The recent execution of Alireza Akbari, a former deputy defense minister and an Iranian-British dual national, gave way to reports that Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), was about to resign. The council has denied such reports.
Shamkhani was appointed to the post in 2013, and his tenure coincided with one of the most turbulent times for Iran since its war against Iraq in the 1980s.
Iran was rocked by three nationwide wave of demonstrations and a series of smaller protest movements, a top military commander and a nuclear scientist were assassinated, a Ukrainian passenger flight was shot down, and Tehran reached a landmark nuclear deal with world powers which then fell apart.
But Shamkhani managed to overcome almost none of the challenges he faced while at the helm of the SNSC.
“We shoot all protesters, without exception”
During the November 2019 protests over a sudden rise in the price of gasoline, Shamkhani wrote a letter to Supreme Leder Ali Khamenei, saying that the families of some of those killed by security forces deserved compensation and other benefits because they had played no role in the “riots.”
However, member of parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi destroyed that façade of moderation when he quoted Shamkhani as telling him, “We shoot all the protesters, without exception or without concealing it.”
With the ongoing anti-government protests triggered by the September death of Mahsa Amini, hardliners grabbed the chance to call for Shamkhani’s dismissal because of his failure to suppress the demonstrations.
Ukrainian flight 752
Tensions between Tehran and Washinton reached a new height after General Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolution Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) expeditionary Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3, 2020.
Iran’s response was limited to a January 8 missile attack on an Iraqi base that housed American soldiers, a move described as “prudent” by the SNSC.
Hours later, a Ukrainian airliner was shot down by Iranian air defenses shortly after take-off from Tehran.
The SNSC had failed to close Iran's airspace on the night of the ballistic missile attack on the base, and it also played a role in hiding the truth about the disaster.
Then-Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that he met with SNSC members and the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces two days after the crash. He told them that “if the plane was really shot down, we must see how we can remedy the situation,” according to the leaked recording of an interview.
In response, SNSC spokesman Keyvan Khosravi asked him to deny that the plane was shot down by Iranian anti-aircraft missiles.
Assassination of top nuclear scientist
Security and intelligence agencies also failed to prevent the assassination of prominent Iranian figures in Iran and attacks on the country’s nuclear facilities.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was regarded the father of the Islamic Republic’s secret nuclear weapons program, was assassinated in 2020.
Shamkhani admitted that “intelligence agencies had received information" that the scientist would be targeted in the very location where he was killed, "but the enemy used a completely new, professional, and specialized style in this assassination and, unfortunately succeeded."
There have been more humiliating events for the security and intelligence agencies of the Islamic Republic.
On April 30, 2022, Israeli media outlets reported that Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, apprehended and interrogated an Iranian national inside Iran who was leading a plot to kill three individuals.
An audio recording was published online, featuring the voice of the Iranian who was identified as Mansour Rasouli. “They told me three people had to be assassinated,” he said. “One was with the Israeli Embassy in Istanbul, one was an American general in Germany and one was a journalist in France.”