by Hugh Fitzgerald
Iran's tyrants turn to internal purges.
Iran is in a parlous state. Its economy is in a shambles. The Iranian rial has lost 90% of its value in the last three years. 80% of Iranians now live below the poverty line. Its farmers are suffering from the worst drought in fifty years, made worse by the mismanagement of water resources. Exports of Iranian oil have sunk to about one million barrels a day. Unemployment has surpassed 10%, and is now three times that in the United States. All over the country, Iranians have gone out on the streets to protest the corruption of the leaders and the mismanagement of the economy; the regime has answered their calls for an end to the regime – the cry “Death to Khamenei” is unambiguous – by ordering that the protesters be beaten up and arrested. The mysterious deaths of a half-dozen high-ranking Quds officers has led to an atmosphere of fear and despair. No one is quite sure who is responsible for the killing of IIRGC commanders and other military men. Is it a foreign adversary, that is, Israel, with its Mossad operatives, or domestic assassins who belong to the increasing opposition within the country, or members of the regime itself who are either settling scores with political rivals, or eliminating extra-judicially those whom they suspect of being traitors to the regime and therefore deserve to die? The free-floating suspicion has not spared anyone. In late June the highest-ranking suspect so far, Brigadier General Ali Nasiri, was secretly arrested and charged with being a spy for Israel.
A report on Iran’s paranoid regime is here: “Iran’s regime increasingly unstable, turning to purges out of fear,'” Israel Hayom, June 30, 2022:
The Iranian regime is increasingly unstable and is turning against itself due to mounting economic pressure, an exclusive source in the nation’s capital, Tehran, told i24NEWS.
Most significantly the source – an opponent of the regime – suggested that a number of recent killings of officers from the Quds Force were the result of internal purges, rather than assassinations by external intelligence agencies.
Increasing economic woes caused by sanctions on Iran are becoming a threat to the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As the Iranian public struggles to pay for basic essentials and even the government has difficulty paying salaries, discontent is growing, the source said.
The relentlessly increasing impoverishment of the Iranian people has led to a collapse in loyalty to the regime. At the same time that they become poorer, enraged Iranians are keenly aware of the corruption at the top, as exemplified by the Ayatollah Khamenei’s $95 billion net worth – which the American government believes to be a low figure, estimating the Supreme Leader’s real net worth at a colossal $200 billion. Iranians know how their leaders live, and it maddens them.
“The companies controlled by the Revolutionary Guards have gone bankrupt; their corruption has increased and the thefts have worsened,” the critic said.
The worse the economic situation, the more those in Iran’s government are willing to sell favors to the highest bidder. Corruption – the powerful being paid for favors rendered, from awarding state contracts to providing someone’s family members with secure government sinecures — has increased, and so has the outright theft of government assets. Those who remain honest become increasingly disheartened at the spectacle of dishonesty all around them.
As well as being the ideological vanguard of the Iranian regime, the IRGC is a huge economic player inside the country, owning a large portfolio of properties and business interests.
The properties that the IRGC has invested in have, like the rest of Iranian assets, sunk in value. And there is nothing the IRGC can do to prevent this; those assets rise or fall in value with the overall economy. Right now they are in free fall.
The Quds Force is the branch within the IRGC responsible for conducting operations outside of Iran and liaising with proxies. It too is feeling the pinch.
“These purges… started with the Quds Force. A number of [its officers] were killed by the regime itself,” the source said, noting that the resulting fear is causing some commanders to mistrust their bodyguards and to avoid sleeping in their own homes at night.
Imagine being so terrified that, despite your rank, you worry about being killed by your own bodyguards. Or that you insist on spending nights not in your own house, but in constantly changing safe houses, to avoid assassins.
Some IRGC officers, like Hossein Taeb, who had been the head of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization, were fired for incompetence, But others, who had been discharging their duties correctly, mysteriously died. Why? Some were suspected of being connected to Israel’s Mossad. Others were thought to be members of, or dangerously sympathetic to, the leading domestic opposition group, the secretive People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), also known as Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK). Still others may simply have been loyal to the wrong powerful figure, and consequently eliminated by that figure’s rivals.
