Iranian Election Preview

Jun 12, 2009 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

June 12, 2009
Number 06/09 #05

Today’s Update offers some important background on the Iranian presidential election taking place today.

First up, veteran British journalist and author Con Coughlin reminds everyone of something largely forgotten in most of the media coverage of the election – namely that 475 Iranians put their names forward to run for the presidency but only four of these 475 were actually allowed by the ruling clerics to run. As Coughlin points out, this is a “potemkin’s election”, designed to ensure the preservation of Khomenei’s Islamist revolutionary establishment, regardless of what the population wants. For this important reminder of what the Iranian election actually amounts to, CLICK HERE.

Next up, a former leader of that Islamist establishment writes about one of the ways it stays in power – via a network of internal clandestine agencies which kill, torture, disappear and imprison dissidents. Mohsen Sazegara, one of the founders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, has reason to know, as he suffered the depredations of these shadowy security forces before he fled the country. He points out that, in fact, the experience of the Khatami presidency suggest that these agencies will become more, not less, active if a reformer defeats Ahmadinejad in today’s election. For this valuable insider’s view of the hidden side of the Iranian regime, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Ephraim Asculai, a top Israeli academic expert on proliferation issues, looks at the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports into Iran’s, and Syria’s, nuclear efforts. Asculai says the degree of Iranian progress in uranium enrichment reported by the IAEA (where Asculai used to work) makes stopping its nuclear program look more and more difficult. He also points to some new findings in Syria of processed uranium at an additional site to the nuclear reactor bombed by Israeli in 2007, and discusses the possible implications of this find. For his full analysis, CLICK HERE. The Investor’s Business Daily has an editorial on the IAEA report which is highly critical of IAEA efforts.

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Iran’s Potemkin Election

Only candidates vetted by the ruling clerics have been allowed to stand.


Wall Street Journal, JUNE 11, 2009

After suffering three decades of international isolation and unremitting Islamic revolution, millions of pro-democracy voters in Iran were supposed to have the opportunity in this Friday’s presidential election to express their disenchantment with religious dictatorship. It is not to be. The guardians of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolution will remain deeply entrenched.

The leading candidate is the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was a founding member of the Revolutionary Guards and got to know Khomeini during the American embassy siege (he was not directly involved in the hostage-taking itself). Meanwhile, the country’s all-powerful supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was installed directly at the behest of Khomeini to be his successor shortly before the latter’s death in June 1989.

Khomeini’s heirs have maintained their iron grip of power, which has enabled them to uphold his guiding principles as well as export the Iranian revolution to places such as Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq. They are also pressing ahead with the development of a controversial nuclear program.

To be sure, decades of incessant revolutionary activity has taken its toll on the Iranian people, the vast majority of whom were born after 1979. Apart from having to live under a regime where political opposition is brutally oppressed, adulterers are regularly stoned to death, and the limbs of petty criminals amputated in public, the vast majority of ordinary Iranians do not desire to live in a country that is regarded as an international pariah and is constantly subjected to the privations of economic sanctions.

It was for this reason that expectations for the presidential election were running high both inside Iran and throughout the wider world. Many hoped it would be a watershed moment when Iran’s people could force a dramatic change of direction in the way the country is governed. Trying to encourage the moderates to gain the upper hand in Tehran has, after all, been the holy grail of Western policy makers for decades.

The administration of George W. Bush had hopes of helping Iran’s Internet generation (Iran is one of the world’s leading blogging nations) to have its voice heard above the regime’s repressive strictures, a policy that’s continuing under President Barack Obama. It hasn’t worked.

Some 475 candidates put their names forward to become the country’s seventh post-revolutionary president. They included Mohammed Khatami, the moderate politician who served for two terms as Iran’s president from 1997.

However, it was Mr. Khatami’s surprise victory then that prompted the hard-liners around Supreme Leader Khamenei to implement measures that would prevent moderates from gaining power again. Thus, for the past two elections to the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) the Revolutionary Guards — who are controlled directly by Mr. Khamanei — have carefully vetted all the candidates to ensure only those with the right revolutionary credentials are allowed to stand.

Now the regime, in the form of the Guardian Council, which is charged with upholding the tenets of Khomeini’s revolution, has employed the same tactic ahead of the presidential election: Of the original 475 applicants only four candidates have survived the cull. All of them have revolutionary credentials beyond reproach.

There is of course the 52-year-old Mr. Ahmadinejad. He is widely expected to win re-election.

Mohsen Rezaie, 55, is a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards. He is subject to an international arrest warrant issued by the Argentine goverment in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires which killed 85 people and injured 151.

Mir Hossein Musavi, 67, is a conservative hard-liner who served as Iran’s prime minister under the Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s and frequently clashed with Khamenei, then the president of Iran, over various issues including improved relations with the U.S.

