Iran: IRGC brigadier general, 122 other members arrested for espionage

On May 5, Iranian Intelligence Minister Seyed Mahmoud Alavi, along with a number of his deputies, held a meeting with Major General Hossein Salami, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reports indicate. The meeting lasted over seven hours, according to sources.

The session, held at the request of regime’s Intelligence Minister, was also attended by his deputies in anti-terrorism affairs, international affairs, anti-espionage, social affairs and technical matters.

Along with Salami, the IRGC was also represented by head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization, deputy in strategic intelligence, intelligence/operational deputy of the IRGC chief of staff, intelligence deputy of Fort Tharallah and head of the IRGC counterintelligence branch.

Fort Tharallah is considered one of the IRGC’s main sites and is missioned to monitor/control the security affairs of Tehran, capital of Iran, and other cities in the critical Tehran Province.

The Intelligence Ministry deputies placed forward before the IRGC delegation a large number of documents and evidence regarding a case of espionage inside the IRGC, along with a list of IRGC personnel. The list contained the names of an IRGC brigadier general along with 122 other senior IRGC officers involved in espionage against the Corps. Following extensive talks, IRGC chief Hossein Salami ordered the arrest of the 123 named IRGC officers.

On May 8, the IRGC-affilated Fars news agency reported:

“Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, issued an order appointing Saeed Soleimani as head of the IRGC Inspections Branch… In a farewell ceremony, appreciation and gratitude were extended to Brigadier General Rabie for his service in this post.”

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Former IRGC brigadier general Rabie

Rabie is the brigadier general whose name topped the list of 123 senior IRGC officers presented by the regime’s Intelligence Ministry to the IRGC intelligence hierarchy. The IRGC Counterintelligence Branch immediately arrested Rabie following the abovementioned farewell ceremony.

The 122 senior IRGC officers, mainly consisting of the IRGC’s chain of command in the cities of Tehran, Ahvaz, Mashhad, Sari and Sanandaj, were arrested in simultaneous raids. Interrogations of the arrested IRGC officers began in the early hours following their apprehension.

It is worth noting that dozens of websites affiliated to Iran’s regime have run identical, word-by-word reports denying the arrest of 123 senior IRGC officers on espionage charges. This further proves the correct nature of these events and the regime’s desperate effort to deny all such matters.

Just recently, IRGC chief Hossein Salami appointed Hossein Taeb, a mullah, as head of IRGC intelligence. Taeb is accused by Iranian dissidents for being involved in the murder of three Iranian Christian priests and bombing a Muslim shrine in the city of Mashhad, both incidents taking place back in the 90s. The regime went on to blame opposition groups for these attacks, only for these accusations to be debunked down the road and all fingers again pointing at the mullahs’ regime.

Following the U.S. State Department’s unprecedented decision to designate the IRGC as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO), the Corps has witnessed its former chief replaced with his deputy and now 123 senior officers arrested for espionage. More IRGC “reshuffling” and further tensions are expected as U.S. President Donald Trump continues his “maximum pressure” policy vis-à-vis the mullahs’ regime in Iran.

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A short Q&A on Iran and its nuclear program

Last Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the regime will no longer abide by two obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Rouhani blamed the Europeans for “not living up to their promises.”

 

Q: What were the reactions?

The United States carried out two decisive measures literally ridiculing Tehran:

1) Dispatching the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group to the region to confront the mullahs’ threats.

2) Imposing a new series of sanctions targeting the Iranian regime’s metal industry, including the vital steel, aluminum, copper and iron branches.

 

Q: How about Europe?

Despite the fact that Iran announced a 60-day ultimatum for Europe, the EU humiliated Tehran by delivering a response in 24 hours through a strong-worded statement. Two specific issues were reiterated to the mullahs’ regime:

1) Europe will not accept any ultimatum.

2) Threatening to refer Iran’s nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council.

Furthermore, French President Emmanuel Macron, in a rare move, said the JCPOA is incomplete and must be completed by addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program and the regime’s destructive meddling across the region.

 

Q: What is the meaning of Europe’s position?

Not only has Europe refused to provide any incentives to Iran, in fact they have taken a serious step towards the U.S. position and distanced away from Tehran. Europe has effectively confirmed two of the U.S. 12 conditions from Iran (ballistic missiles and regional meddling) should be included in the JCPOA.

This has resulted in escalating rifts inside the mullahs’ regime.

Figures such as Ahmad Alamalhoda, representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the city of Mashhad, second largest city in Iran, are calling for a stronger tone and literally saying the regime should be ready for war.

On the other hand, those close to Rouhani’s faction are voicing deep concerns about the road ahead.

“If we don’t negotiate we will be inching closer to a military conflict,” according to the regime’s Arman daily. Other voices are going even further with the deep concerns.

