After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sudden appearance in the Iranian capital Tehran on his first visit after the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the Iranian Foreign Ministry, including foreign minister himself Mohammad Javad Zarif, was among those surprised by the visit, although such visits should be handled and organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which could mean a deliberate marginalization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to Mohammad Javad Zarif himself, and replacing its functions and powers by parallel institutions such as the Revolutionary Guard. This might be the real reason behind Zarif’s resignation yesterday after the Assad’s surprise visit and his meeting with Khamenei and other Iranian officials except him.

What was remarkable is that Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, was accompanying Assad and present with him in all his meetings with the Iranian officials. This means that the Quds Force and its leader Soleimani were responsible of coordinating and arranging this undeclared visit without informing the Foreign Ministry. And this what angered Zarif and prompted him to resign immediately.

This event can be seen as the “straw that broke the camel’s back” that has led to Zarif’s resignation due to the removal of the legal and constitutional role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran and the loss of its role among the various institutions, as well as the loss of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its functions, powers and dignity, in light of the rise of the Quds Force, which is practically running the foreign policy of Iran. The same situation can be found in the country’s internal affairs, which is run by the Basij of the Revolutionary Guard instead of the Iranian Interior Ministry!

Zarif’s resignation is an indication of the deep divisions between Iran’s policy wings, decision-makers and officials, which are dynamically rising and clearly pointing to them imbalances and conflict points. The most important sign of this resignation is the growing rise of the hard-liners as well as the Revolutionary Guard and their strong control over the country’s affairs, in contrast with the declining influence of the Iranian government and its prominent figures. This would not have happened without the approval and acceptance of the Iranian Supreme Leader and his son, Mojtaba, who works behind closed doors to expand the control and influence of the hard-liners and the Revolutionary Guard to the country’s institutions as one of the most important steps in implementing his scheme of becoming the next Supreme Leader after the departure of his father Ali Khamenei.

Zarif’s resignation in these very sensitive and critical circumstances that the country is going through can be seen as the first step to the collapse of Rouhani’s government, even though Zarif might retract his resignation later, and serious indicators of a political conflict that would divide the country even more into two conflicting parties and eventually more crises and problems. This will certainly lead to protests and popular demonstrations that could turn into an uprising against the regime because of the widening crisis and the deteriorating economic and living conditions inside Iran.

Zarif was forced to conceal the reasons behind his resignation out of fear of the Revolutionary Guard’s reaction, or of possible charges of inciting strife and division by the judiciary, which is currently run by the most hardline Iranian regime figure, Ebrahim Raisi, who is seeking to avenge President Rouhani and his government because of his defeat in the last presidential elections, especially that Raisi had confirmed the existence of fraud and violations in these elections. Raisi’s statements have clearly indicated more than once of the existing hostility towards the Rouhani government.

In order to hide the real reasons of this resignation, the Iranian media, especially those affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard and the hardline current, hastened to present false reasons to deceive the public opinion. They mentioned that the real reasons are that the Expediency Discernment Council did not reach any conclusion about Iran joining the FATF and Palermo, as well as the internal pressure and Zarif’s exposure to insults and accusations during the previous period by opponents and activists because of Rouhani’s government mismanagement to the country’s affairs and its failure in lifting the sanctions. Nonetheless, the powerful official and popular reactions to Zarif’s resignation, might force the latter to withdraw his resignation, but, in turn, this event will turn the conflict between Rouhani’s government and the Revolutionary Guard into a hostility in which each party seeks to take revenge from the other side by all means, which will make situation even worse in Iran.

Al Mezmaah Studies & Research Centre

February 26, 2019