalantari, an academic at the University of London, Royal Holloway. “At the time, Iran had no ambassador in Beirut, so the Damascus Embassy was critical in coordinating Iranian support to groups fighting the Israeli occupation.” It was during this period that Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic blossomed. During the Iran-Iraq War, Syrian leader Hafez Assad supported Iran in its conflict with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, in part due to ideological disputes between two Baathist regimes, said Kalantari, who is the co-director of the university’s Center for Islamic and West Asian studies.