Iran: Changes in Revolutionary Guards’ senior command?

IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari & Quds Force chief may be sacked

The following report is from sources inside Iran and has yet to be confirmed.

At a family event on July 18th, Seyed Massoud Khamenei, the son of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has told Sadeq Kharazi, his brother in law, that Khamanei has been unhappy with the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) recently, especially considering the major setbacks Iran has suffered in Syria.

Changes in the senior IRGC ranks are in the making, Massoud Khamenei said, and Deputy IRGC chief Hossein Salami will be replacing IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari.

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Deputy IRGC chief Hossein Salami

IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani is also said to be sacked, yet his replacement has yet to be specified.

Massoud Khamenei has told Sadeq Kharazi, who enjoys close relations with Suleimani, that the Quds Force chief has twice recently requested to meet with the Supreme Leader, only to be turned down on both occasions.

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IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani

Sadeq Kharazi has said the Supreme Leader sought to keep a lid on the information about changes in the IRGC ranks. However, information has leaked out of Khamenei’s home and office.

In a move intended to prevent already decreasing morale among IRGC personnel, Khamenei recently ordered officials to deny any rumors of changes among senior IRGC officials.

In line, Brigadier General Mohammad Shiraz, head of Khamenei’s Military Office, on Saturday denied rumors claiming Jafari’s replacement.

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A Close Look At Iran’s Budget

A country’s budget is the government’s fiscal plan for that state for a period of 12 months. All the country’s revenue and resources to provide credit are forecasted, placed alongside anticipated costs and expenses. The intention of this piece is to provide a much-needed close examination of Iran’s budget.

Iran’s next fiscal budget (from March 2018 to March 2019) is equal to around $350 billion. How is this money provided for? In general, Iran’s budget is funded through oil, taxes, increasing bonds and eliminating cash handouts or subsidies.

Oil, a natural resource belonging to the Iranian people, is currently being plundered by the ruling mullahs for foreign expenditures.

The second source of Iran’s budget is taxes. The government of President Hassan Rouhani has decided to increase taxes by 11%, equaling to $55 billion. This means Rouhani intends to take $55 billion out of the people’s pockets and use it for the government’s expenses. For a better understanding, we should compare these numbers to that of oil revenues.

Iran will have sold $50 billion of oil from March 2017 to March 2018, according to Deputy Oil Minister Amir Hossein Zamani. This means Iran’s regime seeks to extract $5 billion dollars more than their oil revenue in taxes from the people.

This is not an ordinary government with a live economy asking for people to pay their taxes. This is “Plundering 101” by Iran’s mullahs.

This is also something to think about for those European companies seeking to economic contracts with Iran, despite senior U.S. officials warning this being tantamount to sending a check to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Moscow should also take this into consideration, especially after providing a major concession to Tehran this week.

These taxes are being demanded from the Iranian people when the economy is already suffering under heavy recession. The country’s industry is literally nearing a complete halt.

In any other country undergoing such conditions taxes are relieved and the industry/production branch is provided necessary loans. Rouhani, however, is raising taxes.

Bonds are another source of providing for a government’s budget and Rouhani’s cabinet intends to escalate this amount by at least $45 billion.

Bonds, however, are only applicable in a popular government, last experienced in Iran under Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh back in the early 1950s. This is not the case in today’s Iran where protesters are heard chanting, “Death to Rouhani” and “Death to Khamenei,” in reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Another source from which Rouhani seeks to provide for his budget is through slashing cash handouts/subsidies. This “moderate” figure intends to deprive 30 million people, providing an additional $5 billion to his budget. This is tantamount to taxes, being nothing but plundering millions of Iranians already living in poverty.

The question now is where the oil revenue, being the main source of Iran’s budget, is actually allocated?

The semi-official ILNA news agency wrote Rouhani’s cabinet has significantly increased the IRGC’s suggested budget by 42%, parallel to a 33% elevation of the defense budget. All the while the country’s construction budget will witness a nosedive.

The IRGC will receive $8 billion from Iran’s fiscal budget. This is equal to cash handouts for 49 million people a year. If Rouhani had not increased the IRGC’s budget by 42%, at least 21 million people would be receiving subsidies.

In a country where its rulers consider ballistic missiles more important than the people having something to eat, it’s only natural that the nation’s money is poured into the pockets of IRGC members and other security personnel.

Now that we’re here, it’s good to take a look at the budget allocated to Iran’s notorious Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). These spies are being provided a $1 billion budget from the Iranian people’s pockets, only to focus mainly on spying on the Iranian people. The irony.

This amount should be compared to a number of entities, intended to serve the people, yet apparently are of lesser importance for the ruling state: The Social Security Organization, the Environment Protection Organization and the Organization for Research, Education & Agriculture Promotion.

The budget of all these entities combined are no match to the money provided to the MOIS. It is crystal clear that the security of Tehran’s mullahs are far more important for Rouhani than the drying Lake Urmia and Zayande River, retirees’ pensions, employees’ insurance and ….

