Shamkhani caught between Iranian president and IRGC

As the struggle for power between the IRGC and Rohani intensifies, Shamkhani must pick sides.
Saturday 20/07/2019
Under pressure. Iranian Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Supreme National Security Council secretary, in Tehran, last March.(AFP)
Under pressure. Iranian Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Supreme National Security Council secretary, in Tehran, last March.(AFP)

Honourable, candid and courageous, ethnically Arab Iranian Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Supreme National Security Council secretary, stands out among the ruling elite of the Islamic Republic.

Politically reliable and respected by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Shamkhani has also enjoyed a modicum of immunity.

In recent months, however, Shamkhani has been subjected to malicious gossip because of alleged misdeeds of close relatives. For now, Shamkhani appears to have survived the campaign against him in the media but his position is weakened and so is the position of his political ally Iranian President Hassan Rohani.

Shamkhani, 63, owes his career to a network of friends he made in his youth. In the mid-1970s, he joined the Mansouroun group, which engaged in small-time opposition activities against the shah’s regime. Through membership in the group, Shamkhani became acquainted with Mohsen Rezaee, who would become the IRGC’s chief commander during the war with Iraq and appointed Shamkhani to serve as his deputy.

It was during the war with Iraq that Shamkhani befriended two other key individuals: Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was commander-in-chief, and his deputy Rohani.

It was hardly surprising that Rohani appointed Shamkhani secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council in September 2013. After all, Shamkhani was politically reliable and respected in IRGC circles.

However, as the IRGC finds itself at odds with Rohani, it has begun a systematic smear campaign against the president’s closest associates. By December 16, 2018, Shamkhani was targeted by the IRGC. Yashar Soltani, a former IRGC member turned journalist, asked on Twitter: “Mr Shamkhani, are you aware of the illegal act of your son-in-law who is the owner of a property in Lavasan?”

Wealthy Lavasan, mockingly called the Beverly Hills of Iran, has very strict construction regulations to protect wildlife. This blogger claimed Shamkhani’s son-in-law used his connections to build more than double the permitted property size to increase his profit margin.

On January 11, Soltani disclosed a copy of a letter from the mayor of Lavasan, to the head of the Lavasan Justice Administration, in which the mayor complained Shamkhani’s son-in-law had prohibited municipal inspectors from entering the premises. Clearly displeased with the revelations, on January 13, the angry son-in-law and a gang of construction workers armed with shovels and picks attacked Soltani’s home in an attempt to deter him from making further tweets.

By that time, however, the story had spread to mainstream news agencies. Raja News, which is generally believed to be close to the IRGC Intelligence Organisation, released a lengthy report on the subject. A Raja News reporter visited the construction site and interviewed the chief engineer while recording on a hidden camera.

The chief engineer explained “no one respects the municipality’s construction regulations” and the municipality itself benefits financially by fining property owners, who gladly pay the fines: The profit from selling a large property is vastly bigger than the small fines owners pay the municipality.

On April 23, several Iranian news agencies, including Didgah-e Now, disclosed that the illegal construction activity in Lavasan had happened under the name of Seyed Mohammad-Taha Mir-Mohammad-Ali, who is a major creditor of the semi-bankrupted Caspian Credit Institute.

Seyed Mohammad-Taha Mir-Mohammad-Ali is the 3-year-old grandson of Ali Shamkhani, Supreme National Security Council secretary. Clearly, the Shamkhani family had used identity papers of a 3-year-old child to engage in business.

The media campaign against Shamkhani stopped as abruptly as it had begun, which shows the purpose was not the fight against corruption but a warning to Shamkhani. As the struggle for power between the IRGC and Rohani intensifies, Shamkhani must pick sides. The abrupt end of the campaign against him may indicate he has made his choice.

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