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Iran: Why Was SNSC Chief Ali Shamkhani Replaced With Ali Akbar Ahmadian?  

ali shamkhani ali akbar ahmadian iran nsc (1) 

On Monday, it was officially announced that Ali Shamkhani, The Secretary of the Iranian regime’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), has been replaced by Ali Akbar Ahmadian, a top Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commander. Who is Shamkhani, why was he removed from the highest security position in Iran, and who is Ahmadian?  

There have been many speculations about Shamkhani’s dismissal and how and when it happened. For months, there have been rumors that Shamkhani will be booted from the regime’s NSC, causing much stir in the regime.  

The situation reached its peak last week when Shamkhani posted a poem on his Twitter account, tacitly speaking about “Being told to leave and left.” A few hours later, the state-run Nour News website, affiliated with Iran’s NSC, announced that Shamkhani would soon leave his position. In less than 24 hours, it was officially announced that Ahmadian would replace him.  

The clerical regime’s Supreme National Security Council oversees the regime’s most pivotal issues, from foreign policy to domestic unrest, and it only reports to supreme leader Ali Khamenei. The question is that amid a nationwide uprising and Tehran’s growing international isolation, why would Khamenei dismiss Shamkhani?  

Some attribute Shamkhani’s dismissal to “security breaches.” In January, the regime hanged Alireza Akbari, Shamkhani’s advisor during his tenure as Mohammad Khatami’s Minister of Defense, on charges of espionage. Akbari, an Iranian-British national, was accused of giving valuable intelligence on the regime’s nuclear and military programs to the United Kingdom for over a decade.  

Although important, this fact cannot lead to Shamkhani’s dismissal, given his powerful position and close ties with Khamenei. This accusation was rejected by Ismail Khatib, Ebrahim Raisi’s Minister of Intelligence, who  praised Shamkhani’s “special efforts in the national security issues.”  

The most probable and important reason behind Shamkhani’s firing is the regime’s increasing infightings. Khamenei tried to consolidate power in his regime by handpicking members of parliament and appointing Raisi as president. From the first days of Raisi’s presidency, there were rumors about rising tensions between Shamkhani and Raisi.  

According to the state-run Etemad newspaper on May 23, “Some believe that there was dissatisfaction about Shamkhani’s actions at the establishment’s top levels.” “It happened so fast, and the transition of power from Shamkhani to Ahmadian was very odd. It was strangely reported and happened at a perilous time,” the paper adds.  

When the IRGC-affiliated Fars News agency was hacked a few months ago, a classified document revealed that Khamenei wasn’t happy about Shamkhani’s performance and his “delay and lack of movement” during the anti-regime protests that began in September.”  

Who is Shamkhani? 

Born in 1955 in Khuzestan, southwest Iran, Shamkhani had close ties with people who would become regime officials after the 1979 revolution. Thus, he soon joined Ruhollah Khomeini’s inner circle and was among the IRGC’s founders. He also served as one of the top commanders during the Iran-Iraq war. Some of the positions he had throughout the years are as follows:  

  • Commander of the IRGC Navy with the rank of rear admiral. 
  • Commander of both the Army Navy and the IRGC Navy. 
  • the Minister of Revolutionary Guards in 1988. 
  • Minister of Defense from August 1997 to August 2005 in the government of Mohammad Khatami. 
  • Director of the Iranian Armed Forces’ Center for Strategic Studies from 2005 to 2013. 
  • Military advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. 
  • Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) since September 10, 2013, appointed by the regime’s then-President Hassan Rouhani. 

Following the US airstrike that killed IRGC’s Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq on January 3, 2020, in a statement to the Fars News Agency on January 6, Shamkhani warned that the response would be a “historic nightmare” for the US. He emphasized that even the weakest of the proposed scenarios would have significant consequences, with retaliation expected from all resistance forces. The Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) was evaluating 13 revenge scenarios at the time. 

On January 10, 2020, the US State Department expanded sanctions under Executive Order 13876, targeting Shamkhani, seven other individuals, 22 entities, three vessels pursuant to Executive Order 13871, and a Chinese steel trading organization under the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act. 

Further, on February 20, 2020, the US Treasury Department extended sanctions under Executive Order 13876, including Shamkhani, along with other individuals. This action followed the disqualification of several thousand electoral candidates by Iran’s Guardian Council. 

