Iran likely to loosen Revolutionary Guard’s grip on economy

Iran's Revolutionary Guard members march during armed forces parade near Tehran. (File photo/AP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Iran likely to loosen Revolutionary Guard’s grip on economy

DUBAI: Iran’s supreme leader has ordered the Revolutionary Guard to loosen its hold on the economy, the country’s defense minister said, raising the possibility that the paramilitary organization might privatize some of its vast holdings.
The comments this weekend by Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami appear to be a trial balloon to test the reaction of the idea, long pushed by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Protests over the country’s poor economy last month escalated into demonstrations directly challenging the government.
But whether the Guard would agree remains unclear, as the organization is estimated to hold around a third of the country’s entire economy.
Hatami, the first non-Guard-affiliated military officer to be made defense minister in nearly 25 years, made the comments in an interview published Saturday by the state-run IRAN newspaper. He said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered both the country’s regular military and the Guard to get out of businesses not directly affiliated to their work.
“Our success depends on market conditions,” the newspaper quoted Hatami as saying.
He did not name the companies that would be privatized. The Guard did not immediately acknowledge the supreme leader’s orders in their own publications, nor did Khamenei’s office.
The Guard formed out of Iran’s 1979 revolution as a force meant to protect its political system, which is overseen by Shiite clerics. It operated parallel to the country’s regular armed forces, growing in prominence and power during the country’s long and ruinous war with Iraq in the 1980s. It runs Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well its own intelligence operations and expeditionary force.
In the aftermath of the 1980s war, authorities allowed the Guard to expand into private enterprise.
Today, it runs a massive construction company called Khatam Al-Anbia, with 135,000 employees handling civil development, the oil industry and defense issues. Guard firms build roads, man ports, run telecommunication networks and even conduct laser eye surgery.
The exact scope of all its business holdings remains unclear, though analysts say they are sizeable. The Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which long has been critical of Iran and the nuclear deal it struck with world powers, suggests the Guard controls “between 20 and 40 percent of the economy” of Iran through significant influence in at least 229 companies.
In his comments, Hatami specifically mentioned Khatam Al-Anbia, but did not say whether that too would be considered by the supreme leader as necessary to privatize. The Guard and its supporters have criticized other business deals attempting to cut into their piece of the economy since the nuclear deal.


Israel clears soldiers in 2014 ‘Black Friday’ Gaza assault

Updated 15 August 2018
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Israel clears soldiers in 2014 ‘Black Friday’ Gaza assault

  • A military fact-finding mission into the “Black Friday” assault showed that a criminal investigation was “not warranted”
  • It acknowledged, however, that up to 70 civilians were "unintentionally killed"

JERUSALEM: Israel’s military on Wednesday closed its probe into a deadly 2014 assault in Gaza that followed the capture of a soldier despite a rights group’s charge of possible war crimes.
A military fact-finding mission into the “Black Friday” assault in which Amnesty says more than 130 Palestinian civilians died during the 2014 Gaza war showed that a criminal investigation was “not warranted,” the army said in a statement.
It acknowledged, however, that up to 70 civilians were “unintentionally killed as a result of attacks directed at military targets and military operatives.”
At least 42 Palestinian militants were also killed, the statement said, citing information gathered by the military advocate general.
The assault in Rafah, southern Gaza, on August 1, 2014 was launched after the kidnapping of Israeli Lt. Hadar Goldin shortly after the announcement of a cease-fire.
Two other soldiers were killed in fighting that led to the kidnapping in the Hamas-run enclave, while Goldin himself was later declared dead.
In response, the military implemented the so-called Hannibal Directive — a controversial procedure which allows for an intensive military response to secure the rescue of a captured soldier.
Israel bombed the city of Rafah and the surrounding area near the border with Egypt.
In 2015, Amnesty International said there had been “strong evidence” of war crimes by Israeli forces as it published a detailed analysis of the assault using eyewitness accounts, satellite imagery, photos and videos.
According to Amnesty, at least 135 civilians were killed in the air and ground assault.
Civilians had begun to return home due to the cease-fire announcement, Amnesty said, alleging “massive and prolonged bombardment began without warning while masses of people were on the streets.”
Israel’s statement on Wednesday said the use of force was “in accordance with operational considerations and with an effort to mitigate, as much as possible, harm to civilians.”
“No grounds were found to support the allegation that the objective of the (military’s) actions were to extract revenge following the abduction of Lt. Goldin,” it said.
The statement said there was no evidence that the Hannibal Directive led to “the use of force in a disproportionate or unrestrained manner.”
The decades-old directive has since been revoked by the military and replaced with a new one.
More than 2,250 Palestinians were killed, including more than 500 children, in the 2014 war, the third between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2008.
Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side, including 67 soldiers.