“It is better to surrender to the pressures today. Next year we will have no card to play,” said Ehsan Khanduzi, a known Iranian regime pundit. In the next 12 months, the country’s economy will crumble completely. Social uprisings will boil over and we will be “sitting at the negotiating table with the [U.S.] government” with a far weaker hand, he further explained.

 

Q: Is all this the result of the U.S. dispatching military forces to the region?

One cannot deny the impact of these measures by Washington. However, the main reason lies elsewhere.

If we take into consideration the past 17 years, whenever the regime’s nuclear dossier becomes a topic of serious discussion we have witnessed a deepening of Tehran’s internal rifts. This specifically dates back to August 2002 when the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) blew the whistle on Iran’s secret nuclear weapons drive by disclosing top secret information on the locations of the previously unveiled Natanz uranium enrichment site and Arak heavy water facility. To this day, the NCRI has carried out more than 100 more revelations to open the world’s eyes to the mullahs’ drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

As a result, on three occasions we have witnessed former U.S. President George Bush and President Donald Trump emphasizing how America and the world were not informed of Iran’s nuclear program until the Iranian opposition shed light on this dossier.

 

Q: What was Iran’s objective in pursuing a nuclear weapons program?

Following the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, senior officials of the mullahs’ regime in Iran reached a conclusion that Tehran needs an element to guarantee their survival. This guarantee was sought in obtaining nuclear weapons and thus the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) was assigned to pursue the regime’s nuclear weapons drive.

Pakistan’s Abdulqader Khan and other former Soviet republic scientists were involved in the regime’s drive to obtain the ultimate weapon. However, as a result of the NCRI revelations, the guarantee sought by the mullahs’ regime has now literally transformed into a trap.

Furthermore, the U.S. State Department has recently designated the IRGC as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO).

Another question left unanswered by Iran’s regime and its pundits is that while sitting on world’s second largest natural gas and fourth largest proven crude oil reserves, what is the need for a nuclear program that has brought about such turmoil, endless crises and escalating international isolation? Could it be anything other than the regime’s desperate need to obtain nuclear weapons?

With the NCRI revelations, the mullahs have realized their nuclear weapon drive is now a noose tightening around their neck. Rouhani himself has described the current conditions under escalating U.S. sanctions as harsher than the Iran-Iraq War era of the 1980s.

In 2013, Iran had no choice but to give into sanctions and reach the 2015 nuclear agreement. Despite all its flaws, the JCPOA forced Iran to cut back on its nuclear weapons drive and Khamenei described it as an “utter setback” in March 2016.

As the NCRI continued its revelations, exposing Iran’s ballistic missile program, terrorism and meddling across the Middle East, Washington withdrew from the JCPOA and placed forward 12 preconditions prior to any negotiations with Tehran. The mullahs’ regime has described these preconditions as “suicide in fear of death!”

Iranian Vice President Es’hagh Jahangiri recently said, “The wrong decision made by the White House (against Tehran) are based on biased reports provided by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).”

The PMOI/MEK is the main member of the NCRI coalition.

The current tsunamis witnessed in the region against Iran’s interests are the continuation of such a history of utter setbacks for Tehran.

The status quo for the mullahs’ regime has reached a point of escalating defections and Khamenei’s representatives in cities and towns across the country are saying, “People, don’t be afraid! Officials, don’t be afraid! The executive branch, don’t be afraid! The Majlis (parliament), don’t be afraid.”

Iran’s new line of defense

 

There is no doubt that tensions have been escalating between the United States and the regime ruling Iran. Tehran has a new line of defense – inside the United States – that has caught lesser attention and yet deserves a strong response.

It has been one year since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the highly flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal and began reinstalling sanctions lifted under this Obama-era framework.

As we speak, Iran’s vital oil industry – from which the mullahs obtain at least $50 billion in revenue annually – has been sanctioned and the administration is on track of zeroing Tehran’s exports. The regime is also under a long slate of further sanctions across the board, including financial, banking and the recently advanced measures signed into law by President Trump against Iran’s mining industry.

It has become common knowledge that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) – rightfully designated by the Trump administration as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO) – has control over a vast portion of the Iranian economy. As a result, much of the regime’s revenue earned from oil, mining and other sectors are being channeled by the IRGC for the mullahs’ malign activities, including:

  • funding the Bashar Assad dictatorship in its onslaught against the Syrian people that has left at least 500,000 people killed;
  • fueling terrorist groups across the Middle East such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, Houthi militias in Yemen, Shiite proxies in Iraq, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, and Afghan-Pakistani conscripts dispatched to prop up Assad’s killing machine;
  • developing and procuring ballistic missiles both inside the country providing such an arsenal to proxies across the region;
  • and last but not least, stubbornly pursuing a nuclear weapons program under the cover of
    “a civilian nuclear energy drive.”