Finally there is Mahdi Kharroubi, 72, a former speaker of parliament. He enjoys the distinction of having been a close confidant of both Khomeini and Mr. Khamenei.

As a result of the Guardian Council’s intervention, Iran’s voters are left with a Potemkin election in which the survival of the guardians of Khomeini’s Islamic revolution is guaranteed. And just in case there was any possibility that the Internet generation might be tempted to mobilize disenchanted voters, the authorities have taken the precaution of closing the Facebook Web site for the duration of the campaign.

All of this makes for an unpleasant situation in the White House, which is still clinging to the hope that it can establish a constructive dialogue with Tehran. Since coming to office, Mr. Obama has gone out of his way to extend the hand of friendship to Iran, pledging that he is prepared to open direct negotiations with Iran if Tehran would be prepared, as he said in his inaugural speech, to “unclench its fist.”

But to date Mr Obama has received precious little in return from Iran for this extravagant gesture. When not celebrating the launch of ballistic missiles capable of hitting Israel, Mr. Ahmadinejad has remained defiant about Iran’s right to develop its illicit nuclear program, repeatedly rejecting proposals to freeze its activities in return for an easing of economic sanctions.

No matter who wins this “election,” Mr. Obama should expect more of the same.

Mr. Coughlin is the executive foreign editor of the Daily Telegraph in London and the author of “Khomeini’s Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam” (Ecco, 2009

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Dark side of a reformist win in Iran

By Mohsen Sazegara

Boston Globe
, June 10, 2009

ON FRIDAY, my fellow Iranians will cast their vote for the Islamic Republic’s next president. If some of the polls are to be believed, the victor may very well be a reformist, either former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi or former Parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi.

A reformist victory would bring a thankful end to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, but there ought not be any illusions about the impact Mousavi or Karroubi could have on Iranian society. As was made clear during the presidency of Ahmadinejad’s reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, the conservative establishment does not go quietly into the opposition when its candidates lose.

For all the reforms made during the Khatami era, real power in Iran never left the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The supreme leader’s conservative allies retained control over the security forces, as well as the judiciary and the media, and simply circumvented the rule of law when their stranglehold on the country was challenged.

The violation of Iranian and international law by Khamenei loyalists was rampant between 1997 and 2005. Throughout Khatami’s presidency, a vast parallel intelligence apparatus operated beyond the authority of the government, brutally intimidating and silencing those viewed as critical of the regime.

Few in the West will probably have heard of this shadow intelligence world. Though the existence of clandestine agents was not a secret in Iran, there is little official documentation of their activities or identities. Yet I can say that I know of what I speak.

In 2003, I was one of their victims. I was illegally detained by agents and held captive in notorious Section 325 of Tehran’s Evin Prison for 114 days, 56 of them in solitary confinement.

Many fellow Iranians suffered through similar ordeals, or worse. That much has been made clear in the many stories told to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, which has made a laudable effort to record the abuses committed in Section 325 and other secret detention facilities.

Violent treatment was a staple of the clandestine agents’ interrogation methods, and was designed to coerce victims into confessing to contrived criminal charges. Torture, however, was not the only tactic used by parallel intelligence units. In addition to running at least half a dozen illegal detention facilities, agents also conducted warrantless investigations, surveillance, arrests, and searches and seizures of property.

As is now clear, the clandestine agents were far from rogue operatives. The testimonies collected by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center point to the organizational and operational involvement of a number of agencies controlled by the Office of the Supreme Leader.

The Revolutionary Guard, which I helped establish 30 years ago, was involved. So, too, were the Iranian Army, Khamenei-allied police units, and the Basij and Ansar-i Hizbullah paramilitary groups. The ranks of the parallel intelligence apparatus also included Khamenei loyalists in the Ministry of Intelligence, Ministry of Defense, judiciary, and state-run media. With these agencies effectively controlled by the Office of the Supreme Leader, the conservative establishment simply circumvented the Khatami government in its brutal campaign to silence the voices of reform.

In 2005 the clandestine intelligence activities were sharply curtailed, but the return to the rule of law was hardly the result of a change in policy. With a fellow hard-liner in the president’s office, Khamenei and his allies could pursue their agenda through the halls of power, and had little need for the illegal parallel intelligence apparatus.

That may very well change if Mahmoud Ahmedinajad is voted out of office. One can only wonder what may transpire if a reformist slate is indeed victorious in the upcoming elections.

I would not presume to know the thoughts of Ali Khamenei, but I do know what the supreme leader’s henchmen are capable of – and it is that knowledge that makes me shudder at the prospect of a Mousavi or Karroubi presidency.

Mohsen Sazegara co-founded the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and served the Islamic Republic in a number of government positions, including deputy prime minister for political affairs. 

