Iran fired its top national security official on Monday, once one of the country’s most powerful men, after coming under scrutiny over his close ties to a high-ranking British spy.
The security official, Ali Shamkhani, was secretary of the Supreme National Council, which shapes Iranian security and foreign policy, for a decade, and before that he worked in the defense ministry. Spy, Ali Raza AkbariA dual British citizen, he was Mr Shamkhani’s deputy in the ministry and then acted as his advisor in council.
In 2019, after suspicions arose about Mr Akbari, Mr Shamkhani lured him from Britain back to Iran, where he had moved, leading to his death arrest and execution In January.
Mr. Shamkhani not only survived but seemed to thrive until his sudden ouster on Monday after the scam. In March, he led the Iran talks restore relations with Saudi ArabiaTogether China’s MediationAnd he also served as a diplomat traveling to neighboring Arab countries in the Persian Gulf to strengthen trade and political ties.
But on Monday, the Islamic Republic showed once again that even its most loyal servants are not immune to being ousted from power. In a decree, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei removed Shamkhani from his post and thanked him for his service. He replaced him with a senior naval commander from the Revolutionary Guards who had little experience in civilian politics.
Last June, Iran also fired the head of the Guards intelligence unit, Hussain TaibA series of covert attacks and assassinations in Iran linked to Israel followed, suggesting that Iranian intelligence circles had been compromised.
Iranian analysts said several controversies had contributed to Mr Shamkhani’s ouster.
He was charged with corruption amid allegations that his family made millions of dollars through an oil shipping business that helped Iran evade sanctions. He was also blamed for the failure of talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
The council was also criticized for its handling of the domestic unrest. The rebellion has been going on for months demanding the removal of the ruling clericsMost Iranians view Mr. Shamkhani’s complicity violent rebuke It has killed hundreds of protesters – and has led supporters of the government to criticize their leadership for not being tough enough.
Furthermore, the radical faction now in control of Parliament and the Presidency saw him as too close to previous governments, which were centrist and reformist, and therefore did not trust him.
“There was pressure on Mr. Khamenei from the hardline faction and public opinion to remove Mr. Shamkhani,” political analyst Ghis Ghoreshi, close to the government, said in a telephone interview from Iran. “He resisted for a while but the lobbying became very intense.”
Announcing the dismissal, Mr Khamenei said he was appointing Mr Shamkhani as a member of the Expediency Council, which largely advises the Supreme Leader. The appointment is largely seen as a formality; Other officials who have had differences with Khamenei over the years, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have also been named to the council to save face.
Mr. Shamkhani’s ability to weather the storm of the spying scandal for a long time, analysts said, may be the result of a deal between Mr. Khamenei and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Sasan Karimi, a political analyst, said, “There was a back-and-forth deal between President Raisi and the Supreme Leader to allow Mr. Shamkhani to capitalize on his public position after the Akbari scandal with the Saudi deal.” Interview from Tehran.
In a separate decree on Monday, Khamenei gave the Supreme National Council post to General Ali Akbar Ahmadian, 62, a former deputy commander of the Guards naval unit and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. He was described by Iranian media as a top military strategist, who was also in charge of coordinating the Guards’ armed forces.
Although Khamenei always has the final word on important state policies, from talks with the United States to domestic insurgency against ruling clerics, the national security adviser’s role is influential, analysts said. General Ahmadian does not have much experience in foreign policy or domestic national security issues.
“Shamkhani’s successor has no experience working with anyone outside the military,” said Ali Vaiz, Iran director of the Crisis Group. “It is a steep learning curve. There could be resets or delays on key issues such as the future of the nuclear deal, detainee talks with the US and regional diplomacy.