Zarif reveals true face of Iranian regime
The London-based Persian-language satellite news channel Iran International last week released an audio recording of an interview conducted in March by Saeed Laylaz, an Iranian economic researcher close to the government, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. The three-hour recording contained extremely sensitive information, most of which supported what was already known, given that the source of the information is a senior Iranian government official who is, theoretically, the architect of Iranian diplomacy.
Regardless of who was behind the leaked recording and the objectives behind its release — whether it was intended to polish the image of the so-called moderate faction in Iran and highlight the massive pressures it faces from the hard-line fundamentalist, so-called “revolutionary” faction, or an attempt by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to undermine President Hassan Rouhani’s government for wholly domestic reasons — the damage has been done, with its impact going far beyond what anybody could have imagined. In response to the leak, Iran’s judiciary has banned 15 individuals from traveling. Meanwhile, Rouhani has appointed Ali Rabiei to head the Center for Strategic Studies after Hesamodin Ashna, an adviser to the president, resigned following allegations he was behind the leak.
In the audio recording, Zarif acknowledged several important and controversial issues that we in the region have long been aware of and have often raised. The most important of these came in Zarif’s explicit acknowledgement that the regime’s IRGC had indeed triggered the crisis in Yemen. This came in Zarif recalling a personal 2013 discussion with the late commander of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, which centered on the problems Iran was facing in the region. In the interview, Zarif said: “I told Qassem Soleimani that we have three areas in the region on which we disagree with Saudi Arabia, and we should find some resolutions to them. These are Bahrain, Iraq and Syria. The late Soleimani said that Yemen is also among these areas. Of course, the Yemeni conflict hadn’t been triggered yet at that time.”
This information confirms that Iran’s regime was planning even then to trigger the Yemeni crisis with the aim of harming Saudi Arabia and targeting its regional interests. It also confirms that the Houthi militia is an Iranian regime proxy, implementing its agenda in Yemen by attacking the Kingdom with Iranian-made weapons.
This was corroborated by recent remarks made by former top IRGC leader and current presidential candidate Rostam Ghasemi. He acknowledged in a televised interview with Russia’s state RT channel that the IRGC provided weapons to the Houthis at the start of the Yemen war and trained some of its fighters in manufacturing weapons. Ghasemi confirmed that: “For the time being, there are a few IRGC advisers in Yemen,” with his comments sparking tensions between himself and Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The other point confirmed by the audio recording is that the IRGC controls and steers Iranian diplomacy and that the military establishment uses the pleasant, innocuous diplomatic facade provided by Zarif to serve Iran’s expansionist project, which is run and overseen by the Quds Force.
All these revelations confirm that dealing with the Iranian diplomatic apparatus is a waste of time and effort.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Zarif plainly acknowledges that, for Iran’s regime, diplomacy has become a soft power tool to support its military objectives, rather than the military establishment being a last-resort tool of diplomacy. “In the Islamic Republic, the battlefield rules,” Zarif confirmed. He added: “Diplomacy has been sacrificed for the sake of the battlefield, instead of the military battlefield serving diplomacy.” This statement confirmed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ structure and objectives are primarily concerned with military and security issues.
All these revelations confirm that dealing with the Iranian diplomatic apparatus is a waste of time and effort. The most realistic and appropriate approach to negotiations with Iran is to hold them with the entities that control the country’s decision-making process, at the head of which come Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the “revolutionary” establishment.
This does not mean that the government opposes the policies of the IRGC on principle, but rather that it might disagree with the approach and tools used by the more powerful military apparatus. For example, in the leaked audio recording, Zarif objects to the use of civilian planes run by the state-owned Iran Air airline to transfer weapons, equipment and militants to Syria, suggesting that these should instead have been transported using jets operated by Mahan Air (although this is one of the IRGC’s economic institutions). In other words, Zarif does not mind using civilian passenger planes for military purposes; he simply wants to specify which airline’s jets are used.
The final revelation, which has caused controversy around the world, was Zarif’s acknowledgement that former US Secretary of State John Kerry had told him supposedly top-secret information on the number of military operations carried out by Israel against Iranian-armed groups in Syria. On this subject, Zarif said: “It means not being able to say how many people were killed in Syria. It was Kerry who informed me that Israel had attacked us 200 times in Syria.”
Following this revelation, several Republicans called on Kerry to immediately resign from his current position within the Biden administration. In a brief interview last week, Sen. Dan Sullivan said Biden’s climate envoy should step down, while Sen. Ted Cruz said that Kerry had repeatedly met with Zarif during Donald Trump’s presidency, despite the Logan Act, and did not reveal what they had discussed during these encounters.
Another senior Republican, Sen. Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, called the revelations from the Zarif interview “alarming,” adding: “I would like to have a chance to question Secretary Kerry about this in a closed-door hearing.” Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress also called for Kerry to be questioned.
After the issue sparked huge controversy, Kerry denied the allegations in a Twitter post, describing them as unequivocally false.
It is worth noting that suspicions surrounding the close relationship between Kerry and the leadership of the so-called Islamic Republic are nothing new. It was Kerry who reportedly advised the regime to wait until the US presidential election season at the end of 2020 to renew its push to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
To conclude, regardless of the reasons for the leaking of Zarif’s interview, it has once again exposed many points that reveal the true evil nature of the ruling regime in Tehran and its regional objectives, as well as how the country is really run, despite all the cosmetic embellishments the regime uses in its efforts to deceive the world.
• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is President of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami