Iran sacked its top national security official, one of the country’s most powerful men, on Monday after he came under scrutiny for his close ties to a high-ranking British spy.
Security chief Ali Shamkhani had been secretary of the Supreme National Council, which shapes Iranian security and foreign policy, for a decade, and previously worked in the Defense Ministry. The spy, Alireza Akbaria dual British citizen, was Mr Shamkhani’s deputy in the ministry and later worked as an adviser to him in the council.
In 2019, as suspicions about Mr Akbari arose, Mr Shamkhani lured him to Iran from Britain, where he had moved, leading to his arrest and execution in January.
Mr Shamkhani appears to have not only survived but thrived after the scandal until his sudden ousting on Monday. In March, he led Iran’s negotiations to restore ties with Saudi Arabiawith China’s mediationand he also acted as a diplomat traveling to neighboring Arab countries in the Persian Gulf to strengthen trade and political relations.
But on Monday, the Islamic Republic demonstrated once again that even its most loyal servants are not immune to being ousted from power. In an executive order, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei removed Shamkhani from his post and thanked him for his services. He replaced him with a senior Revolutionary Guard Navy commander with little experience in civilian politics.
Last June, Iran also sacked the head of the guards intelligence unit, Hossein Taebafter a series of covert attacks and assassinations in Iran linked to Israel suggested that Iranian intelligence circles had been compromised.
Iranian analysts said a number of controversies contributed to Mr Shamkhani’s ousting.
He has been charged with corruption amid allegations that his family raked in millions from an oil transport business helping Iran evade sanctions. He was also blamed for the breakdown of talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
The council has also been criticized for handling domestic unrest in the months-long uprising demanding the ousting of ruling clericsthe majority of Iranians seeing Mr. Shamkhani as an accomplice to violent repressions which has killed hundreds of protesters – and with government supporters criticizing its leadership as not being tough enough.
Beyond that, the hardline faction now in control of parliament and the presidency saw him as too close to previous centrist and reformist governments, and therefore did not trust him.
“There was growing pressure on Mr. Khamenei from the hardline faction and public opinion to remove Mr. Shamkhani,” Gheis Ghoreishi, a political analyst close to the government, said in a telephone interview from Iran. “He resisted for a while but the lobbying got too strong.”
Announcing the sacking, Mr Khamenei said he was appointing Mr Shamkhani as a member of the Opportunity Council, which largely advises the Supreme Leader. The appointment is considered largely ceremonial; In recent years, other officials who had fallen out with Mr. Khamenei, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have also been appointed to the council to save face.
Mr Shamkhani’s ability to weather the storm of the spy scandal for as long as he did may have been the result of an agreement between Mr Khamenei and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, analysts said.
“There was a give-and-take deal between President Raisi’s government and the supreme leader to allow Mr. Shamkhani to redeem his public position after the Akbari scandal with the Saudi deal,” political analyst Sasan Karimi said. in a press release. Tehran interview.
In a separate decree on Monday, Khamenei handed over the Supreme National Council post to General Ali Akbar Ahmadian, 62, a former deputy commander-in-chief of the Guards naval unit and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. He was described by Iranian media as a high-level military strategist who was also responsible for coordinating the armed forces of the guards.
Although Mr. Khamenei always has the final say on important state policies, from negotiations with the United States to a nationwide uprising against ruling clerics, the role of the national security adviser is influential, analysts say. General Ahmadian does not have much experience in foreign policy or national security.
“Shamkhani’s successor has no experience of working with anyone outside the military,” said Ali Vaez, the Crisis Group’s Iranian director. “It’s a steep learning curve. There could be a reset or delays on key issues such as the future of the nuclear deal, detainee negotiations with the United States and regional diplomacy.