x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Iran’s hardliners tell Zarif to steer clear of military issues

The head of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards rebukes the country's foreign minister over alleged remarks he made about the military's inability to withstand a potential American attack. Michael Theodoulou reports

The head of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Jafari, has rebuked the country’s foreign minister over alleged remarks he made about the military’s inability to withstand a potential American attack.

Mohammad Javad Zarif has also been lambasted by Iranian hardliners for suggesting that Tehran was ready to negotiate over Abu Musa, one of three Iranian-occupied Arabian Gulf islands claimed by the UAE.

Gen Jafari advised him to keep out of military issues, declaring: “We consider him an experienced diplomat, but he has no experience in the military field.”

Iranian critics of the Revolutionary Guards in turn accuse the elite force of straying into economic, social and political spheres in recent years, providing itself with overwhelming influence in how the country is run.

Mr Zarif, an urbane, US-educated diplomat, was Iran’s chief negotiator in the deal struck with world powers last month under which Tehran is to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for some respite from crippling sanctions. His critics say he offered too much for too little in return.

Hardliners have made Mr Zarif a lightning rod for their criticism of the moderate government of Hassan Rouhani, who took office as president in August pledging to improve relations with regional countries and the West.

Gen Jafari claimed that Mr Rouhani’s government was under the influence of Western ideas and fundamental change was needed. But Iranian hardliners such as Gen Jafari can only push so far. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while deeply suspicious of the US, has endorsed Mr Rouhani’s outreach to the West.

Mr Zarif was quoted by local media last week as saying that the West feared the might of the Iranian people, rather than its military defences, which he said the US could destroy with a single bomb if it wished.

The foreign minister later said this and other contentious comments attributed to him had been skewed or taken out of context and he accused his hardline critics of “slander, profanity and insults”.

Gen Jafari’s intervention flouted pointed calls by Ayatollah Khamenei and Mr Rouhani for the Revolutionary Guards to stay out of politics.

“The main threat to the revolution is in the political arena and the guards cannot stay silent in the face of that,” he said.

Gen Jafari also said Iran would not relent in its support of its key Arab ally, President Bashar Al Assad of Syria.

He added that Iran’s missiles can reach Israel, but maintained that the country’s current military restraint meant the US and Western Europe were beyond Iranian strikes.

“We can still upgrade the range of missiles but for the time being on the order of the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei) we have limited the range of our missiles to 2,000 kilometres.”