Leaked Zarif criticisms of IRGC reveal who really runs the show in Iran

Leaked Zarif criticisms of IRGC reveal who really runs the show in Iran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to the media in Tbilisi, Georgia, April 18, 2017. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 26 April 2021

Leaked Zarif criticisms of IRGC reveal who really runs the show in Iran

Leaked Zarif criticisms of IRGC reveal who really runs the show in Iran
  • FM’s leaked audio more evidence that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps acts as ‘state within a state,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Timing could be aimed at scuppering a Zarif bid for presidency

LONDON: Leaked recordings by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in which he criticized slain Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), are a sign of political infighting within the regime, analysts have said.

Most notable from the hours-long leaked recordings, first exposed by Persian-language TV channel Iran International, were Zarif’s revelations that Soleimani and his accomplices in the IRGC exert near-total control over foreign policy.

Zarif complained that the IRGC’s needs on the battlefield in Syria, for example, have often usurped those of Iranian diplomats and the country’s foreign policy as a whole.

It is unclear who the leak came from, but it “comes at a sensitive point, at the end of the Rouhani administration and ahead of Iran’s presidential elections,” Jason Brodsky, senior Middle East analyst and editor at Iran International, told Arab News.

“We see the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs having to contend with various elements of Iran’s broader media ecosystem, which is trying to put out an official line that’s different at times to what Rouhani’s administration is putting out,” Brodsky said. 

“It shows that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has really had a difficult past few weeks in terms of contending with domestic political infighting inside the regime. It’s important to view this story in the context of that ongoing battle,” he added.

“It has international elements, with the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna, and it has domestic political elements, with the Iranian presidential elections scheduled for June.”

But beyond the political rift between pro-nuclear-deal politicians such as Zarif and hardliners from the clerical arm of government, the leaked audio also exposes a more ingrained aspect of Iranian foreign policy: Who makes the decisions?

“The power dynamic that Zarif portrays within the Islamic Republic is something that a lot of observers don’t necessarily appreciate: That the Ministry of Foreign Affairs doesn’t have independent decision-making authority within the Islamic Republic,” Brodsky said.

Asif Shuja, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, told Arab News that this power imbalance is a result of the IRGC’s ascendancy to power since its formation during the Iran-Iraq war.

“The IRGC was designed to perform a specific role in Iranian society — to protect the Islamic revolution — and at the head of that whole system is the supreme leader,” said Shuja.

Over time, he explained, the IRGC’s role expanded to perform the traditional role of a military.

It transitioned from only guarding the office of the supreme leader and his ideology to territorial protection, which led to it sidelining the army and Foreign Ministry.

This has gone so far, Shuja said, that the IRGC has become “a mini-state, or a state within a state.”

The IRGC now controls the entirety of Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal. It has also taken an increasingly active role in suppressing domestic dissent against the regime — notably in November 2019, when hundreds of protestors were killed by security forces suspected to be from the Basij militia, the IRGC’s domestic army.

Shuja said the timing of the Zarif leak is hard to separate from the upcoming presidential elections, and competition from hardline factions could have spurred the leak in an attempt to dissuade the centrist foreign minister from a run at the presidency.

The Islamic revolution “was embodied by Qassem Soleimani, and if one negates him, then they also negate those ideas that are so integral to the Islamic Republic,” Shuja said. “That doesn’t augur well for Zarif’s chances in an election.”


Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt
Updated 18 sec ago

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt
  • A top government source told AFP the plotters had attempted to take over the state media building but “they failed”

KHARTOUM: An attempted coup in Sudan “failed” early Tuesday, state media reported, without identifying the plotters.
“There has been a failed coup attempt, the people should confront it,” state media reported.
A top government source told AFP the plotters had attempted to take over the state media building but “they failed.”


Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85
Updated 3 min 32 sec ago

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85
  • Tantawi has participated in most of Egypt’s wars, including the wars of 1956 and 1967, the War of Attrition, and the 1973 October war

DUBAI: Former Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Hussein Tantawi has died on Tuesday aged 85 after suffering from health problems for the past three months, local daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Tantawi has participated in most of Egypt’s wars, including the wars of 1956 and 1967, the War of Attrition, and the 1973 October war.

He further assumed the presidency of Egypt in his capacity as head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after the resignation of former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11 of 2011.


French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions
Updated 21 September 2021

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions
  • Le Drian lauds August’s Baghdad Convention but warns Iran has repeatedly breached its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA
  • Minister laments ‘breach of trust’ by the UK and US over scuppering of a French submarine deal with Australia

NEW YORK: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has celebrated progress in diplomacy in the Middle East and promised that France will continue to take an active role in ensuring the region remains stable.

In a wide-ranging press conference held on Monday and attended by Arab News, Le Drian also lamented the recent “breach of trust” by the UK and US over the sale of submarines to Australia.

France had originally been slated to supply submarines to Australia as part of that deal, but Canberra did a U-turn in favor of an agreement with the US and UK, in what some have called an embarrassment for the French.

“In the Middle East, stability and security shall be the heart of our priorities. These require a regional dialogue, including in the unprecedented format of the Baghdad Conference on Aug. 28,” Le Drian said.

The Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership brought together many of the key powers in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, and Iran for dialogue aimed at easing security tensions in the region. France also attended the summit and has taken an active role in mediating conflict and disputes in the Middle East, in some form, for centuries.

“It was an exceptional meeting because those who attended were not used to sitting at the same table,” said Le Drian, who is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly’s week of high-level meetings.

