Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.
I'm senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.
The Big Issue
The powerful intelligence arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of the armed forces, is undergoing a significant housecleaning. Ebrahim Jabbari, the head of the IRGC unit in charge of protecting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was replaced on June 27. Days earlier, the IRGC’s longtime intelligence chief, hard-line cleric Hossein Taeb, was removed. The surprise moves are the biggest reshuffle in the feared intelligence branch of the IRGC for years.
Why It Matters: The housecleaning is believed to be linked to growing infighting within the IRGC and the hard-line political camp as well as Iran’s failure to thwart a series of suspected Israeli attacks, including on its nuclear and military sites and personnel. Jabbari served as a deputy to Taeb during his tenure as head of the IRGC’s Basij militia force from 2007 to 2009. His removal could be an attempt by the IRGC to get rid of those close to Taeb, who led the IRGC’s intelligence branch for 13 years. Both Jabbari and Taeb are believed to be close to Mojtaba Khamenei, the influential son of the supreme leader who has been mentioned as a possible successor to his elderly father despite his lack of credentials.
What’s Next: There is likely to be more reshuffling in the IRGC’s intelligence arm in the days and weeks ahead. It is unclear if and how the shake-up will affect the role of the IRGC’s intelligence branch whose power has grown in recent years. Taeb’s future is also worth watching as it could offer clues about whether he will be cast aside or moved to another key position, as some hard-liners have claimed. For now, his appointment as an adviser to IRGC chief Hossein Salami appears to be a demotion.
Stories You Might Have Missed
-- Iran’s steel industry was the target of a major cyberattack on June 27. Three major steel companies were hit, disrupting their operations. A group calling itself Predatory Sparrow claimed responsibility. The group also claimed a cyberattack in October on Iran’s fuel distribution system that paralyzed gas stations nationwide. Hacker attacks on important and sensitive infrastructure in Iran have increased significantly in recent years. Iran’s railway system, an Iranian airline, the Tehran municipality, and state television have all been the targets of damaging cyberattacks in recent months. Experts have said that many of the incidents bear the hallmarks of state-sponsored attacks.
-- Activist and translator Anisha Asadollahi and her husband Keyvan Mohtadi have spent more than 50 days in detention. Asadollahi, an engineer, and Mohtadi, a worker’s rights activist, were arrested on May 9 on unknown charges. In a video published online, Asadollahi’s mother said the authorities had arrested “the country’s brightest to compensate for your own ineptitude and incompetence.” Asadollahi and Mohtadi were arrested after they worked as translators for two French nationals in Tehran. The 37-year-old Cecile Kohler and her 69-year-old partner, Jacques Paris, were arrested and charged with seeking to foment unrest in Iran. The arrests came as authorities tried to suppress anti-government protests in cities across the country against skyrocketing inflation.
What We're Watching
The United States and Iran are holding indirect talks in Qatar. The discussions come amid a push by the European Union to break an impasse in negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The negotiations come after a trip to Tehran by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. The talks in Doha will complement broader EU-mediated negotiations that have taken place in Vienna between Iran and major powers. Ahead of the negotiations in Doha, France said that it wants Iran and Venezuela, both under U.S. sanctions, to be allowed to sell their oil in international markets to help stabilize rising prices amid Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine.
Why It Matters: The talks in Qatar are significant because they are the first since March, when negotiations in Vienna between Tehran and world powers were halted amid a deadlock. Since then, Iran has continued to enrich highly enriched uranium as it nears nuclear weapons capability. Despite the high stakes, many observers have downplayed the likelihood of a breakthrough in Qatar, a scenario that will further rachet up tensions between Iran and the West.
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