Iran's IRGC fired senior commander after Israeli sabotage operations

A report in the 'New York Times' claims an IRGC intelligence chief was sacked after sabotage attacks on nuclear and industrial sites revealed major security flaws

A ceremony in Tehran in May commemorates IRGC strategist Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, who was assassinated by the US in Iraq in January 2020. A recent US newspaper report suggests Iranian officials are evaluating the vulnerability of leading IRGC figures. AFP
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The removal of Iran‘s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence chief from his position last week may have been linked to a “relentless campaign by Israel” to undermine Iranian security, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The latest dismissal came two years after an IRGC commander was arrested for spying for Israel, the newspaper said, citing two unnamed sources.

The report claims Israel intentionally sowed division within the IRGC after conducting high risk sabotage and assassination operations within Iran, damaging the country's nuclear programme and conventional military research projects.

Iran's main site for enriching uranium and nuclear research at Natanz was hit with explosives in July 2020 and again in April 2021, both incidents blamed by Iran on Israeli saboteurs. The second attack disrupted underground operations at the site, suggesting high-level infiltration.

Concurrent to the sabotage campaign has been an effort to kill Iranian nuclear scientists and commanders in the IRGC across Iran. In November 2021, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, one of the country's senior nuclear scientists, was killed in a daylight attack with a remotely-operated machine gun, according to some accounts.

In May, Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, a high-level commander in the IRGC, was killed by an assassin on a motorbike in Tehran, a similar attack to two prior assassinations of regime officials where the assailants used motorbikes.

The attacks revealed the extent that Israeli operatives, or agents working on Israel's behalf, had infiltrated Iranian security services.

Brig Gen Ali Nasiri, a senior IRGC commander, was reportedly detained after “several dozen” Ministry of Defence employees were also arrested for allegedly leaking classified military information to Israel, the New York Times said.

The newspaper revealed Brig Gen Nasiri’s arrest after IRGC intelligence chief Hossein Taeb was relieved of his position last week following a series of high-level changes, Iranian state media said.

Mr Taeb, a mid-ranking cleric and a member of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's inner circle, was accused by some Israeli media outlets of being behind an alleged Iranian plot to kill or abduct Israelis holidaying in Turkey.

Israel raised its Istanbul travel advisory to the highest alert level on June 13.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist former vice president of Iran, told the New York Times that recent events in Iran, including a campaign of industrial sabotage and the assassination of nuclear scientists, displayed Israel’s reach in the country.

“The security breaches inside Iran and the vast scope of operations by Israel have really undermined our most powerful intelligence organisation,” Mr Abtahi told the newspaper.

“The strength of our security has always been the bedrock of the Islamic republic and it has been damaged in the past year,” he said.

Brig Gen Nasiri served 18 months in his post. Rumours circulated when he was removed from his position two years ago that he was in custody on charges of espionage.

IRGC spokesman Brig Gen Remezan Sharif called the claim that an IRGC commander had been secretly working for Israel “disgusting falsehoods”, BBC Persia reported at the time.

The allegations were also disputed by an IRGC-linked analyst who spoke to the Middle East Institute.

“These are all fake news propagated by the Israeli regime and media to prove that their claims of infiltration into Iran’s security organisations in general and theft of its top-secret atomic documents in particular were authentic,” the intelligence source said.

Updated: June 30, 2022, 6:39 AM