Suffering a series of devastating blows, Iran has been retaliating by accusing the United States and its allies in the Middle East of seeking war. While such a response from Tehran is of no surprise, what is alarming, however, is the support the mullahs are enjoying from rivals of the Trump administration inside the United States.

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Senator Sanders is literally calling for a return to the Obama years and falling to the low of appeasing Tehran’s murderous mullahs. What he fails to take into consideration is the fact that such a policy will dangerously threaten U.S. national security.

Unfortunately, Senator Sanders has fallen to the low of parroting talking points used by Iran regime apologists/lobbyists.

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For those interested, this Twitter thread provides more details about Senator Sanders’ hypocrisy that is playing into the hands of Tehran’s ruling mullahs.

And we also have Matt Duss, Senator Sanders’ foreign policy advisor, rushing to the support of Iran’s regime and defending the mullahs’ desperate measures that are aimed at saving face.

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Duss is citing Vali Nasr, a known Iran regime apologist/lobbyist that goes around spreading the mullahs’ talking points in Western circles and media. This thread sheds light into Nasr and his mentality.

Another example in this line of thought is Senator Chris Murphy. One of his latest tweets is quite interesting.

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Such a mentality adopted by these American figures – who should be more concerned about the American people – has driven them into an utter state of hypocrisy.

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It is interesting how Sen. Murphy refuses to recall how the Obama-blessed 2015 nuclear deal allowed Iran to continue wreaking havoc across the Middle East and beyond. Of course, appeasing a dictator leads to such results. However, when the likes of Sen. Murphy choose to neglect such a harsh reality, it results into such low-level, childish remarks:

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Such an approach by Sen. Murphy should be of no surprise considering his attendance at sessions held by Iran’s lobby group in the U.S., the disgraced National Iranian American Council (NIAC), loathed by the Iranian Diaspora across the West.

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This thread provides more information on how Sen. Murphy has become a pawn of the mullahs’ regime.

Sen. Tim Kaine’s hatred of U.S. President Donald Trump is no secret. What is disappointing, however, is that Sen. Kaine would resort to any measure to attack President Trump. Even if it means rushing to the support of Iran’s mullahs by parroting claims raised by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his network of apologists/lobbyists scattered across the U.S. and Europe.

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When we are discussing blind hatred targeting President Trump, we cannot leave out Rep. Ilhan Omar who just couldn’t miss the opportunity.

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A question for Rep. Omar & all her colleagues: If you are talking about “war,” why not a single line of criticism against the mullahs’ regime of Iran that has been at war with the Iranian people, nations across the Middle East, and America for the four decades?

Of course not, as that would go against Omar’s personal interests.

Next in line is Rep. Barbara Lee who has no originality and nearly copied the very lines used by Zarif. To define her words, she is actually calling for a return to Obama’s weak foreign policy of bending backwards and providing even further billions to the mullahs’ regime.

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Iran’s latest move has been to end two measures of compliance under the 2015 nuclear agreement, commonly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran will no longer abide by two limitations:

  • Maintaining the production of low enriched uranium (3.67% for nuclear reactor fuel) to a cap of 300 kilograms and selling any excess amount abroad.
  • Maintaining the production of heavy water below 130 tons and storing any excess amount in Oman.

As of Wednesday, Iran will be producing unlimited amounts of low enriched uranium and heavy water, and keeping all excess amounts inside the country. Tehran went on to define a 60-day ultimatum for the remaining JCPOA to “live up to their obligations” and deliver the incentives promised to Iran under the nuclear deal: specifically purchasing oil form Iran and opening their financial networks to the mullahs’ regime.

It is quite interesting how these two specific actions were already sanctioned by the U.S. just days earlier.

“The United States acted on Friday to force Iran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant, intensifying a campaign aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power,” Reuters reported.

“The U.S. actions announced on Friday included an end to a sanctions waiver that allowed Iran to evade a 300-kg limit on the amount of low-enriched uranium it can store under the nuclear deal at its main nuclear facility of Natanz… the United States would no longer waive sanctions that allowed Iran to ship to Oman for storage heavy water produced at its Arak facility beyond a 130-ton limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal.”

Adding to Iran’s miseries, the European Union responded to Tehran’s threats on Thursday by rejecting any ultimatums issued by the mullahs’ regime. As a result, if Iran was counting on raising its tone level to drive a gap between Europe and the United States, they failed miserably. Additionally, it is worth noting that the Europeans are actually realizing the Iran threat and taking a stronger position than the abovementioned Members of the U.S. Congress.

Furthermore, isn’t it interesting that no one asks why Iran even needs a “civilian nuclear energy” program? The country is sitting on the world’s second largest natural gas and fourth largest crude oil reserves. Why on earth would you waste hundreds of billions of dollars on a nuclear program, confine many facilities deep into mountains and bring upon your country decades of political turmoil?

The answer is quite simple. In envy of North Korea, the mullahs’ regime seeks nuclear weapons in order to obtain security guarantees. Yet the likes of Ben Rhodes are suffering from a blind hatred towards President Trump, rendering a list of American figures playing into the mullahs’ hands and literally placing U.S. national security in grave danger.

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All voices providing life support to the regime in Iran are running a dangerous line of appeasement.

We should recall how former UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain believed in appeasing Hitler of Nazi Germany in an attempt to prevent war. The rest is history.

Report: Iran-backed Iraqi militias seeking new bases following F-35 dispatching

A source in the Iraqi Parliament Security and Defense Committee shed light on various objectives pursued by the United States in dispatching its strategic F-35 fighter jets, according to Bahrain’s Al-Khaleej daily. The F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine and all-weather stealth multirole fighters. The fifth-generation combat aircraft is designed to perform ground attacks and air-superiority missions.

Amer al-Faez, a member of the Iraqi Parliament and the Security and Defense Committee, claims targeting Iraqi sites with F-35 fighter jets – labeled by locals as the “Ghost” – sends a message that Washington has access to any target it wishes across Iraq.

These remarks by al-Faez were made following reports claiming U.S. fighter jets targeting Iraqi police positions in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Reports claimed the attack was the result of an error by U.S. forces in Iraq.

Sources in Iraq’s Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi  (aka Popular Mobilization Forces – PMF) are saying armed groups associated to these units are seeking new bases following the U.S. dispatching its F-35 fighter jets to the region. All the while, to prevent attacks by the advanced U.S. fighter jets, the PMF have been relocating their ammunition caches to previously unidentified locations.

“Dispatching ‘Ghost’ fighter jets to Iraq and their use in attacks targeting sites inside Iraq is considered as the U.S. flexing its muscles against Iran,” al-Fayez said, emphasizing the Americans have practically blueprinted plans to keep an eye on and continue observation/monitoring missions focusing on Iran from Iraqi soil.

Furthermore, Iraqi MP Abbas Sarut claimed missiles are ready to target the al-Taji airport located north of Baghdad. This is a clear reflection of the economic and military war between Washington and Tehran, he added.

“Armed militia groups that have been designated by Washington as terrorist groups may now be planning to target U.S. targets. This will increase tensions between the two sides and Iraq may become a conflict zone for these two competitors,” Sarut added.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry had previously reported government specialists discovering and neutralizing three ready-to-fire missiles aimed at the al-Taji airport. He provided no details about who was behind this failed attempt.

In other reports, Israeli intelligence sources are reporting Russia has begun pressuring Iran in Syria. The Russians have reportedly begun forcing the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) out of their military bases and returning advanced drones from Syria to Iran.

Reports are claiming unexpected measures being carried out by the Russians in recent days against Tehran’s interests in Syria. The Russians have ordered a number of IRGC bases to evacuate immediately without providing any warnings.

Analysts are saying this indicates the Russians will also prevent Syrian dictator Bashar Assad from handing the Latakia ports over to Iran. This strategic port has access Mediterranean waters and is located to the Russian base in Homaymim. Further reports indicate the Russians have forced IRGC-linked militia groups out of important various airbases across Syria. This goes against Russia’s past agreement of allowing Iran’s IRGC to have a presence in such sites.

The website also explained that Russia had also exerted pressure on Iran to remove its sophisticated drones from Syria, including the Saegheh (Thunderbolt), enjoying the ability to carry precision-guided and anti-tank guided missiles. This drone was built on the model of an American RQ-170 drone that Iran claimed to have shot down back in 2011.

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The Iranian ‘Saegheh’ drone (AP)

Russia’s expulsion policy also includes the removal of Iran’s IRGC units from the Mazze military airport, located on the southwestern outskirts of the capital Damascus; the Khalkhala Airbase in al-Suwaida Province near the Jordanian border; Beit Saham in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus overlooking the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights; and the Tiyas airbase, known as T4, near the city of Homs.

Last year, Iran transferred a variety of armed drones to Syria, including the single-engine “Shaheed 129,” Mohajer-4 and Mohajer-6. These drones are able to carry missiles and bombs.

It appears that Russia and the U.S., along with Israel, have reached an agreement and are on the verge of ending Iran’s influence in Syria. Recent reports also Russia-associated forces clashing with Iran’s IRGC and IRGC-affiliated proxy groups from a number of Syrian regions. Furthermore, there is word of a trilateral agreement involving the U.S., Russia and Israel strengthening the initiative to force Iran out of Syria.

