Iran's IRGC and Muslim Brotherhood discussed anti-Saudi alliance, intelligence cables show

The MB suggested Yemen as "common ground" for collaboration.
Tuesday 19/11/2019
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on October 13, 2019, shows him taking part in a graduation ceremony for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (AFP)
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on October 13, 2019, shows him taking part in a graduation ceremony for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (AFP)

ISTANBUL - Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Muslim Brotherhood discussed forging an alliance to counter Saudi Arabia, leaked Iranian intelligence documents show, as reported by the Intercept news organisation and the New York Times.

High-ranking representatives of al-Quds Force, the foreign military arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Brotherhood met in Turkey in April 2014 and discussed possible collaboration in Yemen. Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood suggested working against Saudi Arabia as a "common enemy," the Intercept reported.

The Intercept said it received hundreds of pages of purported Iranian intelligence documents from an unknown source and shared the files with the Times.

The unprecedented leak of what appears to be Iranian intelligence cables shows Tehran’s efforts to embed itself in Iraq and co-opt the country’s leaders, including paying Iraqi agents working for the United States to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life, the news organisations said in a joint article November 18.

The documents reveal that Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood had a highly unusual meeting in Turkey five years ago. The two sides are natural adversaries in the long-running conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims. In Iraq, Iran has been supporting Shia forces that have clashed with Sunni groups. In Syria, Iran is an ally of President Bashar Assad, who has been fighting Sunni insurgents for almost nine years.

Still, al-Quds and the Muslim Brotherhood saw enough common interests to organise the meeting. Turkey was chosen as a venue because the country was one of the few regional players with good ties to Iran as well as to the Brotherhood, the Intercept said. The Turkish government has not commented on the report.

At the time of the 2014 meeting, the Brotherhood was reeling from the downfall of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a leading Brotherhood member, a year before. “Weakened by its losses in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood probably viewed an alliance with the Iranians as an opportunity to regain some of its regional prominence,” the Intercept said. For Iran, the advance of the Islamic State in neighbouring Iraq in 2014 represented an acute danger.

Turkey denied a visa to al-Quds commander Major-General Qassem Soleimani to attend the meeting because Ankara “still had to worry about appearances,” the Intercept said. Al-Quds was represented by one of Soleimani’s deputies, identified as Abu Hussain.

Senior Brotherhood leaders from Egypt, Ibrahim Munir Mustafa, Mahmoud El-Abiary, and Youssef Moustafa Nada, met with al-Quds officials, the report said, adding that Nada denied in an interview that he had taken part in the meeting. Nada has been named as a suspect in financing al-Qaeda after the attacks of September 11, 2001, on the United States.

Also present was an agent from the Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) but neither al-Quds officials nor the Brotherhood representatives knew this, the Intercept said. The report said, MOIS tried to keep track of al-Quds activities. The Intercept’s account of the meeting was based on MOIS documents but the report did not specify the venue or date of the meeting.

The MOIS files stated the Brotherhood delegation noted the differences between its organisation and Iran but emphasised there “should be a focus on joint grounds for cooperation.” One of the most important things the groups shared, the Brotherhood representatives said, was a hatred for Saudi Arabia, “the common enemy” of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.

The Brotherhood representatives suggested an anti-Saudi cooperation with Iran in Yemen, where an insurgency by the Iran-backed Houthis against the Saudi-backed government was to trigger a war in 2015.

“In Yemen, with the influence of Iran on Houthis and the influence of the Brotherhood on the armed tribal Sunni factions, there should be a joint effort to decrease the conflict between Houthis and Sunni tribes to be able to use their strength against Saudi Arabia,” the Brotherhood delegation argued, the Intercept reported.

The meeting did not seem to identify areas of cooperation between the two sides in other Middle Eastern hotspots besides Yemen. The Brotherhood asked the Iranians to stay out of Egypt, apparently out of concern that Iranian meddling could undermine its own credibility in the fight against the government there.

It was not clear if there were following meetings to the one in Turkey. “Friends of al-Quds Force who were present in this meeting disagreed that there should be an alliance of Shias and Sunnis,” the Intercept quoted the MOIS report on the meeting as saying.

Despite this, one al-Quds Force representative insisted that it “never had any differences with the Brotherhood,” an assessment denied by Brotherhood members at the table.