During a news conference in Baghdad on March 7, 2020, after a meeting with Iraqi politicians, Shamkhani expressed the view that “Zionists are against regional security.” 

Shamkhani is one of the most corrupt regime officials who control a huge financial empire. His sons control a major maritime company and several affiliates and confidants run corporations under pseudo-identities aimed at helping the regime to evade international sanctions. 

The presence of luxury residences, known as “busty hills,” scattered throughout Iran highlights the prevalent corruption in the country. A notable case exposing this corruption involves Shamkhani and his associates. During a period of internal discord within the regime, two young clerics from a rival faction revealed the extent of Shamkhani and his family’s illicit activities. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) released a comprehensive report documenting these revelations. 

According to the report published by the state-run Ensaf News website on March 6, 2019, Milad Goodarzi, a member of Sadr al-Sadati’s “Justice Seeking Youth,” disclosed information about lavish villas and luxury houses located in Tehran’s Lavasan area, commonly referred to as busty hills. Goodarzi personally visited Lavasan to investigate the opulent properties associated with Shamkhani and his partners. During his visit, he encountered Shamkhani’s son-in-law, Hassan Mir Mohammad Ali, who attempted to distance himself from the issue but inadvertently provided crucial insights during his discussions. 

It should be noted that Hassan Mir Mohammad Ali, who is married to Shamkhani’s daughter, holds considerable prominence as a renowned builder of luxurious villas in the Lavasan district. 

Who is Ali Akbar Ahmadian, Shamkhani’s successor?  

The new Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council was born in 1960 in Kerman province. During the revolution, he was a 17-year-old student. Following the revolution and the onset of the Iraq war, Ahmadian left school and university to join the frontlines. 

In 1981, after the Fatah al-Mobin operation [Arabic for major triumph] in the Iran-Iraq war, the General Command of the IRGC entrusted Ahmadian with the responsibility of organizing, coordinating, and appointing commanders and the command council for the 6th IRGC region, covering Hormozgan, Kerman, and Sistan and Baluchistan provinces. Subsequently, he was appointed as the head of this region’s headquarters. 

Ahmadian, like many recruits from Kerman province, served in the 41st Army of Tharullah and was close to the slain IRGC Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani. 

He has been active in the IRGC Navy since 1984. In 1985, when Khomeini ordered the separation of the IRGC into three forces, Ahmadian remained with the navy and assumed the position of manager of the Nouh Garrison, an amphibious base. 

Some consider him to be one of the key figures behind the transformation of the IRGC Navy and an early proponent of the concept of asymmetric defense. He succeeded Ali Shamkhani as commander of the IRGC Navy. 

Ahmadian and Shamkhani worked together until 1997 when Shamkhani joined Mohammad Khatami’s cabinet as the Minister of Defense. In the same year, Ahmadian was appointed as the commander of the IRGC Navy by order of Khamenei. He held this position until the summer of 2001, and then from 2001 to 2007, he served as the head of the Joint Staff of the IRGC. 

In 2005, he was the commander of Imam Hossein University when it became part of the Revolutionary Guards. 

In September 2006, he was appointed as the head of the IRGC’s strategic center by order of Khamenei. In November, Khamenei appointed Ahmadian as a member of the regime’s Expediency Council, paving his way for higher positions.  Many state-run media speculated at that time that Khamenei intended to replace Shamkhani with Ahmadian.  



The regime’s attempts to downplay the removal of Shamkhani and his replacement with a lower-level IRGC commander as routine are deceptive. Shamkhani’s defiance against Khamenei’s favored president, Raisi, and his meeting with the rival faction during the nationwide uprising after the state-sanctioned murder of Mahsa Amini in September, infuriated Khamenei. The Supreme Leader’s demand for an unchallenged “consolidated system” leaves no room for dissent, rendering even the slightest deviation unacceptable. This power struggle exposes the regime’s internal fractures and the clash of hegemonic aspirations. 

The dismissal of Shamkhani as a top security official reveals the escalating internal conflicts and crises within the regime. Khamenei’s pursuit of a “consolidated” ruling system raises questions. If Khamenei cannot tolerate top-ranking officials like Shamkhani, a career criminal and a close confidant, it begs the question of whether the regime’s deep-seated divisions will resurface in the near future.