Iran’s coronavirus crisis exacerbates internal struggle between government and IRGC

IRGC IranA tense struggle is unfolding in Iran between the country’s civilian leaders and the parallel state of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The two entities are fighting about who will control the national response to COVID-19, according to sources. The outbreak of the pandemic in Iran followed closely that of China. Today the Iranian government claims the disease has infected no more than 115,000 people and killed fewer than 7,000. But these numbers seem low for a country of 82 million, and many observers dispute them.

The secrecy with which the government is treating the coronavirus epidemic may be masking an increasingly tense turf war between Iran’s civilian leaders, led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the IRGC. The latter is controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Iran watchers describe the IRGC as a ‘praetorian guard’ whose members possess immense power and often wealth. Today the IRGC is a military force with a command structure that is distinct from that of Iran’s regular Armed Forces. It maintains its own army, navy and air force, has its own paramilitary and political protection units, and is in charge of Iran’s nuclear program.

The IRGC has seen its income fall drastically in the past two years, partly due to the continuing economic pressure that Iran is facing from strict sanctions imposed on it by the United States. The effects of the dramatic reduction in the value of Iran’s currency —down nearly 2/3 since 2018— have only been exacerbated by the monumental drop in global oil prices, which has practically decimated Tehran’s main source of foreign income.

According to sources, Khamenei and the IRGC forced the country’s civilian leadership to re-open the economy last month, fearing an absolute economic collapse. But this only resulted in a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases in nearly every region of the country. The IRGC is now reportedly trying to take control of Iran’s civilian healthcare system, in an effort to prevent the government from disclosing the extent of the re-emergence of the virus throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the IRGC’s prestige has suffered greatly this year, following the accidental shoot-down of a Ukrainian civilian airliner over Tehran in January, which killed nearly 180 people, most of them Iranians. Last week, the IRGC was believed to behind a missile test that went terribly wrong, resulting in the destruction of an Iranian navy ship that killed as many as 31 sailors. These fatal errors are for the time being giving President Rouhani the right to question the IRGC’s competence and resist giving away his administration’s control of the national response to COVID-19. The turf war continues to intensify, however, and it is difficult to forecast which side will prevail.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2020 | Permalink

Obama in secret negotiations with Iran over ISIS threat

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The president of the United States reportedly sent a secret letter to the supreme leader of Iran, in which he proposes cooperation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in exchange for a nuclear deal. The New York-based Wall Street Journal newspaper reported on Thursday that Barack Obama reached out to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in October. In the letter, Obama allegedly proposes a nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran and emphasizes the common threat the two nations face from ISIS, the Sunni Islamist group also known as the Islamic State. The paper said Obama’s letter stresses that any cooperation between America and Iran against the Islamic State is directly contingent on a nuclear agreement between the two governments, which would have to be reached before November 24 of this year. If the Journal’s information is accurate, it would appear that the US president’s move is connected with the latest round in bilateral negotiations between Washington and Tehran, which is scheduled to begin on November 8. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif will be leading their respective teams, as the two delegations meet in Muscat, capital of Oman, to explore ways of normalizing their diplomatic relations. If it is real, Obama’s purported letter would not mark the first instance in which the US president wrote to his Iranian counterpart. There are at least three other letters that Obama is known to have sent to various Iranian leaders since 2009, when he assumed the presidency of the US. However, if the proposal in the letter, as outlined in The Wall Street Journal article, is authentic, the move can be seen to highlight the view of the White House that Iran must inevitably be part of a solution regarding ISIS. Nevertheless, the revelation that America is seeking an alliance with Shiite Iran will undoubtedly frustrate America’s Arab allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and other Sunni oil monarchies, which are participating in the ongoing international military campaign against the Islamic State. The Journal contacted the White House but officials there refused to comment on what they said was Obama’s “private correspondence”. When asked by journalists on the matter, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said only that “the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged”.