Iran: Senior IRGC officer flees, increasing defections reported

Ali Nasiri, a former brigadier general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), previously head of this entity’s counterintelligence apparatus, has reportedly fled from Iran.

Sources say an individual close to Hossein Taeb, head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization, has shed light on an April 11 meeting held between senior intelligence ranks, during which a verbal dispute erupted between Taeb and Nasiri, leading to Nasiri prematurely leaving the meeting.

Afterwards, Nasiri reportedly refused to show up at work for two days. A follow-up investigation made indicated he has fled the country.

Sources say a probe launched by IRGC counterintelligence units reveals that Nasiri fled to a Persian Gulf country, requesting political asylum at the local U.S. embassy. Reports indicate Nasiri had in possession a large volume of documents recording the travels of senior IRGC commanders, intelligence personnel and operational units to foreign countries, all under the cover of diplomatic missions.

Nasiri was also previously in command of the IRGC’s “Hazrate Seyed al-Shohada” corps stationed in Tehran.

To this day, the IRGC Intelligence Organization and Counterintelligence Organization have gone the distance preventing the publication of such news reports in the media.

On April 13, the al-Mayadeen news network, associated to the Lebanese Hezbollah, posted a report about this matter on its website without providing any details. The report was taken off less than half an hour later.

The IRGC Counterintelligence Organization is a conglomerate missioned to provide flight security, security for government officials and figures, and foreign dignitaries during their visits to Iran.

The office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has appointed IRGC veteran Vahid Haghanian as their man in this case to coordinate the measures taken by the regime’s intelligence apparatus in this regard.

Nasiri’s fleeing from Iran has had an extremely negative impact among the hierarchy under his command. On April 19, the IRGC-associated Fars news agency referred to the fate of Nasiri without any further explanation.

“Under an order issued by Mohammad Ali Jafari, the [then] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander-in-chief, Brigadier General Fat’ollah Jamiri has been appointed as commander of the IRGC Counterintelligence Organization.” This report made no mentioning of Nasiri.

The IRGC Counterintelligence Corps was established back in 1985.

No U.S. or Iranian official has shown any reaction to reports of Nasiri’s fleeing from Iran.

Is Khamenei merging the IRGC into Iran’s regular army?

Following the U.S. State Department’s unprecedented step of designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO), there have reportedly been movements in the IRGC hierarchy, sources say. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has recently held a number of meetings with senior commanders of the IRGC and Iran’s regular army, along with Ali Akbar Veleyati, Khamenei’s senior international affairs advisor.

Kamal Kharazi, a former Iranian foreign minister, made the following remarks in a private meeting on the IRGC’s terrorist designation:

“The subject of new developments in the IRGC is nothing new and [Khamenei] has held a number of meetings with the IRGC and regular army hierarchy, issuing a numbers of orders on this matter. [Khamenei] has placed senior IRGC officers Vahid Haghanian, Hassani Sa’di (deputy of the IRGC-linked Khatam al-Anbia Headquarters), and General Ali Bagheri, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, in charge of implementing these instructions. However, this process was accelerated with the IRGC’s terrorist designation on April 8.”

Kharazi shed light on the history of this important issue in Iran.

“The ‘phase by phase merging’ of portions of the IRGC into the regular army is nothing new. [U.S. President Donald] Trump laid out a new U.S. strategy vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran in his speech on October 13, 2017, and placed the IRGC in the U.S. sanctions list… Khamenei held a meeting with senior IRGC and regular army commanders on October 22, 2017, forecasting that the IRGC sanctions are a prelude to the IRGC’s terrorist designation. Therefore, in that meeting a decision was made to gradually merge the IRGC into the regular army. Arrangements were made to merge a portion of the senior IRGC ranks – including colonels and higher commanders – into the regular army. This phase has been completed to a large extent,” he explained.

“Following the IRGC’s terrorist designation by the U.S., defections and disappointment have increased significantly among the IRGC files. One day after this announcement, the IRGC issued a call to all its forces stationed in provincial bases and the Basij Resistance units saying considering the people’s growing dilemmas following the recent floods, the possibility of popular protests and unrest in the coming two months is quite high, and the consequences go far beyond what was witnessed in the Dec 2017/Jan 2018 uprising,” Kharrazi continued.

That particular episode in Iran’s history of uprisings saw protests mushrooming in over 140 cities across the country and the regime eventually arrested over 8,000 dissidents.

Citing a senior official in the regimes Armed Forces Headquarters, Kharrazi added the number of retirement requests have increased at an alarming rate among senior IRGC ranks. Low morale among Basij members is becoming a grave concern, with a growing number of such individuals deserting their units and bases.

