Posts Tagged ‘Revolutionary Guards’

Regime change in Iran possible, but won’t be to US liking

January 17, 2019

Regime change in Iran has long been an ideal scenario for conservatives in America’s foreign-policy circles. A confluence of factors currently playing out in Iran may dovetail into a situation where the country will indeed go through a regime change, but not of a type aligned with US interests.

Protests against a worsening economic situation roiled Iran’s towns and cities throughout 2018, and are likely to be exacerbated by the reimposition of US sanctions. Unlike earlier protests in 1999 and 2009, which were led by the urban middle class and mostly located in Iran’s major cities, the current protests vary widely in their social composition and geographic spread.

These protests have been led by those long considered loyal to the regime – the blue-collar and bazaari, or merchant, classes. The protests have also been more geographically dispersed – in small towns and villages as well as important pilgrimage centers like Mashhad, the hitherto stability of which has helped confer clerical legitimacy upon the Iranian regime.

Now, in many instances, protests against the deteriorating economy have metamorphosed into demonstrations against the regime itself. The most recent protests erupted in December and were led by different groups – steelworkers in Ahwaz, teachers’ unions in Isfahan, and students in Tehran.

Senior government figures in Tehran have publicly voiced concern that the protests are likely to continue this year as the government struggles to respond to a worsening economy. This is likely to be accompanied by continued infighting within Iran’s political class.

Senior government figures in Tehran have publicly voiced concern that the protests are likely to continue this year as the government struggles to respond to a worsening economy. This is likely to be accompanied by continued infighting within Iran’s political class

Indeed, the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord and the lack of foreign investment from Europe has politically weakened President Hassan Rouhani, who had cited the nuclear deal and expected economic windfall as one of his government’s principal foreign-policy achievements.

Iranian conservatives, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have sharpened their political attacks on Rouhani and his moderate faction, accusing them of naïveté in their understanding of foreign policy.

The political mudslinging between Iran’s political factions is likely to continue just as the Iranian polity is poised to enter a period of volatility, with parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2020 and 2021 respectively, and with no clear successor in sight to Khamenei, 79. Political instability and the resultant policy paralysis could sharpen ongoing protests in the county and threaten to delegitimize the entire Iranian political class in the eyes of ordinary citizens.

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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

This is unlikely, however, to lead to an overthrow of the Iranian regime in favor of something palatable to the US. Even as Washington has reimposed sanctions on Iran, leading to much economic difficulty in the country, US strategic choices in terms of a broader disengagement from the Middle East are likely to benefit Iran.

Even without US President Donald Trump’s recent announcement of a troop withdrawal from Syria, the eight-year civil war has been slowly but surely coming to an end chiefly in favor of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This is being viewed as a significant strategic victory in Tehran and will greatly strengthen the already much-lionized Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the foreign arm of Iran’s Islamic  Corps (IRGC).

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (r), Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, (c), and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani pose for the media members in Sochi, Russia, November 22. 2017. (Kayhan Ozer/Pool via AP)

Soleimani, who has been the subject of many fawning documentaries and songs in Iran, enjoys near-rock-star status. He is viewed as the architect of Iran’s successful campaigns against Islamic State (ISIS), and responsible for turning the tide of the Syrian civil war in favor of the Assad regime, thereby achieving a major Iranian strategic goal.

Soleimani has twice before, in 2013 and 2017, been touted as a potential presidential candidate, only to turn down the offer to focus on military campaigns in Iraq and Syria instead.

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Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari

This does not mean, however, that Soleimani is unlikely to intervene decisively in the Iranian political sphere, should ongoing protests spiral out of control. He has in the past threatened to intervene in Iran’s domestic politics. In 1999, when massive anti-government student protests erupted in Tehran, he co-wrote a letter to the president at the time, Mohammad Khatami, obliquely warning of a coup against the elected government if it did not crush the protests.

Soleimani is also a skilled political operative, having played a key role in Iraq after its recent general elections in cobbling together a coalition of pro-Iranian political parties to counter the electorally victorious nationalist-communist bloc.

Should the situation arise, Soleimani’s giant stature in Iranian politics, his outsized role in shaping its foreign policy and his popularity in Iranian society will render an ailing Khamenei’s acquiescence to a Soleimani-led military intervention a moot point.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 15, 2018. (AFP)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 15, 2018. (AFP)

An Iran with a military-dominated government is likely to come up with coherent short-term policy responses to the country’s economic situation. This is because the IRGC will be more amenable to bypassing Iran’s sclerotic constitutional policymaking process, and because its already dominant position in the economy will make it better able to marshal economic reform.

On the foreign-policy front, however, a Qasem Soleimani-led Iran is likely to entrench itself into ongoing Middle East conflicts even further. It is incumbent upon the US and regional governments to factor this distinct possibility into their strategic calculations for 2019 and beyond.

This article was provided to Asia Times by Syndication Bureauwhich holds copyright.

Iran says it will keep military forces in Syria despite Israeli threats

January 16, 2019

Iran will keep military forces in Syria, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday, defying Israeli threats that they might be targeted if they do not leave the country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israeli forces would continue to attack Iranians in Syria unless they quickly get out of there.

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Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will keep its military advisers, revolutionary forces and its weapons in Syria,” Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards top commander, was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency. Jafari called Netanyahu’s threats “a joke”, and warned that the Israeli government “was playing with (a) lion’s tail.”

“You should be afraid of the day that our precision-guided missiles roar and fall on your head,” he said.

Iran and Russia have both backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a seven-year war against rebels and militants, and have sent thousands of soldiers to the country.

Israel, increasingly concerned that its enemy Iran may establish a long-term military presence in neighboring Syria, says it has carried out more than 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria in the last two years.

Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli warplanes carried out an attack on what he called an Iranian arms cache in Syria.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Mark Heinrich


Afghanistan: Iran Holds talks With Taliban

December 26, 2018

Iran has held talks with the Afghan Taliban, one of the country’s top security officials said, the Tasnim news agency reported on Wednesday.

Iran has held talks with the Afghan Taliban, one of the country’s top security officials said. (File/AFP)

“The Afghan government has been informed of the communications and talks carried out with the Taliban, and this process will continue,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, according to Tasnim.

No details on where the talks took place were given by the news agency, which is considered close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Shamkhani informed the Afghan authorities about the discussions during a visit to Kabul on Wednesday, according to Tasnim and other agencies.

“The Islamic Republic has always been one of the primary pillars of stability in the region and cooperation between the two countries will certainly help in fixing Afghanistan’s security issues of today,” he said.


Iran carefully deliberating how to handle weakened, distracted Trump

December 20, 2018

The midterm congressional elections and the polarized politics of America are sparking their own debate within the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many of the regime’s hardliners have come to the conclusion that the Trump administration will be weaker in the next two years and thus it is time for a more confrontational policy. President Hassan Rouhani and his battered centrists are also looking at American politics, but instead of an immediate conflict they want to wait out the Trump storm and deal with a more accommodating Democratic president that may come to power in 2020. The ultimate arbiter of this debate is leader Ali Khamenei, who seems to be edging toward his hardline disciples.

By  Ray Takeyh

The Washington Examiner

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By this time, Rouhani must appreciate that the Europeans are unlikely to shield Iran from the sanctions imposed by Trump after he abrogated the Iran deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Commerce and politics have parted ways, as businessmen are less responsive to the pleas of European diplomats for trade with Iran that could cost them access to the American market. Still, for Rouhani, talks with Europe and adherence to the JCPOA is about making an impression on a Democratic Party eager for an Iranian interlocutor should it recapture the White House in two years. Rouhani’s diplomatic gambit is less about Europe than America’s progressives.

For Rouhani’s hardline detractors, the time for hunkering down has past. They have no confidence in American politicians of any stripe. They see the Trump presidency as mired in domestic disputes and facing a hostile Congress. Such preoccupations preclude, in their telling, a robust American response to projections of their power in the region or even the resumption of the nuclear program.