Intel official claims Mossad was behind Iran missile depot blast

Iran blast siteBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Western intelligence official has told Time magazine that an Israeli spy agency was behind a weekend blast at an Iranian missile depot, which killed at least 17 people. The government of Iran claims that the powerful explosion, which wrecked a heavily guarded base belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was an accident, caused during the transport of munitions. But Time quotes an unnamed “Western intelligence source”, as saying that the blast was a deliberate act of sabotage carried out by agents of the Mossad, Israel’s primary covert operations agency. The source urged Time not to “believe the Iranians that it was an accident”, and added that the operation was part of an ongoing covert action effort to impede Iran’s nuclear program, saying characteristically that “there are more bullets in the magazine”. The base, located approximately 25 miles west of Iranian capital Tehran, is reported to house several of Iran’s Shahab-3 long-range missiles, with an alleged reach of up to 2,000 miles. The blast was reported to have been powerful enough as to have been audible across Tehran itself. The victims of the blast included Major General Hassan Moqqadam, described by Iran’s state media as the “founder of Iran’s missile program” and a foremost pioneer in the country’s missile development after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The death of Moqqadam, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, was so important that his funeral was attended by none other than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader. Read more of this post

Turkey, Iran, offer warship protection for Gaza flotillas

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Tayyip Erdoğan

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Close aides to the Turkish Prime Minister’s office have disclosed that Ankara is funding a new fleet of ships to sail to Gaza under protection by Turkish warships. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps have also offered warship protection. The office of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, is now actively assisting the Turkish-based Humanitarian Aid Foundation (ÍHH) in fundraising for the acquisition of a new fleet of ships to carry humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Last Monday, an ÍHH-funded flotilla bound for Gaza was raided in international waters by the Israeli Navy, which diverted the ships to Israel after killing nine and injuring over 60 passengers. According to reports from The Associated Press and Agence France Presse, Mr. Erdogan plans to be among the passengers of the new flotilla, which will be escorted en route to Gaza by Turkish warships. Meanwhile, reports from Iran’s government-aligned Mehr News Agency indicate that the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have offered their warships as protection for future aid ship convoys to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory. Read more of this post

Documents reveal Bill Clinton’s secret contact with Iran

Mohammad Khatami

M. Khatami

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Two newly declassified high-level documents reveal a short-lived overture between Washington and Tehran, initiated in 1999 by the Bill Clinton administration. The US President resorted to the secret communication with Iran in an attempt to preempt several hawkish policy planners in his administration. The latter pressed for strong American military retaliation against Iran, in response to the latter’s alleged involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. The bombing, which targeted a US Air Force base in the suburbs of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killed 19 and wounded 400 American servicemen and women. By 1999, US intelligence agencies were convinced that the bombing had been financed and orchestrated by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), an independent administrative and paramilitary institution tasked with –among other things– exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. But the Clinton Administration decided to contact the then newly elected reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, and sternly inform him of the evidence against the IRGC. Read more of this post

Iran monarchists, foreign spies, behind suspicious news reports

Mohammad Reza Madhi

M.R. Madhi

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
There is no question that the domestic security situation in Iran is critical, and that we may soon witness crucial political shifts in the Islamic Republic. At the same time, however, observers should be cognizant of what Politico’s Laura Rozen calls “a notable uptick […] in very fishy stories” forecasting the immediate end of the Islamic government by supposed radical Western-aligned forces. IntelNews has detected several such stories in recent days, such as this unconfirmed December 31 report in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which stated that the Iranian government was moving “[h]undreds of military forces and tens of armored vehicles towards Tehran”, something which never actually occurred. Two days earlier, a report in Dutch government-owned Radio Netherlands had suggested that members of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, including Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, were preparing to abandon the country and seek political asylum in Russia. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0060

  • Ex-FBI translator tests US Justice Department again. Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds has spent seven years trying to get a court to hear her allegations that Turkish intelligence agents had penetrated her unit, the State Department, the Pentagon and Congress. This weekend she’s going to try again.
  • Bulgaria appoints new National Security Agency director. Tsvetelin Yovchev is the new head of the State National Security Agency (DANS). The Agency’s previous director, Petko Sertov, recently handed his resignation, allegedly after Bulgaria’s “American partners were said to have lost faith” in him. He will now serve as Bulgaria’s general consul in Thessaloniki, northern Greece.
  • US paper sees power struggle inside Iranian intelligence. The Washington Times claims the recent firing of intelligence minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, two other Ali Khamenei loyalists and nearly 20 other high-ranking officials, has weakened Khamenei’s hold over the Iranian intelligence ministry and has strengthened the power of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.

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