Senior Iranian officials arrested in Sri Lanka for heroin smuggling

An Iranian ship carrying heroin was seized on March 24 near the coastline of Sri Lanka, according to a number of news agencies citing Sri Lankan coast guard officials.

Following the confiscation of the narcotics onboard, Sri Lankan security officials were able to retrieve leads indicating how the main elements behind this consignment intended to take a flight out of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Police Narcotics Bureau conducted an extensive investigation, learning about the actual owner of this consignment staying at the Hilton Hotel in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. However, they had departed the hotel just hours earlier, heading for Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport.

As time was running out, Sri Lankan Police Narcotics Bureau officials were able to arrest two Iranian suspects by the names of Mohammad Massoud Zahedian and Mohammad Bakhshandeh at the airport.

Further investigation showed the two arrested Iranian nationals were actually Brigadier General Mohammad Massoud Zahedian, Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Police chief, and Colonel Mohammad Bakhshandeh, chief of Tehran’s Anti-Narcotics Police.

Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry officials are saying officials of Iran’s embassy in Colombo have confirmed the identity of the two arrested individuals. Furthermore, embassy officials informed Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry officials that Mohammad Zaeri, the mullahs’ ambassador to Sri Lanka, was on vacation for Nowruz, the Iranian calendar new year.

Based on the investigation of Sri Lankan security officials, the Iranian ship carrying the heroin consignment was headed for Europe. However, to cover its tracks, the ship took off from a Pakistani port heading for Sri Lanka, stopping in Hambantota Port to carry out administrative work and thus head off for Europe.

The Hambantota Port is a stopping point on one of the most important shipping lines linking Asia and Europe. This port was handed over to a Chinese government company based on a 99-year contract.

According to a senior official of the Khatam al-Anbia Construction Company in Iran – known to be linked directly to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) – the state police of Iran, NAJA, has been resorting to smuggling narcotics recently for money-laundering purposes. The final destination of this drug smuggling is Europe, according to this official, and the profit is placed in European banks and financial institutions. Much of the money laundering is handled on European soil, he added.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has remained silent on the subject of Zahedian and Bakhshandeh being arrested in Sri Lanka. It is believed this actually confirms their arrests to some extent.

Brigadier General Mohammad Massoud Zahedian, Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Police chief

Brigadier General Mohammad Massoud Zahedian, Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Police Chief

It is interesting to know that Zahedian had “warned” that U.S. sanctions targeting the equipment needed to “fight” drug traffickers can slow down Iran’s “effective efforts” to this end and “increase” the traffic of narcotics to Europe.

“We should buy these equipment and they are needed. The sanctions include all equipment and we hope that this will not happen because we will possibly face problem in discovering drugs and (then) they (the European governments) should collect kilos of narcotics from Europe with difficulty,” Zahedian told reporters in Tehran back in October 2018.

Confronting Iran’s influence in Syria is vital

While Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the regime ruling Iran, sought to garner attention and boast victory in Syria through the recent visit of Syrian regime dictator Bashar Assad to Tehran, developments in the Levant are actually  by far against the clerical regime’s interests.

U.S. President Donald Trump is now fully agreeing to maintaining a contingency in Syria – said to be 400 troops – in what appears to be a dual mission in the country’s northeast and the strategic al-Tanf base on the Syria-Jordan border.

Reporting on how his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin focused mainly on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored how he and the Russian leader agreed on the need to remove all foreign forces that came into Syria.

Considering the fact that the Lebanese Hezbollah also plays a highly devastating role in Syria, the U.S. is seeking new sanctions against this terrorist group that was founded and continues to enjoy funding by Tehran.

All these measures are principally important, especially bearing in mind the fact that the regime in Iran seeks to establish an all Syrian militia in Syria, most likely a replica of its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Basij paramilitary forces. Tehran was the main force behind the launching of the Hashd al-Shabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, in Iraq, who stand accused of fueling sectarian strife in the Mesopotamia.

And to add insult to injury, despite claims made by various Iranian regime officials, Russia is now confirming a decision to establish a “Syria Working Group” with Israel. Netanyahu has also been heard making remarks about launching a joint Israel-Russia working group to have all foreign forces leave Syria.

Tehran, sensing the need to save face in light of such developments, resorted to hasty comments to dampen the impact of this setback. Bahram Ghassemi, spokesperson for the Iranian regime’s Foreign Ministry, claimed Russia does not follow in line with Israel and claimed Tehran and Moscow enjoy “strong ties.” While the mullahs’ regime in Iran claim remarks made by Israeli officials have no impact on them, a Kremlin spokesperson confirmed a decision was made between Putin and Netanyahu to establish this working group soon.

The question now is how can the U.S. facilitate the pushing of Iran’s malign forces out of Syria?

