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Syria spending comments trigger new round of infighting among Iranian officials

Iran's regime has spent billions of dollars on the war in Syria
Iran's regime has spent billions of dollars on the war in Syria

Analysis by PMOI/MEK

Iran, May 23, 2020—Recent remarks by former Majlis member Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh have triggered a new wave of infighting among Iranian officials, which further highlights the disarray plaguing the senior ranks of the Iranian regime.

Most notable among the reactions to Falahatpisheh’s remarks, who acknowledged that the regime might have spent $20-30 billion on the war in Syria, was a piece written by Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of Keyhan daily, known for reflecting the views and opinions of regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

In remarks published by the state-run Etemad Online, Falahatpisheh, who formerly chaired the National Security and Foreign Affairs Commission of the Majlis, said, “We may have given $20-30 billion to Syria. The money of this nation was spent there.”

The Iranian regime’s stellar spending on the Syrian war is nothing new. Since the conflict broke out in 2011, Tehran has been sending a constant flow of weapons, armed forces, and money to the country to prevent the overthrow of its ally Bashar al-Assad. According to the estimates made by the Iranian Resistance, the mullahs’ regime may have spent up to $100 billion on the Syrian war.

From denial to threats

However, the fact that a senior regime official makes this admission is notable. Khamenei is the main decision-maker in these kinds of matters. Falahatpisheh’s remarks, therefore, were directly aimed at the supreme leader himself and criticized him, which is indicative of Khamenei's waning power and hegemony among his own ranks.

Testament to the fact is Shariatmadari’s reaction. “While Mr. Falahatpisheh was a member of the National Security Commission, these kinds of non-expert comments coming from him are no surprise,” Sahriatmadari wrote in Keyhan on Friday. “But his recent remarks can hardly be attributed to his ‘lack of knowledge’ and ‘commoner’ perspective.”

Shariatmadari continued, “It’s not clear where he got this figure from? The U.S. claims that we have spent a total of $16 billion in the entire region—which is a lie of course—and they haven’t even said that we’ve spent this amount on this or that country or given it to this or that resistance group. Now, we must ask Mr. Falahatpisheh, where have you gotten the $20-30 billion from? And what is your motive for uttering such lies against your compatriots on top of what the U.S. has said?”

Shariatmadari also threatened Falahatpisheh. “In the most optimistic scenario, Mr. Falahatpisheh’s ridiculous remarks are due to his lack of knowledge and commoner thinking. Other evidence hints at are other possibilities, which are hopefully wrong,” Shariatmadari said, implicitly accusing Falahatpisheh of cooperating with the regime’s enemies.

The regime’s income from gasoline price hikes

In his remarks to Etemad Online, Falahatpisheh also discussed the gasoline price hike implemented in November, which resulted in mass protests across Iran.

“Some believe that increasing the prices of gasoline will increase the state’s revenue. I will also speak about what happens to the 2 trillion rials that is being taken out of the people’s pockets,” Falahatpisheh said. “How many economic problems do we have in the country? The increase in gasoline prices generates 2 trillion rials per day. This is the average revenue generated by the increase in gasoline prices and selling the surplus to other countries. We can distribute this 2 trillion rial to the provinces to solve their problems. This is just part of the revenue.”

The former chairman of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Commission of the Majlis thus revealed why the regime’s leaders—both Khamenei and regime president Hassan Rouhani—insisted on proceeding with increasing the price of gasoline despite opposition in the Majlis, and why the regime went as far as killing 1,500 people to quell the protests that ensued.

In this regard, a spokesperson for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) said, “These 2 trillion rials are the regime’s income from the blood of the children of the people of Iran in the November protests. The regime and its criminals must be punished for this crime.”

Khamenei is running out of options

Clearly, Falahatpisheh, one of the regime’s known officials and the former chairman of one of the key commissions of the Majlis, is no innocent—he is complicit in many of the regime’s crimes. In this regard, his comments, which came at the end of his tenure, are partly aimed at vindicating himself and distancing himself from the regime, especially at a time that the Iranian society’s hatred toward the regime and its officials is boiling to a burst. 

But the mere fact that he dares to challenge the top official of a regime that is known for suppressing any form of opposition shows how weakened and crisis-riddled Khamenei’s regime has become. This also explains why Khamenei, in his utter weakness, aims to consolidate his power in what he has called a “young and Hezbollahi” government. As Khamenei prepares to face the turbulent times that lie ahead, he is exhausting every option to keep his ranks together. And those options seem to become fewer and fewer with every passing day.