After 13 years as head of the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (the IRGC-IO), Hossein Taeb has been dismissed. His replacement is one General Mohammad Kazemi, who unlike his embattled predecessor has until now kept his name largely out of the news.
Taeb made the headlines again the week before he was fired, this time not in Iran, but in Israel. News websites in that country had reported that the IRGC-IO was planning to assassinate a series of Israeli nationals in Turkey. After the story broke on June 18, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatened “forceful” retaliation if any such act was carried out.
However, although the ongoing clashes with Israel could well have been a factor in Taeb’s dismissal, domestic issues tend to outweigh foreign ones when it comes to the hiring or firing of IRGC bosses. And for the past 15 years at least, Taeb’s name has also been tied in the press to that of a very important domestic figure: Mojtaba Khamenei, the son and potential successor to Ali Khamenei. His dismissal is therefore being seen inside the Islamic Republic as one of the most significant in recent years.
A Decades-Long Association
Taeb’s relationship with Mojtaba Khamanei actually goes back 30 years. In that time he has consistently positioned himself as an ally of the Supreme Leader’s second son, and has visibly acted on Mojtaba’s wishes.
During Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s tenure as president in the 1990s, Taeb was a deputy intelligence minister. On his orders Abbas Yazdanpanah Yazdi, a British-Iranian businessman and confidant of Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, was arrested and forced to give a confession against Rafsanjani's son, Mehdi Hashemi.
Yazdanpah Yazdi’s confessions were recorded by Taeb at the time and led to the latter’s dismissal from the Intelligence Ministry. The businessman would later disappear in Dubai in summer 2012, after which he was never seen again. His confessions, however, were republished by the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency in 2015, the same year Mehdi Hashemi was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
This was to the ultimate benefit of Mojtaba Khamenei, whose father’s relationship with Rafsanjani had soured ever since the former became Supreme Leader. Then in the run-up to the 2005 presidential election, the pair worked alongside each other at the electoral campaign headquarters of then-candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad finally got the nod of approval, according to his ex-chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Taeb tried hard to become intelligence minister but was knocked back.
Ever since that campaign, Mojtaba Khamenei and Hossein Taeb have been associated with each other in their endeavors and in the Iranian public mind. Mohammad Sarafraz, a short-lived director-general of the IRIB, writes in his memoir that when he was forced to resign in 2016, he first went to Taeb.
Taeb was by now the head of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization, and Sarafraz writes that he told him: “I thank you. And since I might not meet the gentlemen, please thank Mr. Hossein Mohammadi [a member of the Office of the Supreme Leader responsible for investigations] and Haj Mojtaba for me, because you arranged it for me to leave IRIB. This deserves my thanks because you ended my problems.”
The forcing-out of Sarafraz was just the beginning. From Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hossein Karroubi, the son of detained reformist Mehdi Karroubi, public figures of all stripes in Iran have accused Taeb of helping to frame his and Mojtaba’s would-be political opponents. Even Mohammad Hossein Rostami, a former administrator of the principalist website Ammariyon, has claimed that Taeb tried to stitch up General Ali Fadavi, the second-highest commander in the IRGC.
Because of this long association, Taeb’s resignation is being read by many as having weakened Mojtaba Khamenei’s position. For now, however, this is pure guesswork. Worth noting that no official narrative as to why Taeb lost his job has yet been issued in Iranian state media.
Handover Foretold in Leaked 2018 Audio Recording
Unlike Taeb, General Mohammad Kazemi is so unassuming a figure that his picture is often mistaken for that of other IRGC commanders with similarly generic names. In February, though, his came up in the context of a leaked audio recording that made waves in Iranian political circles.
The clip featured a 2018 meeting between ex-IRGC commander-in-chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, who held the post from 2007 to 2019, and Brigadier General Sadegh Zolghadr-Nia, the IRGC’s deputy commander for economic affairs. At the time Kazemi was the head of IRGC’s Security Department which, unlike the Intelligence Organization, is responsible only for internal security, not operations outside the IRGC and/or the country.
In the recording, the pair discuss the infamous Yas Holding Company corruption case and some IRGC commanders' attempts to help cover it up. Zolghadr-Nia says that Ghalibaf – a former IRGC commander himself – was trying to use his influence with the Guards to keep the case quiet, and that Hossein Taeb was supporting him in that endeavor. They then talk about meeting “Kazem”, Mohammad Kazemi, and passing the matter over to him to deal with.
An Unmentioned Liability
In May, another audio file came to light that alleged Ghalibaf had also been sent on trips to Turkey directly on behalf of the IRGC. The publication of this tape triggered the arrest of Ali Gholhaki, a hardline journalist and operator of a number of pro-deep state, pro-IRGC Telegram channels, for alleged leaking.
Neither Ali Khamenei not any other well-positioned – including Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of the hardline newspaper Kayhan, or the IRGC’s official spokesman – mentioned Hossein Taeb by name in their discussion of either the leaks or their content. All the official reaction was devoted to preserving the reputation of the late IRGC Quds Force general Ghasem Soleimani, who was implicated in both scandals.
Meanwhile, the structure of IRGC-IO changed in recent years. In 2019, Hassan Mohaghegh was appointed as Taeb’s deputy and the body merged with the Guards’ Strategic Intelligence Command unit.
Then in 2019, a retention order for Taeb was signed by General Hossein Salami, the overall commander of the IRGC, whereas in 2009 it had been Khamenei himself who rubber-stamped the order. Kazemi’s appointment, too, is only signed by General Salami. This may signify that on the whole, the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization is now being considered less important than it once was.
The dismissal of Taeb and the appointment of Kazemi may signal further changes still. It could well reduce the controversy surrounding the organization, but whether there is to be any substantial change to its mission remains to be seen.