Iran is already under tight U.S. sanctions. These measures should continue to especially deprive Tehran of finances used to fuel its regional agenda of wreaking havoc and continuous warmongering in Syria. As a reminder, Tehran insiders have been heard voicing the importance of maintaining influence in Syria for the sake of remaining in power back home.

Despite being long overdue, the United Kingdom recently designated all branches of the Lebanese Hezbollah – founded and funded by the regime in Iran – as a terrorist organization, putting an end to the separation between this group’s political and military segments.

The U.S. Treasury Department also sanctioned “Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba,” a radical Muslim militia group known to be loyal to Tehran and having around 10,000 fighters. The group leader, Akram Kaabi, is also blacklisted. These measures are necessary to chip the wings of Iran’s warmongering apparatus.

Tehran is known to be funding a conglomerate of extremist groups across the Middle East, parallel to billions provided annually to Assad in Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen and extremist militias in Iraq. Denying Iran access to the global financial system will deplete its treasury of the funds needed to continue this unbridled campaign of belligerence.

To put a nail in the coffin, Washington should designate Iran’s IRGC, the main force behind all these destructive activities, as a foreign terrorist organization. This can go parallel to a similar designation of the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), now more legitimate following a recent surge of Iran-backed terror plots and assassinations across Europe. Even the Europeans are sanctioning portions of the MOIS in response.

Ending Iran’s influence in Syria is pivotal to returning peace to the Middle East. Interestingly, this also weakens Tehran’s crackdown apparatus and renders direct support to the Iranian people in their ongoing struggle against the mullahs’ regime.

How to analyze the Zarif resignation façade in Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif returned to his post around 30 hours after his Instagram resignation post. During this entire charade, speculations were heard across the board about the motivation and true nature of this latest episode of escalating turmoil for the mullahs’ regime in Iran.

What is certain, however, is the fact that Zarif’s resignation indicates a new acceleration of crises for Tehran, especially in regards to international relations and on specific matters, including the 2015 nuclear deal and outstanding anti-money laundering/terrorism financing resolutions under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

With the Trump administration turning up the heat on Iran, international pressures and global/regional isolation are engulfing Tehran. State-run media outlets in Iran are also acknowledging these developments that are raising eyebrows and keeping senior decision-making officials awake at night.

“Another conclusion of [Zarif’s] resignation is the 2015 nuclear deal coming to an end… There are figures who are disappointedly concluding how Zarif’s resignation is tantamount to the complete failure of Hassan Rouhani’s government,” according to the state-run Fararu website.

A variety of analysis have also been circling in regards to Zarif’s resignation. However, lesser voices have pinpointed the root of the entire matter.

The failing “Hassan Rouhani project,” referring to the regime’s president, and deep internal crisis is a result of Tehran’s failure in preserving the nuclear deal, overcoming the impact of U.S. sanctions, and the regime’s dead-end in regards to FATF regulations.

This defeat began with the Dec 2017/Jan 2018 uprising, disrupting all of the regime’s apparatus, including its foreign policy agenda. The first example was witnessed in the U.S. withdrawing from the highly flawed 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Rouhani laid it out clearly in his remarks on August 28, 2018, saying everything began on December 26, 2017, when protesters poured into the streets and chanted anti-regime slogans. This was followed with U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing from the JCPOA, triggering the Iranian regime’s troubles, Rouhani added.

Rouhani’s Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri voiced even more concerns about the regime’s future.

“Super domestic challenges [ongoing protests] are impacting super global challenges, further intensifying these dilemmas,” he said.

The Javan daily, known to be affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), added to the tempo.

“Voices inside the country, and more abroad, are considering this truly low-class resignation as signs of deteriorating conditions for the [regime], and even called on the president of Iran to follow in line with his minister and resign himself!” the piece reads in part.

To add insult to injury for the clerical regime in Iran, 2018 was riddled with a number of foiled terror and assassination plots in Europe. In March, Albanian authorities arrested two operatives for plotting to bomb an opposition gathering, leading to the expulsion of the regime’s ambassador several months later.

In late June, another bombing plot targeting the annual Iranian opposition rally near Paris was foiled. Tens of thousands of people, along with hundreds of international dignitaries, including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, were also attending the event.

Tehran also targeted dissidents in the Netherlands and Denmark, leading to unprecedented European Union sanctions against a branch of the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence, parallel to expelling a number of diplomats.

These crises escalated even further during the Warsaw ministerial conference and a large rally held close to the site by supporters of the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Giuliani delivered a speech emphasizing on the sole alternative for the Iranian regime, symbolized in NCRI President Maryam Rajavi.

NCRI supporters held another rally during the Munich Security Conference, signaling to the world the very source of Tehran’s main concerns. And Zarif, described as “charming” and a “moderate” by some, literally lost his temper in his remarks about the Iranian opposition.

