Muhammad Sahimi writes: Two important developments in Iran have finally brought into open a simmering issue that has divided the Iranian leadership since at least 2011. First, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fired Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, his deputy for Arab and African Affairs. Amir-Abdollahian had led Iran’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria. Less than a day later, on Monday, June 20, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, issued an angry and blunt statement in which he threatened Bahrain’s rulers, declaring that they would pay a heavy price for their decision to revoke citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shia majority.
The two seemingly unrelated developments are actually tightly linked. They represent another manifestation of the fierce power struggle in Iran between President Hassan Rouhani and his reformist and moderate supporters, and the hard-liners led by the high command of the IRGC and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. More importantly, however, they also bring to light a deepening rift in the Islamic Republic’s leadership over Syria’s fate and, more specifically, that of President Bashar al-Assad.
The image presented in the West about Iran’s intervention in Syria and its support for Assad’s government is that, despite many fissures over domestic issues, the Iranian leadership is completely unified when it comes to Iran’s strategic interests in the region, in particular Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah. This is in fact far from reality. Similar to almost all other issues, there has always been a rift between the moderates and reformists on the one hand, and the hard-liners on the other. [Continue reading…]