“We managed to launch some sort of new spirit and to gather some support for a willingness to reduce regional tensions in an unprecedented format.”

Iran’s presence at the conference, he continued, may be seen as a “positive signal,” but he said that he would convene a meeting of the joint commission of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) because, “regarding Iran, we note that the negotiations were interrupted at the request of Iran and we need to make sure that, this week, we try to launch some positive momentum or negotiations to resume.”

The JCPOA, widely referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, saw heavy restrictions and monitoring placed on Tehran’s nascent nuclear program in return for much-needed sanctions relief. Iran and the US, which also left the deal, have been in negotiations for years over a bilateral return to the deal, but those have stalled in recent months.

“In the meantime, Iran keeps breaching some commitments that they made within the JCPOA,” said Le Drian, who also warned that “time is playing against the potential (nuclear) agreement because, as time goes by, the Iranian authorities are speeding up their nuclear activities.”

The minister also addressed the latest developments in Afghanistan, recently seized by the Taliban after 20 years of US presence in the country.

He said that France and its European partners had sent across a number of “very clear requirements” of the Taliban. Those include allowing people to leave the country if they wish, preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country, and ensuring the rights of minorities, women, and journalists are upheld.

“Should the Taliban fail to meet these requirements, they will ban themselves from the international community,” Le Drian said.

He also supported the allocation by the UN of €100 million ($117,289,000) to Afghanistan and pointed out that the Europeans had already pledged over €600 million in humanitarian aid for Afghans.

Much of Le Drian’s attention throughout the conference, however, was focused on the recent news that Australia would scrap a lucrative deal with France to buy French-made submarines, and instead form a pact with the UK and US to purchase nuclear submarines.

That deal has proved highly controversial in France and across mainland Europe, and resulted in a diplomatic row between the longtime allies.

Le Drian said that Presidents Macron and Biden will “discuss the matter very frankly” when they speak.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 21 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lebanon’s new government said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel

BEIRUT: Iranian fuel shipments imported into Lebanon by Hezbollah constitute a breach of the country's sovereignty, Prime Minister Najib Mikati reiterated on Monday.

Lebanon’s new government, which was backed by a parliamentary vote of confidence on Monday, has said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel.

Hezbollah has stored the diesel in tanks in the Baalbek area owned by Al-Amana fuel company that has been under US sanctions since February 2020 due to its ties to the Iranian-backed group.

It began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran last Thursday, a move it says would ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon. 

A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.

“The violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad," Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting last week.

He added: “But I'm not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”

Late on Friday, the Lebanese broadcaster LBCI said that a new group of tankers carrying Iranian fuel entered Lebanon through the Hermel area, populated mainly by Shiite Muslims from whom Hezbollah draws its support.


Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
Updated 21 September 2021

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017

BERLIN: Tarek Saad is keen to help other Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their homeland to make a new home in Germany and he sees the federal election on Sept. 26 as an opportunity to do just that.

Saad is campaigning in his adopted state of Schleswig-Holstein on the Baltic coast for the Social Democrats (SPD), a party he joined in 2016, just two years after he arrived in Germany bearing two gunshot wounds he had survived in Syria.

“I thought the things making my life difficult must be tormenting others as well. To overcome them as quickly as possible, one should be in a political party,” said the 28-year-old student of political science.

“Our parents lived under a different political system for long years (in Syria) ... This is an opportunity to develop a new generation (in Germany),” said Saad, who like many refugees will vote for the first time as a German citizen.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017.

Not all newly naturalized refugees are as clear as Saad about their voting intentions.

“I am happy to have this opportunity but I am being cautious and maybe I won’t vote,” said Maher Obaid, 29, who lives in the town of Singen near the Swiss border.

Obaid, naturalized in 2019, said a lack of clarity among the parties on foreign policy issues, especially Syria, was behind his hesitation.

The number of Syrians who have acquired German citizenship rose by 74 percent in 2020 to 6,700, federal statistics show. The total number of Syrian refugees is estimated to be much higher, at over 700,000, but getting citizenship requires time and effort.

A 2020 study by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration (SVR) found that only 65 percent of Germans with a migration background voted in 2017, against 86 percent of native-born Germans.

Language fluency and socio-economic situation were two factors determining migrants’ participation, along with the length of their stay, the study found.

“The longer a person stays in Germany ... the more likely they are to feel they understand and can participate in political life,” it said.

Historically, migrants from southern Europe and Turkey who came as guest workers saw the Social Democrats as the party that best represented their interests, a study by the DIW research institute showed.

By contrast, Syrians were more likely to support Merkel’s conservatives who shaped the migration policy from 2013 to 2016 when the majority of them arrived in Germany, the study found.

But with Merkel bowing out of politics after 16 years at the helm, many Syrians are now making different calculations.

“Syrians should be very smart ... What Merkel did was right but what is her successor doing?” asked Abdulaziz Ramadan, head of a migrant integration organization in Leipzig who was naturalized in 2019.

An informal poll among members of a Syrian migrants’ group on Facebook showed most would now vote for the SPD, followed by the Greens, if they were entitled to vote. The option “I don’t care” was the third choice.

Mahmoud Al Kutaifan, a doctor living in the south-western city of Freiburg, is among the few Syrians who were naturalized in time to vote in the 2017 election.

“Out of emotion, I voted then for the party of Mrs. Merkel because she supported refugees,” he said.

While he has not regretted that decision, he, like many other German voters pondering the post-Merkel era, is unsure how to cast his ballot this time round.

“The election date is approaching but I honestly haven’t decided yet.”