Iran’s semi-official Jahan-e San’at daily analyzed the country’s next fiscal budget as: “Iran’s oil revenue is being allocated to foreign obligations and our presence in regional developments. Even the National Development Fund, intended for future generations, is not provided its share. In such circumstances when no money is coming from abroad to manage the country, the officials have seen no solution other than placing their hands into people’s pockets…”

To make a long story short, if up to now people were managing to make ends meet, with prices skyrocketing across the board, all families throughout the country will be facing major challenges.

This is the end result of Rouhani strengthening the IRGC at the price of the poor becoming poorer and the very few rich becoming richer. This will keep the fire burning beneath the ashes, igniting again and again until the people overthrow this regime.

While Washington has reversed Obama’s destructive appeasement policy vis-à-vis Iran, Europe must understand that investing in Iran is not only betting on the wrong horse, but standing alongside the murderous mullahs’ regime against the will of the Iranian people.

ANALYSIS: Understanding Washington’s fast-evolving Iran policy

On the doorstep of US President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy speech, the administration launched an unprecedented campaign of pinpointing the crosshairs on the epicenter of all extremism causing havoc across the Middle East: Iran.

This comes following a Wall Street Journal article explaining how in the post-ISIS world Washington will begin pinpointing its focus and resources on the larger and more dangerous threat posed by Tehran.

‘Hard look’

The Trump administration has made it clear that a wide array of destructive policies adopted by Tehran have become unacceptable, a clear indication of the end of Iran’s years of windblown successes, thanks mainly to eight years of the Obama’s unbridled appeasement policy and strategic mistakes of previous administrations.

Described as a “first” by Reuters, last Thursday US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley displayed a detailed exhibition of Iranian equipment used to arm Yemen’s Houthi militias – long known to be backed by Iran – and thus, to destabilize the region, especially its archrival, Saudi Arabia.

“We are not just focused on the nuclear program,” Haley said during a press conference at a US Department of Defense hangar where the Iranian equipment were placed before the media. “We’re also taking a hard look at Iran’s ballistic missile program, its arms exports, and its support for terrorists, proxy fighters and dictators.”

Iran can also be described as the facilitator, and maybe even the godfather, of a slate of malign practices rendering suffering across the Arabian Peninsula, leading to the Levant and eastward to Central Asia.

“It’s hard to find a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it,” Haley continued, adding how this regime is “fanning the flames” of conflict.

It is worth reminding that for decades the US State Department has considered Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. We may actually be on the verge of meaningful and long overdue measures against Tehran on this very important and vital subject.

A different Iraq

US policy shifting also faces major decisions regarding the path forward in Iraq, as the three year war against ISIS group begins to wind down and Washington seeks to roll back Tehran’s influence over Baghdad. Disputes between the central government and the Kurdish region, parallel to the May general elections in which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seeks reelection, are important subjects for all parties involved.

“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” said Douglas Silliman, the US Ambassador to Iraq, while voicing how Washington is encouraged over recent efforts made by Baghdad to establish stronger ties with Riyadh and Amman.

This adds to Tehran’s troubles in Mesopotamia, as there are signs of growing rifts among its allies in Iraq’s Shiite majority. A stereotype mentality would suggest Iran is seeking the return of Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister considered by many as extremely loyal to Tehran.

Maliki, however, would need the unified support of Iraq’s Shiite community. Troubling Iran’s intentions is how various influential figures, such as Muqtada Sadr, have established close ties with Riyadh or signaled their own objectives.

Hadi al-Amiri, commander of Iraq’s largest Shiite paramilitary group, the so-called Badr Organization, called on his fighters on Thursday to begin taking orders from the national military and end their ties with the group’s political wing.

This move, parallel to unconfirmed reports of orders for the group’s fighters to withdraw from cities they currently control, paves the path for Amiri to take part in the upcoming May 12th parliamentary elections.

Back in July, Ammar al-Hakim, a politician known for his links to Iran, withdrew from the Tehran-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to launch a new party, the National Wisdom Movement. Al-Hakim has claimed to seek Sunni support for his new initiative.

July was the same month of Sadr’s Saudi and UAE visit, and he also raised eyebrows by calling for the controversial Popular Mobilization Forces to dismantle and integrate into the country’s armed forces.

Reports also indicate that Sadr intends to establish a political alliance with Abadi, the al-Wataniya slate of Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi and the Civil Democratic Alliance before May’s elections. Raising concerns for Iran is the fact that all these parties have called for political reforms in Iraq.

Necessary deterrence

With the US military effort against ISIS decreasing in necessity, the Trump administration is also weighing the future of its Syria campaign, with Iran on their mind. Having recently announced the presence of more than 2,000 American forces stationed currently in Syria, the new goal for these units is a highly debated subject.

As we remember the drastic experience of Obama’s premature pull-out of Iraq and the resulting consequences that paved the path for the rise of ISIS, US Defense Secretary James Mattis has indicated American troops have no intention of leaving the Levant in the foreseeable future.

It is vital to ensure ISIS is prevented the ability to morph into a dangerous new entity with the potential of raising new threats in this already hostile region. Furthermore, rest assured Washington is taking into considerable consideration the presence of Iranian proxies across the Levant, and how the stationing of US troops on the ground acts as a major deterrence element against Tehran’s treacherous initiatives.