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World Passivity in the Face of Advanced Nuclear Challenges

Ephraim Asculai

INSS Insight No. 112,
June 8, 2009

With the countries of the world looking on, Iran reached its next serious milestone: the accumulation of enough low enriched uranium (LEU) to enable it to further enrich it and produce one Significant Quantity (S.Q.), or 25 kilograms, of high enriched uranium (HEU). This is considered the quantity that is sufficient for the production of one core for an HEU-based nuclear explosive device. The Iranians reached this milestone some months earlier than expected, due mainly to their efficiency in installing and operating a large number of gas centrifuges, the machines that perform the enrichment operation.

This assessment is based on the information contained in the latest (June 5, 2009) report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). At the present time Iran has no reason to produce HEU, since it would be more reasonable for it to accumulate a much larger quantity of LEU, and then enrich it in one batch to a quantity of HEU, sufficient for building a small arsenal of nuclear weapons. Should Iran decide that it wants to further enrich LEU to HEU, it could transform some of the operating LEU cascades (agglomerations of centrifuges), and complete the HEU enrichment in much less than a year. It would probably reason that it needs two explosive devices for underground nuclear tests (the second comes in case of the failure of the first) and then an additional one or two, as a deterrent or for actual use.

The information contained in the IAEA report suggests that four S.Q.s could be produced by the end of 2011 or even somewhat earlier. This could certainly happen if the world continues with the mild and ineffective actions ostensibly intended to prevent Iran from reaching further milestones. In the short term, the world is waiting for Iran’s upcoming presidential elections, yet the fact is that no real change can be expected since more than the president, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is the de-facto ruler of Iran, and it is his decisions that matter. In addition, the Supreme Leader controls the Revolutionary Guards, who control the weapons of mass destruction production and deployment, including the missiles of Iran. The change that could come out of the elections is a change of tone to one more conciliatory towards the West that could further lull it into thinking that there is a chance for a complete halt, if not a rollback of the nuclear weapons development program. Although many have agreed that Iran is succeeding in its play for time, the Obama administration is still taking its time, pinning hope on elusive “talks” that may or may not succeed. Yet Iran is now so close to its target that the chances of halting if not dismantling its nuclear program are almost gone. Only very strong action, such as sanctions of the type imposed on Iraq in 1991, with “catch-all” prohibitions on commerce and diplomatic relations, could perhaps force Iran into obeying the Security Council’s demands concerning the suspension of activities.

The same day that the IAEA sent its report on Iran to its Member States, it also issued a report on Syria. Although less elaborate than the report on Iran, it has one very interesting point and an unfortunate omission. Paragraph 17 of the IAEA report, mentions that samples taken by the IAEA at a declared nuclear facility contained anthropogenic natural uranium particles, of an unnoted type. These were found inside hot-cells and associated equipment. This is quite interesting, since the natural uranium particles found at the Dir Alzour bombed reactor site were also denoted as “anthropogenic,” i.e., the uranium was processed by human hands and not transformed by processes in nature. Inexplicably the IAEA report does not give any details of the composition of the particles, and more importantly, does not answer the question whether the particles found at both sites were similar. If similar, could they be indicative of reactor-fuel origin? If the particles are similar, why then does the IAEA continue to hamper on the issue of the possible Israeli bomb origin of the particles found at Dir Alzour? Whoever bombed the Dir Alzour site certainly did not bomb the declared laboratories and introduce the particles into them. This would refute any Syrian claim that the particles at the bombed site are of Israeli bomb origin. Moreover, what were these particles doing in and around the hot-cells?

The second issue and the significant omission from the report on Syria is that the IAEA desists from declaring the Syrian activities indicative of illicit nuclear activities and in non-compliance with Syria’s obligations as a member of the NPT. This, unfortunately, is consistent with IAEA behavior, where the Director General is not willing to point a finger at a Member State and declare it as possibly being in non-compliance. He should have done that, and then given the state in question some time to disprove the allegations against it. Once the grace period elapses, the verdict against that state should become absolute. In the present system, however, no state can do wrong. As long as the state has stories to tell, and as long as it vaguely promises access, no indictment will come out of the IAEA. That is the case with Syria.

The issue of the IAEA and Iran is much worse, since the IAEA first became aware of and then noted in its reports Iran’s lies, its concealed and undeclared activities, and its refusal, even now, to give the IAEA information to which it is legally entitled. As Dr. ElBaradei’s term as IAEA director general draws to a close, one can only hope that the next director general, to be elected soon, will take a more realistic and less forgiving attitude towards those NPT members that are not willing to cooperate fully with the IAEA.

Dr. Ephraim Asculai is a senior research fellow specialising in nuclear proliferation issues at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Previously, he worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Geneva.

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