The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Ministry of Defence and the Energy Ministry will join forces to develop the country’s cloud seeding capabilities, the Tasnim News Agency reported on February 17.
This announcement is nothing new. About a month ago, Rahim Hamedani, the Deputy Minister of Energy, said that many of the older Russian-made planes were going to be used for cloud seeding. Iran has been leasing these aircraft for many years.
“But Russia wanted cash payment for the silver iodide flares [flares mounted on wing racks and ignited electrically to increase precipitation.] We didn’t have the necessary funds to buy them. Ultimately, the IRGC’s Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF) decided to sponsor the project,” Hamedani said.
Reza Ardakanian, the Energy Minister, said: “We hope to complete the cloud-seeding project with IRGC’s invaluable help.” The IRGC has reportedly been conducting secret operations to develop the country’s cloud seeding capabilities. It is conceivable that the force plans to tackle the severe drought problems which affect vast regions of Iran.
This is not the first time that the IRGC has bailed out the government. The current and previous governments have had to abandon many developmental and infrastructure projects soon after they had started due to insufficient funds. It is therefore no surprise that the Ministry of Energy had to ask the IRGC, which has massive resources, to rescue the cloud-seeding project.
In September 2016, Mohammad Mehdi Javadianzadeh, the director of the Center For Cloud Seeding Research at the time, said: “It would cost $2.7 million to run the project for six months.” The goal of the project is to boost rainfall by 10 to 15 percent in a designated area of 200 square kilometers.
Close to 80 seeding flights are carried out on average every year, according to a report released in 2015. That means the cost of seeding operation in 2015 reached $36 million. The IRGC has allocated two aircraft to the fleet to replace the Ukrainian Antonov planes that had been decommissioned. The two Antonov belonged to Safat Air (a.k.a. Tehran Air).
Safat Air is a privately held company founded in 1995. The company purchased two Antonov-26 which were used to carry out seeding operations for ten years. The Ministry of Energy funded the services. Safat is also licensed to transport cargo. The airline’s main hub is the city of Yazd in central Iran.
Ahrar Conglomerate owns Safat Air. The majority of its shareholders are senior IRGC commanders, veterans of the Iran-Iraq war and former war prisoners. Ahrar is one of the major landowners in Iran. It has a massive and diverse financial portfolio. The company recently acquired a fleet of used Airbus planes from Hungary which it plans to use to create a new passenger airline. Ahrar has been embroiled in many controversies including financial irregularities, misappropriation of funds and embezzlement. The company also imports automobile parts and operates many assembly plants in Iran.
Azadegan Economic Self-reliance is one of the companies listed on Ahrar’s official website. The web page details the share prices of the company. Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi Fard is one of the founders of the Company. He is the former deputy Majlis, or Iranian Parliament, spokesman. He was appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei as the Imam of Tehran’s Friday prayers.
Azadegan is the majority shareholder in 16 companies including Ghasem Iran, Minoo Industrial Group, Minoo Sharq and Shoko Pars. There is ample evidence showing that Azadegan Economic Self-Reliance is closely linked to Ahrar.
To sum up, the Ministry of Energy has signed a contract with Safat Air for its cloud seeding project. The airline is owned by Ahrar Conglomerate which has close links to the IRGC and receives money from Azadegan Economic Self-reliance Company.