Conflict of Iranian Intelligence Organizations

Firas Elias

Translated by Shaimaa Shedeed  

Continual observation to the political regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran after 1979 can easily uncover how the conflict trait prevails in the general scene. Despite the success of the Supreme Leader in stabilizing the bases of the new regime of Iran after the revolution had succeeded whether on the level of the political and constitutional institutions or the level of the security and military institutions in which the national security and intelligence ministry is included, we can say that the political regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the system of parallel entities and we can also notice this through institutions that supporting each other.

Although such kind of conflict can be deemed good trait inside the political systems whether it aims at providing the political system with the best as is the case in the Unites States, the case in Iran is different. This is because the key feature of the conflict inside the political system’s wings is for installing the power and the historical legitimacy among the constitutional institutions and revolutionary ones. However, the second type of institutions is still more preponderant.

With regard to the Iranian intelligence agencies, we find the conflict inside such agencies has reached to soaring levels especially amid the increasing internal and external pressures on the political situation in Iran. In fact, this conflict empowered some foreign intelligence systems, for instance, the Israeli Mossad that could raid some successful intelligence attacks inside Iran whether on the level of transferring information related to the Iranian nuclear programs or related to the assassinations of nuclear experts or even related to trafficking number of experts out of Iran, which made the Iranian Intelligence agencies’ capabilities to combat the espionage be queried. We shall here underline that the main conflict among the Iranian intelligence agencies is confined to be between the Ministry Of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guard, which undermined the Iranian people trust not only in the political regime but also in the efficiency of the Iranian Intelligence systems.

Meanwhile, we can also find that the administrative frames that control the Iranian Intelligence Agencies refer to another conflict entrances. While the MOIS is linked to the President, the Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Agency is linked to the Supreme Leader, consequently, the revolutionary guard intelligence agency work more freely and more effectively. Since the “Revolutionary Guard” currently controls and carries out Iran’s foreign policy definitely in the Middle East, we find that the intelligence agency of the revolutionary guard dominates the foreign Iranian intelligence efforts accordingly. Unlike the Revolutionary Guard, the MOIS doesn’t have those solid ties with the armed militias, parties and movements in the Middle East. This conflict between both entities can be often turned to an interdependence but quickly collapses due to it fragility.

The Iranian nuclear program as well as the nuclear negotiations uncovered how deep is the conflict between the intelligence ministry and the revolutionary guard. This conflict is basically blamed on the different perspectives of those who work in both agencies especially those of reforming and conservative trends.

Those of reforming trends were always excluded from the sensitive nuclear files and their access to some sensitive secretive information was impeded especially after some foreign intelligence agencies could penetrate many of them especially those of dual nationality. For example, in October 2017, spokesperson of the Judiciary Organization of Iran Gholam Hussein Mohassany announced in a press conference that the intelligence ministry had detained number of spies from the Iranian negotiation team including British-Iranian Abdul Rassul Dorri Asfahani, representative of the Iranian Central Bank in the nuclear negotiations with the world powers. Although Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi announced dropping the espionage charge that was against Asfahani, he affirmed that the investigations were still running. He added that “Asfahani is cleared of any wrongdoings” and that he cooperated with the Counter-Intelligence organization affiliated with the Intelligence Ministry during all nuclear negotiations. He also underlined that process of accusing Asfhani with espionage was led by the revolutionary guard intelligence agency which charged him with espionage for foreign intelligence agencies and with undermining Iran’s capability to reach a better nuclear agreement.

Actually, this wasn’t the first time to accuse the Iranian nuclear negotiator with espionage and betrayal. The nuclear negotiator Hussein Mosoyyan was charged with espionage as well as his teamwork including Shahin Dadkhah, AbdulRahman Qahruman Bour, Mhrdad Sirgowy in addition to other diplomatic and Iranian researchers who participated in the nuclear negotiations with the world powers and they spent years in prison. Beside the above mentioned  details related to Asfhani issue, on August 23d, 2016, Tasnim News Agency which is close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard uncovered other dramatic details about arresting Asfhani for a conversation with Ramz E Obour who was close to the Irish Army. According to Tasnim Agency, “Asfhani was a member in a negotiations delegation to Turkey presided by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Jawad Zarif in August12, 2016, but he wasn’t allowed to leave the Iranian airlines when he had been arrested in Ankara Airport and he returned to Iran to prevent his escape to Canada in August 24th, 2016 and he was sentenced to five years in prison.”

This matter as well relies in the way both agencies deal with the dual nationality people. While the political Iranian Intelligence Ministry uses a flexible policy with them, we find that the Revolutionary Guard tightens the way of treating them especially with those members in the nuclear negotiations delegations whether with the International Agency of Nuclear Power or the World Powers. A member in the Iranian Senate Hussein Ali Haji Delighani said that twelve dual nationality officials were detained “for espionage for the western power project inside the Iranian state “including former negotiators played vital roles in the nuclear deal.

This conflict between the Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Organization and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) was resulted in a fugitive image with the followers and the media platforms in Iran. While the revolutionary guard levels espionage and betrayal charges, the intelligence ministry tends to prove innocence or to downgrade the charges.

In addition to the above, we notice that there is an almost complete domination of the revolutionary guard agency on the Iranian Intelligence activities abroad. This can be deemed proper when considering the circumstances surrounding Iran regionally and internationally as the revolutionary guard is more capable of tackling the intelligence challenges that Iran lives in the region due to its experience and the public relations. Moreover, the revolutionary guard is more flexible in recruiting many young men whether directly or indirectly through its relations with allies in the region. Out of this point, we can say that Iranian Intelligence Ministry is often effective as long as it works inside Iran, but when it comes out of the Iranian geographic borders, it faces hard challenges on the level of human factors, strategic goals, process scope or even the logistic capabilities. Due to these weaknesses, the Iranian Supreme Leader was intended to assign most of intelligence missions to the revolutionary guard as if it the sole organization which is able to achieve adaptability among the security and intelligence processes simultaneously because of its relations with several official and unofficial sides in the Middle East. Such privilege made the Iranian regime pays a great concern to the intelligence system affiliated with the revolutionary guard in cooperation with Hezbollah intelligence system. Now, it seems more justified why those officials responsible for the security file in the four capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Sana’a, and Beirut) are former officers in the Iranian Failaq al-Quds. In other more clarifying words about the intelligence division nature adopted by Iran currently, the intelligence ministry became secondly ranked after the revolutionary guard intelligence system in terms of importance and efficiency.

All the above mentioned actually arouses group of serious questions around the efficiency of the supreme leader Ali Khamenei who has the upper hand in all the state’s affairs. If asfhany and other Iranian nuclear negotiators and researchers who were spies and agents for foreign intelligence suppressed Iran’s capability to reach a better nuclear transaction, why Khamenei did accept the nuclear deal and why is still he defending the transaction while the US President Donald Trump withdrew?

Although Khamenei succeeded in building judiciary, security and political institutions parallel to each other, these institutions produced in return unhealthy way of working evidenced by this conflict between the Iranian intelligence organizations, which affected the way of exchanging intelligence information and the counterintelligence and it exposed the Iranian national security to many intelligence and security failures.

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