The latest chorus of denunciation of Rouhani was led by his vanquished opponent in the last presidential election, Ibrahim Raisi, who insisted, “If we are restrained, our enemies will not retreat. We must be more of activists.” Revolutionary Guards Gen. Amir Ali Jadeh-Zahdi dismissed negotiations and insisted that “the strategies of Europe and America are the same and in between them they have crafted a division of labor.”

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He ended his speech by exclaiming, “If we don’t fight the Islamic State in the towns of Syria and Iraq, this virus will surely migrate to Iran and we have to fight it Hamadan and Kermanshah and Tabriz.” Said Jalili, the former lead nuclear negotiator, has similarly castigated Rouhani as a naive politician who believes that “preserving the JCPOA is good for Iran’s pocket book.”

For Jalili and many hardliners, it is time to dispense with the JCPOA and forge full speed ahead.

Ali Khamenei seldom takes on America unless he perceives that its vulnerabilities preclude an effective response. He did not assail President George W. Bush’s enterprise in Iraq until he was sure that America was too mired in a sectarian civil war to address his misdeeds. It was then that his Revolutionary Guards lacerated the American troops. He did not concede to an arms control agreement with President Barack Obama’s administration until he calculated that Washington was desperate for an accord and would make the necessary concessions.

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At the beginning of the Trump administration, Khamenei seemed unsettled by the new president and his provocations. The leader insisted, “There will be no war; nor will we negotiate with the U.S.” Thus, Khamenei conceded to Rouhani’s strategy of trying to fracture the Western alliance and protect Iran from American retribution by cozying up to Europe.

Now, he sees another American president struggling to regain his footing, facing domestic headwinds, and the onset of a presidential campaign season that always produces policy paralysis in Washington. Khamenei recently assured his military officers that as a result of unity and “effective presence of the armed forces in the field — the shadow of intimation and threats will also go away from the Iranian nation.” Today, Khamenei’s instincts are drawing him closer to his hawkish disciples who see in America’s domestic troubles an opportunity to reclaim more of the region, a leader who views enmity toward America as essential to the vitality of the revolution is clearly being swayed by the arguments of those he most trusts.

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During its first two years, the Trump administration had the luxury of engaging in a series of steps such as abrogating the Iran deal and re-imposing costly sanctions without a measurable Iranian response. That retaliation may soon be coming, as the Islamic Republic seeks to further entrench its presence in Syria, turn Lebanon into a front-line state against Israel, and press Iraq’s politics to its advantage. Indeed, Khamenei may even authorize resumption of aspects of the nuclear program.

The Iranian hardliners are betting that America will do nothing. How the Trump administration responds to this Iranian move will go far in determining the success of its Middle East policy.

Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Iran confirms ‘recent’ missile test amid Western criticism

December 11, 2018


Iran confirmed on Tuesday that it had carried out a recent test of a medium-range ballistic missile after Western powers sharply criticised a December 1 launch.

“We are continuing our missile tests and this recent one was a significant test,” the Fars news agency reported, citing Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh.

“The US reaction showed that it was a big thing for them and that it upset them,” the conservative news agency said, adding that Iran carried out between 40 and 50 missile tests a year.

Iran has pressed on with its ballistic missile programme after reining in much of its nuclear programme under a landmark 2015 deal with major powers.

A handout picture made available by the Iranian Army office reportedly shows a Sayad missile fired from the Talash missile system during an air defence drill at an undisclosed location in Iran on November 5, 2018. (File/AFP)

A UN Security Council resolution adopted after the agreement calls on Iran to refrain from testing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, but does not specifically bar Tehran from missile launches.

The UN Security Council convened at the request of Britain and France on December 4 to discuss the latest test which both governments described as “provocative” and “inconsistent” with Resolution 2231.

Britain said that the types of missiles fired had capabilities that “go way beyond legitimate defensive needs”.

Iran has developed several types of ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometres (1,875 miles) — sufficient to reach Israel and Western bases across the region.

In its report, Fars did not specify the date of the latest test or say which types of missile were fired.

Washington, which quit the nuclear deal in May, described the test as an outright “violation” of Resolution 2231 and called on the Security Council to condemn it.

But veto-wielding Moscow has defended Tehran’s right to carry out the missile tests, and the December 4 meeting ended with no joint statement or any plan for follow-up action.

