The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

The attempted resignation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif didn’t come as a complete surprise. It reflects the utter supremacy of the Revolutionary Guard in the Iranian political sphere.

The resignation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif didn’t come as a complete surprise. While Zarif may now remain his position, the resignation episode reflects heated discourse within the regime over the Financial Action Task Force law. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s camp, of which Zarif is a senior member, worked with all its might to advance the law, the opposition camp – particularly the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its foreign arm, the Quds Force – has worked feverishly to shelve it. Ultimately the regime’s Assembly of Experts of the Leadership, whose job it is to ratify Iranian parliamentary legislation, quashed the law and ruled in favor of the IRGC.

The law was supposed to have forced Iran’s banking system – known for its money laundering services on behalf of the IRGC – to abide international obligations and would have put an end to the current situation whereby Iranians banks serve as an important conduit for the financing of terror. By pursuing financial ties with Iran, in the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord, European companies put themselves in jeopardy of heavy punitive measures by the United States. A commitment of this sort, suffice it to say, is unacceptable to the IRGC and those in Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s close circle.

The latter are afraid that ratifying the law would bar Iran from continuing to fund its transnational network of militias, primarily Shiite, and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. This financial support, estimated at billions of dollars, is a central component of Iranian foreign policy and its strategic efforts to export the Islamic revolution across the region.

In recent months, Zarif, for whom the nuclear deal was the crown jewel of his political career, has tried signaling his camp’s desire to implement a more pragmatic approach. Consequently, disagreement on this issue led him to butt heads with the Khamenei camp.

In his first comments following his resignation, Zarif explained that being kept out of the loop regarding Assad’s surprise visit to Tehran hindered his ability to continue serving as foreign minister. It appears this was simply a catalyst expediting his desire to step down that the real reason for his resignation was the denial of the FATF proposal to outlaw money laundering. The built-in tension between the foreign minister and the IRGC, specifically the Quds Force, was a thorn in Zarif’s side from his first day in office in 2013. It is known, for example, that the appointment of foreign envoys is dependent on the IRGC’s approval. Additionally, in light of the IRGC’s dominance in Syria and in Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Zarif played a relatively minor role in determining the country’s policy.

As of the writing of these lines, certain political circles in Iran were trying to keep Zarif in office. His resignation, if approved by Rouhani, will mark a watershed moment – along with other developments in the Iranian political sphere – indicating the IRGC’s utter supremacy in Iranian politics.

In line with its growing status in the Iranian regime, it’s safe to infer that the IRGC will also hold considerable sway on another important matter in the near future: determining Khamenei’s successor.

Israel has no choice but to turn the spotlight, with an emphasis on the political and public discourse in key Western countries, on the IRGC and its positions on this and others matter, including the IRGC’s proclivity for terrorist activity on European soil.


Published in Israel Hayom 27.02.2019

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 photo: מהרדאד ח’לילי, twitter