Tehran worries about shaken power of Guards, seeks to appease Turkey over aborted plot

Seeking the double objective of easing tensions with Turkey and boosting the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) capabilities, Tehran has recently dismissed the IRGC's intelligence chief, Hussein Taeb and replaced him with Mohammad Kazemi, who was for years responsible for the IRGC's intelligence protection activities.

Turkish-Iranian relations were jolted last month by revelations of an Iranian assassination plot targeting Israeli tourists in Turkey.

Israel's incoming prime minister Yaid Lapid  thanked Turkey, on June 23, for thwarting an Iranian assassination plot against its tourists in Istanbul which prompted an urgent call for the Jewish state's citizens to return home.

The comments from Lapid came after Turkey reported detaining eight members of the alleged Iranian cell.

Turkey's private IHA news agency said the eight alleged Iranian cell members were detained in a raid last week in three houses in Istanbul's popular Beyoglu district, an area filled with cafes and bars.

In the meanwhile, Iran has been busy putting its house in order. The Guards announced at the end of last month the replacement of its intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, who had held the position for more than 12 years.

"The Guards' chief Major General Hossein Salami appointed General Mohammad Kazemi as the new head of the IRGC Intelligence Organisation," Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif said in the statement.

But analysts are sceptical about the possibility of Iranian attempts at rapprochement towards Turkey after the huge alarm sparked by the terror plot.

Analysts do not expect Ankara to curtail its ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia despite Iran’s displeasure since Turkey sees such ties as vital for its national interests.

Taeb's dismissal seems to have been also an attempt by Iran to take a new look at the IRGC's operations following a series of intelligence failures that threatened to undermine Iran's ability to respond  to growing US and Israeli challenges, as well as to shore up the IRGC's political influence inside Iran.

The image of the Revolutionary Guards has very much suffered in recent years, as Iran’s foreign operations targeting Israelis and Iranian opposition members have failed because  they were were exposed by foreign intelligence agencies.

The replacement of the intelligence chief came after the killing of a number key Guard members.

Iran and US ally Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war but tensions have ratcheted up following a string of high-profile incidents which Tehran has blamed on the Jewish state.

On June 13, Ali Kamani, a member of the Guards' aerospace division, was killed while on a mission in Khomein in the central province of Markazi, the Guards said in a statement without elaborating.

Earlier in June, Colonel Ali Esmailzadeh, a commander of the Guards' external operations unit, the Quds Force, died "in an accident in his home", according to state news agency IRNA.

Then on May 22, Guards Colonel Sayyad Khodai, 50, was killed outside his home in the east of the Iranian capital by attackers on motorbikes who shot him five times.

The Revolutionary Guards have also failed to protect Iran's nuclear sites over the past year, as illustrated by the many mysterious explosions and outages which have affected sensitive nuclear and missile sites, including the Natanz plant, the largest centrifugal facility and central uranium enrichment centre in Iran.

The growing failures of the Revolutionary Guard threaten to weaken its domestic political influence and thus its clout over the choice of the next Supreme Leader who will replace current leader, Ali Khamenei, whose health is widely reported to be deteriorating.

It is likely that there will be a reorganisation of the IRGC's operations and missions abroad in the coming months, experts say.


This article was originally published in Arab Weekly and reprinted here with permission.

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