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Iran replaces security chief Shamkhani with IRGC official

Ali Shamkhani was heavily involved in Iranian foreign policy and will be replaced by a senior member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Ali Shamkhani (R), the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran extends his hand to Emmanuel Bonne (L), diplomatic advisor to the French president, in the Iranian capital Tehran on July 10, 2019. - Iran has breached a uranium enrichment cap set by a troubled 2015 nuclear deal and warned Europe against taking retaliatory measures, as France decided to send an envoy to Tehran to try to calm tensions. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran has replaced its top security official Ali Shamkhani, state media outlets reported on Monday, after nearly 10 years in the post. The longtime security head and interlocutor with neighboring countries has been replaced with an official from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi appointed Ali Akbar Ahmadian as the new secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Monday.

The agency did not specify why Shamkhani left the position, simply reporting that he was “replaced.” Reuters reported that Shamkhani, 67, may be considered for a different position. Later in the day, Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted that Shamkhani has been named to the Expediency Council. This is an advisory council that reports to the ayatollah.

Ahmadian, 62, heads the IRGC’s Strategic Center and is likewise a member of the Expediency Council. Ahmadian also served as the commander of the IRGC navy from 1997 to 2000 and as the IRGC’s chief of staff for seven years, according to the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency.

Why it matters: Shamkhani, a rear admiral in the Iranian navy, had served as top security adviser since 2013, and was a major force in Iranian foreign policy. In March, Shamkhani signed the China-brokered agreement that resumed relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Shamkhani also met Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in an effort to further bilateral relations and signed a security agreement with Iraq the same month.

Mohammad Javad Mousavizadeh, a DC-based analyst and contributor to the National Interest, said that Shamkhani’s dismissal by Raisi was “predictable” given that Shamkhani was appointed by Raisi’s predecessor, former President Hassan Rouhani. The move may also be related to developments in Iran’s foreign policy establishment.

“His recent activities in negotiations with the countries of the region, especially in the normalization of relations between Tehran and Riyadh, had somewhat diminished the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Mousavizadeh told Al-Monitor.

That Shamkhani was replaced by a member of the IRGC is notable. There has long been a rivalry between Iran’s military, which includes the navy, and the IRGC. In 2020, Iranian army Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari criticized the IRGC’s involvement in the Iranian economy. IRGC-affiliated companies are prominent in Iran’s industry and construction sectors.

Mousavizadeh added that the selection of Ahmadian demonstrates “increasing the political power of IRGC and hardliners.”

Know more: Shamkhani was the first Iranian of Arab descent to serve as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. He is from the city of Ahwaz in the southwest Khuzestan province, where much of Iran’s Arab community lives. The area has suffered from water scarcity and pollution issues, leading to anti-government protests in recent years.

Editor's note: this article was updated on May 22, 2023 to include information on Shamkhani being named to Iran's Expediency Council. 

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