Whatever the reasoning behind Zarif’s resignation, the big picture indicates a regime neck-deep in crises with no light at the end of the tunnel. International crises are escalating, with Washington intending to zero Tehran’s oil exports.

Zarif may have returned to his post. Yet this entire façade portrays a regime neck-deep in turmoil, both inside the country and abroad.

UPDATE: Syria’s major feud erupts between Iran-Russia camps

Following years of collaboration between Russia and Iran in propping the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad to remain in power, there have been signs recently of feuds between these two sides, according to the al-Quds al-Arabi daily. One of the latest of such indications are clashes reported between Syrian regime forces linked Moscow and those units enjoying the support of Iran’s regime.

Israel has immediately taken advantage of this situation and sided with Russia in order to establish a united front against Iran. Tensions have escalated in relations between Russia and Iran, especially following Iran-linked bases and groups being targeted in Syria by Israel with Moscow’s prior knowledge.

Around one week ago clashes erupted between a group of Syrian military forces associated to Iran and commanded by Maher Assad, the brother of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and the al-Nemr group, commanded by Suheil al-Hassan, a Syrian military commander affiliated to Russia.

“Russia and Iran are distancing from one another in Syria. Taking its place is strengthening relations and increasing tires between Russia and Israel, aiming to decrease Iran’s influence in Syria to the point of forcing Tehran out of this country,” according to the Deutsche Welle website.

According to this report, Israel will not accept a Shiite government on its borders. All the while, Russia considers Iran’s presence and influence in Syria as an element undermining its efforts to establish cease-fire across the Levant, and of course, its future interests in this strategic country.

Russian political expert Anton Mardasov wrote in analysis recently published in the Al Monitor website: “The controversy between Moscow and Tehran has always been a part of the Syrian conflict. However, the debates between the two have started to become more political in nature, influencing the future of Syria’s armed forces and other military entities.”

Moreover, RBC, a Russian economic newspaper, published an article two months ago reiterating the threat of Iran-backed groups gradually gaining strength in Syria, and this issue will become an obstacle before Russia’s goal of uniting the Syrian military under a unified leader.

Following disputes between Russia and Iran over the future of Syria, in the past few weeks sources have reported intense battles among a units linked to Russia and militia groups associated to Iran’s IRGC.

Turkey’s Anadulo news agency cited various sources saying, “Clashes resumed among the two parties in Hama Province, central Syria, following two days of cease fire as the feuding sides sought to gain control over property, routes and even the locals’ homes in the region. There is no information on the number of casualties in these clashes.”

The ongoing situation is literally a war between Russia and Iran to gain the upper hand over the Assad regime. Russia has no interest in Iran’s military and associated militia units being present in areas near the Syrian opposition forces. Moscow knows Tehran has thousands of mainly Afghan and Pakistani militias on the ground in Syria, and this goes against Russia’s long-term interests in Syria as Moscow seeks to come to terms with the U.S. over ending the war.

Recent reports indicate Moscow has put forward an agreement and forced both sides to sign with a goal to end the conflict between branches of Assad’s restructured military (loyal to Russia) and units under the command of Maher Assad.

Relations between Russia and Iran have soured recently as reports indicate Russia was informed of Israeli air strikes against Iran-backed targets in Syria beforehand and went as far as facilitating these raids. Various Iranian regime operatives are even accusing Syrian and Russian officials of providing precise and up to date information to Israel in order to target Iran-backed bases in Syria.

Moscow is also very concerned about reports of a recent car bombing in Damascus taking place near the Russian embassy being carried out by Iranian operatives.

Adding insult to injury for Iran’s interests in the Levant, on Thursday, the Russia al-Yawm news network reported citing a “number of sources” indicating Iran’s IRGC intends to evacuate its military support base located in Damascus International Airport, with plans to transfer the ordnance to another facility.

Israeli media are also reporting the IRGC gearing to transfer its military base and assets to the T4 airbase in Homs, central Syria. This site has been the target of at least two Israeli air strikes in February and March of 2018.

This report also adds that in the past few years, Iran has used a site in Damascus International Airport dubbed the “Glass House,” located only a few dozen meters away from the airport’s main facility.

Iranian opposition reports have previously described the “Glass House” as Tehran’s main command/intelligence center in Syria, and the site had been heavily protected and under highly restricted conditions. Reports also indicate the Glass House is home to a number of arms depots and two underground facilities.

Israel has recently escalated its attacks against Iran’s assets in Syria and unprecedentedly gone public about such measures. Furthermore, Iran is now concerned of pro-Tehran Shiite militia forces in Iraq being threatened in similar fashion as Israel has warned IRGC-linked groups in Iran will also be targeted as Tehran’s assets in Syria have experienced to this day.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conveyed a parallel message to Baghdad in his recent visit.