Adding to the paranoia gripping the establishment is that some of the killings are likely conducted by foreign intelligence agencies – with Israel often labeled as the most likely culprit. This is creating an atmosphere of uncertainty in Iran with individuals dying in unexplained circumstances, with no clear answer as to whether the killing was ordered from abroad, or at home.
“This has caused an earthquake in the trunk of the system, and this is just the beginning of the assassinations,” the opposition figure said.
Iran has now descended into the paranoid world of the Moscow Purge Trials, of Lenin’s Bolshevist slogan “Kto kogo” (“Who Will Defeat or Kill Whom?”), of Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives, of the Peruvian Sendero Luminoso, of Cambodia’s Pol Pot, head of the Khmer Rouge, murdering those he suspected of being secretly allied to the old order, or to the Vietnamese, or simply because they were deemed to be too highly educated). Once the grim atmosphere of free-floating suspicion has set in, any one can be seen as a potential killer, or as someone deserving to die.
An ongoing dispute between Major General Mohsen Rezaee – a twice presidential candidate and former head of the IRGC –and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, is behind much of this infighting, the source said. Further killings are likely to occur as the division between the two conservative figures continues, the source predicted.
The Rezaee-Raisi dispute is not over ideology – both are conservatives – but over power, money, and access to the Supreme Leader. Why not try to eliminate your rival’s band of loyalists, getting them fired, or arrested, or even killed, before he does it first to yours?
In recent weeks a number of high-profile IRGC commanders have been moved into new roles, or were fired from their positions. This is because senior figures “no longer even trust their own agents. The information holes have become so large that they are afraid of their own shadow,” the regime critic said.
The latest example of such firing was that of Hossein Taeb, a cleric who was dismissed from his position as head of the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in June 2022. This is assumed to be the result of the latest example of Taeb’s incompetence — the incident where an alleged Iranian operation to attack Israeli tourists in Turkey was outed, resulting in the arrest of the agents and a diplomatic spat with Turkey, and also to other incidents inside Iran that suggested successful Israeli spy operations that Taeb failed to prevent. Taeb’s dismissal also coincided with the arrest of Brig. General Ali Nasiri on suspicion of spying for Israel. When Israeli operations – sabotage, assassinations — succeed inside Iran, someone must be blamed. Taeb had a record of incompetence, and though powerful friends for a while could protect him, the Istanbul fiasco was the last straw; he had to go.
Was Brigadier General Ali Nasiri a spy for Israel? Or was he falsely
accused by someone higher up who didn’t like him, so that he would
become the fall guy for the regime’s systemic failures, including its
inability to foil Mossad agents? It would certainly be terrifying for
the Iranian government if Israel had managed to turn someone that high
up in the regime’s hierarchy, persuading him to feed them information.
Clearly Mossad has agents in high places all over Iran. How else could
Israel’s cyberwarriors have known just where, and how, to implant the
Stuxnet computer worm in 2010? How did Israeli assassins manage to kill,
seriatim, four of Iran’s top nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2012?
How did Mossad agents locate the nondescript warehouse where Iran had
kept its entire nuclear archive, and manage to sneak that archive out of
Iran and back to Israel? How did Mossad manage to sneak a massive
explosive device onto the floor of the centrifuge plant at Natanz?
Perhaps one or two arrests of people as high up as Brigadier General Ali
Nasiri will calm down members of the government who have had a sinking
feeling that they are being bested on all sides by Israeli agents, a way
to reassure them that they mustn’t be alarmed, that “something is being
done.” Of course, another few successes by Mossad in hampering Iran’s
nuclear program will make Iranians, who had been tentatively reassured
both by the firing of the incompetent Taeb and by the arrest of General
Nasiri, the supposed “Israeli spy,” even more alarmed than before. And
then the government purges will start up again, with a vengeance. And
the Iranian regime will not know where to put its feet or hands.