The council is due to meet again on December 19 for a regular review of the resolution’s implementation.

Iran has received regular certifications of compliance with the provisions of the nuclear deal from the UN atomic watchdog.

Western criticism has focused instead on Tehran’s missile programme and its military interventions in the region.




Iran says US bases and aircraft carriers within missile range

November 22, 2018

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said on Wednesday that US bases in Afghanistan, the UAE and Qatar, and US aircraft carriers in the Gulf were within range of Iranian missiles, as tensions rise between Tehran and Washington.

“They are within our reach and we can hit them if they (Americans) make a move,” Amirali Hajjizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ airspace division, was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

A handout picture made available by the Iranian Army office reportedly shows a Sayad missile fired from the Talash missile system during an air defence drill at an undisclosed location in Iran on November 5, 2018 . (File/AFP)

Hajjizadeh said the Guards had improved the precision of their missiles, and specifically said they could hit the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Al-Dhafra base in the United Arab Emirates and Kandahar base in Afghanistan that host US forces.

US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. He said the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

The Islamic Republic’s government has ruled out negotiations with Washington over its military capabilities, particularly its missile program run by the Guards.

Iran, which says its missile program is purely defensive, has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the United States tries to strangle Iranian oil exports.


US designates Hezbollah leader’s son a terrorist and targets group’s Iraq network

November 14, 2018

The United States on Tuesday designated the son of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah a terrorist and hit key representatives of the Lebanese militant group in Iraq with sanctions.

The US State Department accused Jawad Nasrallah of carrying out attacks against Israel.

Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim men from the Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah hold the party’s flags as they walk along a street. (File photo: Reuters)

The department also blacklisted Al-Mujahidin Brigades (AMB), which it said had links to Hezbollah and had plotted a number of attacks against Israeli targets from a base in the Palestinian Territories.

Hours earlier, the US Treasury blacklisted Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi, Yusuf Hashim, Adnan Hussein Kawtharani, and Muhammad ‘Abd-Al-Hadi Farhat under its Specially Designated Global Terrorists program, saying they moved money, acquired weapons and trained fighters in Iraq for the group.

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Among the four, Al-Zaydi was a key coordinator between Hezbollah, Iran’s blacklisted Revolutionary Guards, and their supporters in Iraq, the Treasury said.

He is close to alleged Hezbollah financier Adham Tabaja, and coordinated smuggling oil from Iran into Syria.

He also sent Iraqi fighters to Syria allegedly on behalf of the Revolutionary Guard, the Treasury said.

The other three were also involved in collecting intelligence and moving money for Hezbollah in Iraq, it said.

“Hezbollah is a terrorist proxy for the Iranian regime that seeks to undermine Iraqi sovereignty and destabilize the Middle East,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“Treasury’s concerted actions aim to deny Hezbollah’s clandestine attempts to exploit Iraq to launder funds, procure weapons, train fighters, and collect intelligence as a proxy for Iran.”

The State Department said the actions against Jawad Nasrallah denied him and AMB access to the US financial system.

“Today’s designations seek to deny Nasrallah and AMB the resources to plan and carry out terrorist attacks,” the State Department said.

Earlier, Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister designate, blamed Hezbollah for blocking the formation of government in the country.

Arab News (With AFP)

Iranian marchers chant ‘Death to America’ on eve of U.S. oil sanctions

November 4, 2018

Iranians chanting “Death to America” rallied on Sunday to mark both the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the imminent reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s key oil sector.

Thousands of students in the government-organized rally in the capital Tehran, broadcast live by state television, burned the Stars and Stripes, an effigy of Uncle Sam and pictures of President Donald Trump outside the leafy downtown compound that once housed the U.S. mission.

Hardline students stormed the embassy on Nov. 4, 1979 soon after the fall of the U.S.-backed Shah, and 52 Americans were held hostage there for 444 days. The two countries have been enemies, on opposite sides of Middle East conflict, ever since.

