August 14, 2020

Tensions between president Rouhani and Iran's Revolutionary Guard spill into open

Tensions between the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guard spilled into the open on Monday as the president’s office accused the elite military force of misleading them over the accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner. As protesters took to the streets for a third consecutive day, allies of Hassan Rouhani, the democratically elected president, appeared to be directing the public’s anger towards their more hardline rivals in the Revolutionary Guard. A spokesman for Mr Rouhani said the Revolutionary Guard had falsely told the president they were not involved as he tried to explain why Iran spent the first days after the crash denying any responsibility for the 176 deaths. ”All relevant authorities had assured us that there had been no missile involved in the downing of the Ukrainian plane,” said Ali Rabiei, the government spokesman. Meanwhile, a leaked recording appeared to show a Revolutionary Guard officer complaining that Mr Rouhani’s administration was leaving them out to dry as they faced widespread fury over the downing of Flight PS752. Hassan Rouhani’s government has been at odds with the Revolutionary Guard for years Credit: PRESIDENT OFFICE HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX The recording, published by the Iranian opposition site Pyk Net, purports to capture an unnamed Revolutionary Guard commander addressing a room full of his comrades and urging them to weather the political storm. “The statement by the government admitting the cause of air crash was disgraceful,” he said. “The statement should not have blamed the entire Revolutionary Guard and could have just said it was the fault of one individual.” The commander goes on to suggest that the government could have waited “two or three months” before announcing the real cause of the crash to allow the Guard more time to bask in public support after the killing of Qassim Soleimani and the missile barrage fired against US forces in Iraq. He added that the Rouhani administration was failing to show gratitude to the Revolutionary Guard for crushing anti-government protests late last year. Several hundred civilians, maybe as many as a thousand, were killed during the crackdown. “The November protests were caused by the Rouhani government but the Revolutionary Guard sacrificed itself and put them down, but this time the government is so passive in the face of the attacks on the Revolutionary Guard,” he said. Iranians shout slogans against the government after a vigil held for the victims Credit: Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Gelare Jabbari, an Iranian state television anchor, also dramatically resigned from her post amid the outrage. “It was very hard for me to believe the killing of my countrymen. I apologise for lying to you on TV for 13 years,” she said. Two female protesters were reportedly shot and wounded in Tehran on Sunday night while students staged a large protest on Monday on the campus of Sharif University in Tehran, widely considered one of Iran’s top academic institutions. Netblocks, an internet freedom group, said the internet appeared to be partially cut off at Sharif University, in what appeared to be an attempt by authorities to stop news of the protests spreading. Tensions between the relatively moderate government and the more hardline Revolutionary Guard have been building for years as Mr Rouhani advocated diplomacy with the West, and Guard commanders called for continuing isolation. Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, threatened to resign last year after Soleimani took his place in a meeting with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian ruler. But faced with widespread public anger over the fate of Flight PS752 – and with parliamentary elections looming in February – the two sides appear to be at particularly bitter odds. “For Rouhani, I think this really represents quite a unique chance to get back at the Guard, the first since President Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, which invalidated Rouhani’s strategy of negotiating with the West,” said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at Le Beck geopolitical consulting firm. “The Revolutionary Guard have been gaining even more influence since the US withdrawal, and Rouhani will not pass this opportunity to discreetly hit the powerful Revolutionary Guards where it hurts.”

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