Times have changed

Advocates of engagement vis-à-vis Iran are accusing the Trump administration of trailing the path of launching a war with Iran. Their intentions are far from preventing the US from entering a new war, but to protect Tehran from any strong measures, including international sanctions that target the regime and actually benefit the people by weakening the ruling system.

This piece is not a call for war with Iran, and there is a logic that needs understanding for those concerned about Iran responding violently to a US policy shift. Tehran’s support for militias in Iraq back in the 2000s enjoyed the support of two key elements:

1. A completely unified Iranian regime with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acting as the puppet of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

2. Billions in revenue rendered by skyrocketing oil prices soaring up to nearly $140 a barrel in June 2008.

This is not the case today, as Iranian politics is a scene of unprecedented internal quarrels described locally as “dogfights,” and the lowered price of oil and increasing sanctions leveled against Tehran are disrupting the regime’s efforts, seeking to maximize its regional bellicosity.

‘Global threat’

As emphasized by Ambassador Haley, it is high time for the international community to take decisive action, such as crippling sanctions targeting the regime and its belligerent institutions, to finally bring an end to what has become “a global threat.”

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, known for blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program, indicates how a “firm policy hinges on the following practical measures:

– Evicting the IRGC and its proxy militias from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and preventing the transfer of Iran’s weaponry and troops to these countries;

– Imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iran and the IRGC, especially preventing their access to the global banking system;

– Referring Iran’s human rights violations dossier, particularly the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, to The International Criminal Court, and placing the regime’s senior officials responsible for these crimes before justice;

– Imposing previous UNSC resolutions covering Iran’s nuclear weapons program, banning uranium enrichment, and launching unconditional inspections into the regime’s military and non-military sites.”

Will Iran’s Troubles In Yemen Propagate Elsewhere?

Recent developments in Yemen and the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has highlighted what Iran has sought long to cloak. Tehran’s campaign in Saudi Arabia’s backyard has stumbled upon major political and military setbacks, providing the opportunity for Washington to correct a policy in need of strong amending.

How the future unfolds in Yemen has the potential of sparking a series of major defeats for Iran across the region, spilling into the country’s shaky politics and fueling further domestic unrest.

Senior Iranian officials, however, have gone the distance to portray Saleh’s death as a step forward against their regional archrivals, mainly Saudi Arabia.

Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari described it as the end of a “sedition” or “treason.”

Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, even described Saleh as the agent of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who deserved such a fate.

The two, considered members of Khamenei’s inner circle, describe the latest events in Yemen as a conspiracy. The bigger picture, however, reveals a major rout for Khamenei’s ambitions in the Arabian Peninsula.

Saleh’s forces have separated from the Iran-backed Houthis, depriving Tehran of a large bulk of vital manpower on the ground. Saleh enjoyed the support of a large segment of the armed forces, many tribes and the Popular Congress Party with all its branches in cities across Yemen.

The Houthis, being a militia entity, have now lost this key source of support and legitimacy for their cause. To add insult to injury for Iran, a large portion of Saleh loyalists have pledged allegiance to the Saudi-led coalition, providing crucial ground forces and intelligence to their effort against the Houthis.

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Huthi supporters brandish their weapons during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 8, 2017. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Muslim and Arab countries across the world to protest against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians. / MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

This renders meaningless Iran’s claims of now enjoying full control over Sanaa. Even after Saleh’s death Iran sought to seal all resulting rifts in Yemen’s landscape, understanding the meaning of losing Saleh’s boots. This can also be considered a signal of the Houthis’ fragile and vulnerable status quo.

It is safe to say these turn of events have terminated any hope of negotiations for the Houthis, as they have revealed their true nature. It has become crystal clear for all parties in Yemen, and across the Middle East, of the fate awaiting those who mingle with Tehran. To begin with, Yemen’s long slate of tribes will now – if not already – have deep suspicions over Iran’s intentions on their soil.

Comprehending the lack of any tangible future for his regime’s Yemen initiative, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has twice called for engagement and negotiations with regional states.

This marks a stark change in strategy for Iran, as Yemen for Khamenei resembled a bargaining chip, based on the alliance they previously enjoyed with Saleh’s loyalists.

Yemen has now become the most vulnerable piece of Iran’s Middle East puzzle. Tehran’s position in the region is also downgrading and weakened deeply, making Rouhani’s call for talks more understandable.

The setbacks in Yemen has had its impact on Iran’s other political endeavors. Following the recent missile launch from Yemen targeting Riyadh, and evidence showing the missile being of Iranian origin, France and other European countries have voiced positions far different from their stereotype calls for engagement with Tehran.

Parallel to French President Emmanuel Macron seeking talks to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program, his top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian in a recent interview signaled Paris will not accept Tehran’s military expansion to the Mediterranean.

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BEIJING, CHINA – NOVEMBER 24: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not pictured) at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on November 24, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Jason Lee – Pool / Getty Images)