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FILE photo: Iranians burn a US flag outside the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran during a demonstration marking the anniversary of its storming by student protesters that triggered a hostage crisis in 1979, November 4, 2015. (Photo by AFP Photo / Atta Kenare)

Iranian state media said millions turned out for rallies in most cities and towns around the country, swearing allegiance to the clerical establishment and its hardline top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The turnout figure could not be independently confirmed by Reuters.

Rallies replete with “Death to America” chants are staged on the embassy takeover anniversary every year. But U.S.-Iranian rancor is especially strong this time round following Trump’s decision in May to withdraw the United States from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

The deal brought about the lifting of most international financial and economic sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran curbing its disputed nuclear activity under U.N. surveillance.

The restoration of U.S. sanctions on Monday targeting Iran’s oil sales and banking sectors is part of a wider effort by Trump to force Tehran to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programs outright as well as support for proxy forces in conflicts across the Middle East.

The biggest anti-American gathering in Iran in years displayed domestic opposition to President Hassan Rouhani's policy of detente with the West

Iranian demonstrators burn US and Israeli flags during a demonstration marking the 34th anniversary of US Embassy takeover in front of the former US embassy in Tehran, Iran, November 2013. Photo: EPA/ABEDIN TAHRKENAREH

The top commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said at the Tehran rally that Iran would resist and defeat a U.S. “psychological war” and the return of U.S. sanctions, meant to cripple the Islamic Republic’s oil exports and financial institutions.

“America has launched an economic and psychological war as a last resort … But America’s plots and its plans for sanctions will be defeated through continued resistance,” said Jafari.

In a speech on Saturday, Khamenei said Trump’s policies faced opposition around the world. “America’s goal has been to re-establish the domination it had (before 1979) but it has failed. America has been defeated by the Islamic Republic over the past 40 years,” he said.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi with additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich


Iran arrests groups planning attacks on pilgrims

October 23, 2018

Iran said on Tuesday it had arrested 15 militants planning attacks on Shiite Muslims making an annual pilgrimage to Iraq.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians travel to the Iraqi city of Kerbala each year for the ritual of Arbaeen, which marks the end of a 40-day mourning period for the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussein.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians travel to the Iraqi city of Kerbala each year where remains of Imam Hussein are believed to be entombed. (AFP)

Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, visiting the Iran-Iraq border area, was quoted by state television as saying that “three terrorist groups that wanted to target Arbaeen mourners were arrested.”

Tasnim news agency quoted Alavi as saying the arrests took place in southwestern Khuzestan province in recent days, and 15 people were arrested.

“The detainees confessed that they wanted to carry out suicide attacks to kill the pilgrims,” Alavi said.

He gave no indication when the attacks were due to take place, but the culmination of the pilgrimage this year falls at the end of October.

Shiites are considered apostates by hard-line Sunni Islamist insurgents in Iraq. Armed Sunni groups in Iran have also increased attacks on military and civilian targets in recent months.

Iran stepped up security in border areas after five gunmen killed 25 people at a military parade in the city of Ahvaz, in Khuzestan province, in September.

Daesh militants and an Iranian ethnic Arab opposition movement claimed responsibility for the attack, but neither claim provided convincing evidence.

At least 10 Iranian security personnel including Revolutionary Guards were kidnapped on the border with Pakistan last week. A Sunni separatist group said it had seized them as revenge for the oppression of Sunni Muslims.


Iranian border guards kidnapped on border with Pakistan

October 16, 2018

Fourteen Iranian security personnel, including Revolutionary Guards intelligence officers, were abducted on the volatile southeastern border with Pakistan on Tuesday, state media reported.

The border guards were “abducted between 4 am and 5 am in the Lulakdan area of the border by a terrorist group,” the official IRNA news agency reported.

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Basij militia

Lulakdan is a small village 150 kilometers (about 90 miles) southeast of Zahedan, capital of the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan.

Of the 14, two were members of the elite Revolutionary Guards intelligence unit, and seven were volunteers in the Basij militia involved in “a security operation”.

The rest were regular border guards, according to the Young Journalists’ Club, a state-owned news website.

The reports did not name a specific group as a suspect in the abduction.

The region has long been a flashpoint, with Baluchi separatists and extremists based in Pakistan regularly attacking Iranian security posts.