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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Are Senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Figures Defecting? Were Others Arrested?

Filed under: Iran

Are Senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Figures Defecting? Were Others Arrested?
Right to left: The “deserting” generals Ali Nasiri, former commander of the Ansar-al-Mahdi Protection Unit of the IRGC’s Intelligence Protection Organization; Mustafa Rabiei, former commander of the IRGC’s Supervisory Unit; Mohammad Tawallaii, former commander of the IRGC’s Strategic Affairs and Surveillance Division.

Since Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was designated a terror organization, several reports have circulated, mainly outside of Iran, on the flight of IRGC’s senior commanders to other countries and the arrest of others. Meanwhile, several structural and personal changes made in the IRGC could be connected to internal problems it is undergoing. Israel’s name crops up regarding some cases. IRGC spokesman Ramazan Sharif has denied the reports.  

IRGC spokesman
IRGC spokesman: “baseless reports.”1

Farsi-language reports by opposition elements in the social networks claim that Mohammad Tawallaii, deputy commander of the IRGC’s Strategic Affairs and Surveillance Department, was “arrested” in Iran after a yearlong investigation revealed that he had helped the Israeli Mossad smuggle the nuclear archive out of Iran and bring it to Israel.

Ali Javanmardi, who founded the site, lives in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and is a senior Farsi-language reporter for the Voice of America. Based on “exclusive” information that apparently reached him from senior figures in Iraqi Kurdistan, he reported that frantic investigations in Iran since the smuggling of the archive to Israel had led Iran’s intelligence chiefs to conclude that Tawallaii is the senior Iranian figure who cooperated with Israel. Javanmardi added that, after being under surveillance, Tawallaii was recently arrested. Iranian exiles say that Tawallaii felt himself to be in danger and was arrested while preparing to leave Iran.

Several weeks earlier, opposition elements reported that General Ali Nasiri, who until then was head of the IRGC’s Ansar-al-Mahdi Protection Unit, had fled Iran with very sensitive information about the IRGC so he could provide it to a “foreign country” and in return receive political asylum. The IRGC “denied” this a few days after the report and made a point of publishing a photo in which Nasiri is present at the ceremony in which Hossein Salami was appointed IRGC commander. A day earlier Nasiri’s position was awarded to a different commander named Fathallah Jamari who had been the commander of the IRGC unit in the Yazd Province, central Iran.   

Ali Nasiri (sitting behind the cleric and commander Hossein Taib and not far from Gen. Qasem Soleimani)
After many reports on the desertion of Gen. Ali Nasiri (sitting behind the cleric and commander Hossein Taib and not far from Gen. Qasem Soleimani) with “very sensitive information,” this photo was published to “prove” that he was in Iran.

Denies Fleeing from Iran

Nevertheless, the Iranian opposition continues to claim that Nasiri fled earlier to one of the neighboring countries with sensitive security information and that the Iranian regime, aware of how great the danger was, has been holding his family hostage in Iran while conveying a threat to Nasiri that if he does not immediately return, their lives will be in jeopardy. It seems that he returned and was present at the ceremony marking the replacement of the IRGC commanders.

Denying the rumors about Nasiri’s desertion
Fars News – denying the rumors about Nasiri’s desertion

Since then, however, Nasiri’s tracks have again disappeared, notwithstanding the regime’s claims that he is continuing to serve in the IRGC in another post. In April, the Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, also posted a voice file in which (ostensibly) Nasiri is heard denying that he fled Iran and saying he was reassigned as part of a routine procedure and denying that the change stems from a conflict between him and previous IRGC Commander Ali Jafari.2

Iranian exiles further claimed that not long ago Mustafa Rabiei, head of the Intelligence Protection Organization, had fled Iran. On May 8, 2019, official Iranian news sites announced that Rabiei had been given a different post and replaced by Reza Soleimani.

Attempting to Sully the IRGC

In light of the many reports about the desertion and flight of senior IRGC commanders, on June 11, 2019, IRGC spokesman Sharif issued an official statement in which he denied the claims that senior commanders had been arrested or had fled Iran. The statement said, “In an attempt to sully the IRGC and downplay the widespread support it enjoys both within and outside of Iranian public opinion, Iran’s enemies were resorting to an all-too-familiar tactic of using unreliable media and social networks to spread rumors about IRGC commanders, senior officials, and families especially in light of the new appointments in the organization.”3

Sharif explicitly mentioned the commanders Ali Nasiri, Mustafa Rabiei, and Mohammad Tawallaii, asserting, “These dear commanders are fine people and active members of the IRGC who are fulfilling their new roles, and from time to time reports are issued on their activity.”4

Since Hossein Salami’s appointment as IRGC commander, the organization has seen many personnel changes. On May 16, 2019, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who also serves as supreme commander of the Iranian armed forces, appointed Ali Fadavi (former commander of the IRGC Navy) as deputy commander of the IRGC and Mohammad Reza Nakdi as deputy coordinator of its Supreme Headquarters.  

As Iranian-U.S. tensions escalate in the Persian Gulf, the IRGC-affiliated news agencies, Fars and Tasnim, have also reported on a restructuring of the organization for a possible clash with the United States and growing unrest and anti-regime sentiments. Among other things, the restructuring has even further bolstered the status of cleric and senior commander Hossein Taib, who for years has held the important post of commander of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization.5

The reports on desertions by senior IRGC figures, the great efforts by senior IRGC officials to deny these, and the recent organizational structural changes may reflect disagreements and struggles within its ranks. These may be related to internal disputes on how to deal with the United States mounting pressure and the growing impact of the sanctions on the restless Iranian population.

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