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)
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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.”


Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt
Updated 15 sec ago

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

CAIRO: A quake shook Cairo and other cities in Egypt at 0535 GMT on Tuesday, according to Reuters witnesses and social media postings.
Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, and Assiut, in Upper Egypt, were among cities where people said on social media they felt their houses and buildings shaking.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the authorities.

The tremor, whose magnitude the US Geological Survey measured at 6.0 and depth at 37.8km (23.5 miles), was also felt on several other Greek islands including Crete and Santorini, state TV said,
It also shook the Cypriot capital Nicosia, Beirut, Cairo and other cities in Egypt, parts of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the region around southern Turkey’s Antalya, Reuters witnesses said.
Two powerful quakes rattled Crete in recent weeks, killing one person and damaging buildings.
A Greek seismologist said Tuesday's quake came from a different African fault and no aftershocks were expected.


Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation
Updated 19 October 2021

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation
  • Continued cooperation of two countries in petroleum energy and diplomacy

TOKYO: Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi reconfirmed with his Kuwaiti counterpart continued cooperation between their countries in petroleum energy and diplomacy.

In telephone talks held on Oct. 18 with Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, Motegi stated that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attaches great importance to the relationship with Kuwait. Motegi also said he would like to work closely with Foreign Minister Dr. Al-Sabah, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said.

In addition, Motegi thanked Kuwait for its long-standing stable supply of crude oil and requested Kuwait’s cooperation, including an increase in production, to stabilize the crude oil market in light of the upward trend in crude oil prices.

The two sides agreed to continue to cooperate to further develop the bilateral relations on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Japan and Kuwait.

Both sides also exchanged views on bilateral relations and international cooperation, including the Joint Committee between the Governments of Japan and Kuwait.

This story originally appeared in Arab News Japan


‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
Updated 19 October 2021

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
  • Rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns used in street battles; soldier probed over shooting person down

BEIRUT: The bloody gun battles that took place last week in the streets of Beirut were caused by an “unfortunate incident, not an ambush,” the country’s Defense Minister Maurice Selim said Monday. 
Last Thursday’s clashes killed seven people and wounded 32, after a protest against the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion turned violent.
Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who want Judge Tarek Bitar removed from the case, carried out the protest. 
Hezbollah has accused the Lebanese Forces party, which backs Bitar, of firing on the people at the protest.
But Selim told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation: “The demonstration deviated from its course and clashes broke out. The circumstances of what happened remain to be determined by the ongoing investigation, which relies on facts and evidence to hold those responsible accountable.”
The site of the armed clashes was between the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Shiyah and the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Rummaneh, with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades used.
Security footage at one of the entrances to the Ain Al-Rummaneh neighborhood went viral, upending claims about demonstrators being subjected to deliberate sniper fire from the rooftops of residential buildings. 
The footage showed a member of the Lebanese army shooting at a person who insisted on bypassing the military checkpoint and entering Ain Al-Rummaneh. 
There was chaos when this person was shot down. People threw stones and there was an exchange of fire.
Army command said: “The soldier who fired the shots is under arrest and is being investigated by the competent judiciary.”
So far, 20 people from both sides of the violence have been arrested.
Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the Lebanese Forces of “committing a massacre” against peaceful demonstrators, despite the video showing a soldier shooting at them.
“Hezbollah believes the criminal and killer to be the Lebanese Forces. But the resistance, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will not be drawn into a civil war, as they are aware of this malicious conspiracy implemented by the Lebanese Forces,” he added.
The incident has turned into a political as well as judicial dilemma.
Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are abstaining from Cabinet sessions until Bitar is taken off the probe and until “the perpetrators and those involved in the Tayyouneh incident, the gunmen, snipers, their operators, their commanders, their chiefs, and everyone who has anything to do with this matter are brought to justice,” Hajj Hassan said.
Lebanon’s administration has been inoperative since last Friday. Friday was a national day of mourning, followed by the weekend.
All institutions will resume their work on Tuesday including parliament, which is holding a plenary session and restoring the immunity of MPs, especially those that Bitar had called for questioning.

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MP Qassem Hashem, from the Development and Liberation bloc, denied news about an expedited draft law to establish an exceptional judicial body whose jurisdiction would look into the decisions, procedures and arrests carried out by Bitar, with the exception of the indictment he issued to reach the public trials before the Judicial Council.
“This matter contradicts the constitutional principles that we are keen to abide by. The draft law needs a constitutional amendment and this is not on the table,” Hashem said.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have insisted on the independence of the judiciary and have called for non-interference in judicial affairs.
It is not within the power of the Supreme Judicial Council to dismiss Bitar or to force him to take a certain course in the investigation.
However, Bitar’s course of investigation is still subject to pressure. 
On Monday, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian expressed his fear over coexistence, the National Accord Document, and the constitution.
“We should adhere to justice, but according to a clear path so that people are not divided over justice, as well as over politics” he said and warned of this “suicidal path” which everyone was “enthusiastically” jumping at. 
He called it an atmosphere that reminded people of the beginning of the civil war. 
“Every sane Lebanese should refrain from engaging in suicidal actions, and insist on the constitution, coexistence, and civil peace. Fighting in the street is forbidden, whatever the reason. Solutions can be reached through peaceful means, not by using uncontrolled weapons in the streets, especially in the capital, killing people and violating their sanctities.”
On Sunday, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that harming national peace and neighborliness was unacceptable, regardless of its source.
“We refuse to go back to arbitrary accusations, sectarian mobilization, attempts to isolate, compromise settlements, fabricate files against this group or that, choose scapegoats, and replace justice with revenge.”
He stressed the need to abide by the law and the judiciary, and avoid political, sectarian and partisan interference. “We need to respect the judiciary’s independence and let it correct what must be corrected by its judicial methods.”
Al-Rai called on the Cabinet to convene, as every minister should respect judicial authority, and exercise their responsibility in the name of the Lebanese people, not in the “name of influential figures.”
“Force does not frighten the believers in Lebanon. There is no weak party in Lebanon. We are all strong by our right to exist freely and our loyalty to the homeland without any interference.”


Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks
Updated 19 October 2021

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks
  • The militia has engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages

ANKARA: Turkey is shifting to a proxy force strategy and diplomacy with the US and Russia to counter the Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria instead of deploying its own troops, analysts have said.
It comes after senior Turkish officials hinted at a strategy change regarding the war-torn country following deadly attacks by the militia in the Kurdish-dominated Tal Rifaat region, which targeted Turkish police officers.
The militia has also engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara was “determined to remove all threats in northern Syria,” while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pledged that Turkey “would do what is necessary for its security,” adding that neither the US or Russia had kept their promises to ensure the withdrawal of the militia from the Syrian border.
But the Turkish government has said that the military will pursue a “much more different campaign” in northern Syria, sparking debate over whether Ankara will engage in diplomatic talks with the US and Russia before launching possible military action.
The militia is the chief local partner of the US in its fight against Daesh in the region, while Turkey considers the Kurdish group and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party, as Syrian extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has fought a civil war against the Turkish state for more than three decades.
In the meantime, the Syrian Liberation Front branch of the Syrian National Army said that it is “determined to clear our regions from all terror groups,” including the Kurdistan Workers’s Party, Democratic Union Party and Daesh.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, said that every time Russian President Vladimir Putin has allowed Turkey to enter Syria and seize territory from the Kurdish militia, he has demanded that Turkey end its support for rebel groups.
“This involved a land exchange with either Turkey taking territories from the YPG (Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria) or the Bashar Assad regime taking territories from the hands of the rebels. But this new model that we are talking right now is a bit different from this one. Now, Turkish-backed troops in Syria, instead of Turkish troops, might move in to take an area from the YPG with a tacit agreement from Putin,” he told Arab News.
According to Cagaptay, Ankara’s broader strategy is to divide the militia-controlled zones and prevent the formation of any future political entity in the group’s territory.
“The recent Erdogan-Putin deal in Sochi aimed at implementing this new model,” he said.
Amid particularly sensitive times for US-Turkey relations, a growing emphasis on diplomatic channels outweighs military action, he added. Erdogan is expected to discuss the issue with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October.
After their recent meeting in Sochi, Erdogan will also talk to Putin following his meeting with Biden.
According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, the threat that Turkey sees in the Kurdish militia is the possibility of a Kurdish state being formed close to its borders.
“Ankara is therefore taking whatever measures it can to prevent this from happening,” he told Arab News.
Unluhisarcikli said that current conditions mean that it is unsuitable for Turkey to conduct military operations against YPG-held territories in northwest or northeast Syria.
Therefore, Ankara will push diplomatic channels to proceed efficiently, he added.
“Turkey is already in a tense relationship with Russia over Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and would not like to add a new layer to these tensions. At a time when Turkey is trying to improve relations with US, it would not like to introduce a new headache,” he said.
Meanwhile, during a press conference last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Biden administration does not support efforts to normalize relations with the Assad regime.
Experts also note that the fate of Idlib province, hosting about 4 million civilians under the control of Turkish-backed rebels, will be critical in the coming days in shaping the calculus of Turkey’s relationship with Syria, with a potential migrant influx causing domestic political worries for Ankara.
On Saturday, shelling by regime forces of the opposition-held town of Sarmada on the northern outskirts of Idlib near the Turkish border killed four people and wounded more than a dozen, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation
Updated 19 October 2021

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation
  • The two sides discussed ways to enhancer joint cooperation in all fields
  • Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed also met with the UK health, education and climate change officials

LONDON: UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have pledged to develop areas of joint cooperation and enhance their development relations.
The ministers met in London on Monday, where the two sides discussed ways to enhancer joint cooperation in all fields, including economic, trade, investment and climate change.
Sheikh Abdullah’s visit comes after a recent visit by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed to the UK, where he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and announced the establishment of a new and ambitious partnership between the two countries for the future.
Sheikh Abdullah and Truss also discussed regional and international issues of common interest.
During his visit, the UAE foreign minister also held talks with the UK health secretary Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi, secretary of state for education, and Alok Sharma and president of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).