The head of the IRGC Aerospace Force has claimed that Hassan Rouhani was reprimanded in front of top generals during his tenure as president and warned not to “defame” the Revolutionary Guards.
In a newly-published interview with the ultraconservative Kayhan newspaper, Amir Ali Hajizadeh described a behind-closed-doors meeting between Rouhani and IRGC commanders Mohammad Ali Jafari, Ghasem Soleimani, Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar and Ismail Koswari, as well a himself. News of the meeting – but not its content – had been broadcast at the time on July 24, 2017, not two weeks before Rouhani’s swearing-in for his second term.
At the time, Rouhani had been locked in an escalating, in indirect, war of words with the IRGC: an unelected, unaccountable paramilitary body with huge influence over Iran’s domestic and foreign policy. Critically on June 22, he had accused his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of handing over the economy and the Iranian media to “a government with a gun”.
In his interview with Kayhan, Hajizadeh said: “If you remember, the Supreme Leader had made a speech. The next week, Mr. Rouhani took a stand against it, trashing the IRGC and attacking new insiders every day." During the meeting at the end of July, the IRGC commander said, Ghasem Soleimani’s response had been “very clear and sharp”.
"Hassan Rouhani was told not to hit himself," he said. “We all told him, don’t self-harm. We have the power and capacity to help your government... It doesn’t matter to us which government it is. One should not waste another’s strength.”
But then, he said, the consortium of IRGC heads issued Rouhani with a warning: “Then we said that if you say these things, it will not be tolerated. You object every day. Defending the revolution, and the nation, and the system, and the Leadership, is our red line. Do not assume you’ll always be able to say these things, and we’ll be silent.”
Notably, Hajizadeh also claimed that Ghasem Soleimani had demanded of Rouhani: “Mr. Rouhani! Do you want to follow the path of Ahmadinejad? Do you want to be like him?”. The sixth president of the Islamic Republic had ended his tenure with a spectacular fallout with the IRGC and the Supreme Leader, whose support he had previously enjoyed. So badly did this impact his political standing that the Guardian Council disqualified him for the 2021 presidential election.
In the same interview, Hajizadeh also said Ghasem Soleimani had argued with both Hassan Rouhani and Mahmoud Admadinejad (in his second term) over financing for the Quds Force, the IRGC’s expeditionary arm, and its proxy militias. “Because of the poisonous propaganda, many people asked, ‘Why are they taking our money abroad? Why is it important for us to go to Syria?’ Have Why it matters to us so that we should go to Syria? Have we forgotten the slogan ‘Neither Gaza nor Lebanon’?"
The slogan Hazijadeh refers to – “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I give my life to Iran!” – was popularized at pro-democracy protests from 2009 onward. Many Iranian citizens are opposed to the Islamic Republic’s adventurism and military interventions in countries on its doorstep, which has come at an untold cost to the country’s reputation, the public purse, and of course human life.
Hajizadeh said Soleimani and colleagues had faced a “very heavy workload” in publicly justifying these incursions into foreign territory – and in deciding how far to tell the truth. “We didn’t know under what title we ought to bring back and bury the first martyrs of the Syrian war. Should we say they had an accident in Kurdistan? What happened? Where should they have come from?”
Hassan Rouhani and ex-officials in his government have yet to respond.