June 14, 2013
Number 06/13 #03
With Iranians going to the polls today to “choose” a new president (though of course only one from among the small minority of candidates approved by the clerical establishment – and even then, vote-rigging may well occur) this Update is our guide to the candidates, the significance of the election, and its possible effects on the crisis over Iran’s illegal nuclear efforts.
First up is Israeli Iran expert Meir Javedanfar in a question and answer session on the election with the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). Javedanfar makes the case that the election should primarily be interpreted in terms of what it means about the intentions of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, arguing that Khamanei will arrange to effectively pick the next President regardless of the actual votes cast. He goes on to predict that while Khamanei has created a bubble of yes-men around himself on the nuclear issue, and believes that Iranian oil will force the world to accept Teheran’s terms, the effectiveness of sanctions may yet bring Khamanei to the negotiating table. For the rest of what he has to say, including some comments on Iran’s policy in Syria, CLICK HERE. Another excellent Q&A on the Iranian election features the analysis of
Next up is Israeli strategic expert Lt-Col. (res) Michael Segall who has a more detailed analysis of the campaign’s rhetoric related to the nuclear program – as well as its significance. He discusses in detail the pointed debates that have taken place between hardline frontrunner Saeed Jalili and ostensible moderate Hassan Rowhani – both nuclear negotiators with the West – about their efforts regarding the nuclear program, with both accusing the other of jeopardising Iran’s interests. However, Segall makes it clear that while the debate about tactics is interesting and important, ultimately there appears to be little inclination even by Rowhani to challenge the goal of reaching military nuclear capability. For this detailed look at the most important element of the campaign for non-Iranians, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Saeed Ghasseminejad, another Iran scholar, challenges the commonly assert notion that Iran is ultimately “a rational, pragmatic regime” like any other in the world. He assembles a litany of examples demonstrating that senior figures in the regime often openly and consistently express apocalyptic views about the imminent appearance of the Mahdi or Twelfth Imam – the Shi’ite messiah – and their expectation that widespread conflict will precede or precipitate his appearance. He notes that this view is not only widespread among radical clerics and among the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – who control the nuclear program and most other military decision-making – but that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei likes to be referred to as “Seyyed-e-Khurasani”, a figure who in Muslim eschatology is expected to herald the arrival of the Mahdi. For the rest of Ghasseminejad’s evidence challenging the often casual assumption of pragmatic rationality among Iranian leaders, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Walter Russell Mead reminds everyone that the primary concern of Iranians in this election will be economic, especially at a time when inflation in Iran is making adequate food unaffordable for many.
- Thoughts on the regime’s survival strategies and the possibilities of post-election unrest from American experts Saeid Golkar and Mehdi Khalaji. Meanwhile, author Lee Smith offers some advice to Western policymakers in the event that such unrest does develop.
- Australian women’s rights activist Dr. Ida Lichter discusses how the Iranian women’s movement is being slowly strangled.
- Iran takes another step towards military nuclear capability with progress on the Arak reactor, which will be capable of producing plutonium for weapons on top of Iran’s existing efforts to enrich uranium.
- The US is having to institute large programs to protect itself and its allies against Iranian cyber-attacks. Israel is certainly complaining of such Iranian attacks.
- Three Israeli experts, Amos Yadlin, Emily B. Landau, and Avner Golov, offer a detailed cost benefit analysis of a potential military attack on Iranian nuclear sites. Plus nuclear proliferation expert Efraim Asculai attempts to credibly estimate the civilian casualties of such a strike.
- Middle East expert Ray Takeyh explores myths and facts about the US role in the 1953 coup that overthrew the Mossadegh Government in Iran and restored the Shah to power.
- How Hamas is still managing to re-arm despite largely ending its client relationship with Iran, and losing the arms shipments that came with this.
- A report on Hezbollah’s apparently extensive activities in Germany.
- Isi Leibler writes about the implications of the retreat of US power from the Middle East.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Ahron Shapiro explores the tactical and strategic failures of the anti-Israel BDS movement – especially in the wake of the recent purchase by Google of Israeli phone GPS app company Waze.
- Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz explores examples from both the West and Middle East illustrating some particularly worrying ways in which antisemitic incitement continues to increase and evolve.
- New contributor Jeni Willenzik explores the latest foibles of controversial UN Human Rights Council official Richard Falk – who has come under fire for using an official report to demand an investigation into an NGO critical of him.
- Allon Lee’s latest “Media Week” column.
- The works of AIJAC’s Jeremy Jones in monitoring and countering global antisemitism are highlighted in two articles – here and here.
With Iran’s presidential election due on 14 June, Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian born Middle East analyst living in Israel, assesses the significance of the elections for Iran and its policy towards Israel, in a podcast with BICOM. Meir Javedanfar writes and publishes widely on Iranian affairs and teaches on contemporary Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The following is a summary of his remarks. You can listen to the interview in full here.
What is the significance of the Iranian elections?
The selection of the Supreme Leader for the post of President is going to tell us the direction he wants to take the regime. If he selects Saeed Jalili (a conservative figure currently leading Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the West) this tells us the regime wants to continue its current policy of non-compliance with UN resolutions, not suspending uranium enrichment and refusing to hold bilateral talks with the US. But if someone like Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, is selected there may not be changes in the short term, but his more moderate views may mean a bigger chance of compromise in the medium term. Ultimately, however, the regime will not risk allowing the Iranian people to choose freely. If they feel the candidate who suits its interests is not winning, they will have no problem falsifying the results.
Which other candidates should we look out for?
More reformist candidates like Stanford graduate and former vice-President Mohammad-Reza Aref or former chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani can expect to get a lot of genuine votes. However, they are unlikely to be allowed to win, and this is a lot to do with the business. The candidates the regime wants to pick are ones who don’t want to challenge the Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) monopoly over large parts of country’s economy. The more reformist candidates want a more open economy that gives others a fair chance. This is why the focus is in on the more conservative candidates, such as Saeed Jalili, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and possibly former-foreign minister Ali-Akbar Velayati.
Is Iran’s election as straightforward as the regime and the Supreme Leader picking the winner?
Absolutely. The Supreme Leader will consult others including senior IRGC officers, the highly influential intelligence organisations, and senior members of the Guardian Council. But Khamenei is not going to risk allowing the people of Iran to choose the President, because the regime is going in a different direction to the people. The people want a nuclear programme but also want good relations with the West, and an open economy where they can thrive and provide for their families.
The regime and especially Khamenei, on the other hand, thrives in isolation, which he believes serves his regime. For Khamenei, peace with the US is more dangerous than war. If you take away the animosity with the US and replace it with rapprochement there is not much left for the regime to stand on. For this reason he will not allow the people of Iran to choose.
Do you expect protests similar to 2009?
There is a lot of simmering anger under the surface. The priority for the people is the economy, which the regime is ruining. Whether the anger will explode is very difficult to predict, but the more closed the regime becomes the more it isolates itself and damages its popularity.
Do you expect a less confrontational posture towards Israel?
The supreme leader sets Iran’s Israel policy. All those terrorist operations carried out in recent years against Israeli targets around the world would have required the approval of the Supreme Leader. The regime would have no qualms about carrying out further attacks on Israeli targets in the future. With regard to denial of the Holocaust, I think we will hear a reduction of such statements, which the regime has realised are counter-productive. However, it was not just Ahmadinejad who denied the Holocaust but also the Supreme Leader, so this is something now in the ‘operating system’ of the regime. Certainly calls for end of the Zionist regime will continue, though perhaps a somewhat more moderate tone than the particularly extreme rhetoric adopted by Ahmadinejad.
Where do you see the regime going in terms of its nuclear policy?
Khamenei has created a bubble of ‘yes men’ around himself. He seems to believe that the West can’t live without Iranian oil and that it will come crawling back to Tehran asking for compromises. Events have proved this to be wrong, with President Obama extending sanctions.
Nonetheless, the regime is going to continue with its strategy of creating ‘facts on the ground’ by building more nuclear facilities and installing more centrifuges, in the belief that when the West comes back begging for Iran’s oil, it can say what is already built is not up for negotiation.
The regime also hopes to wait out Obama’s last term, as it fears the legitimacy that Obama has established in the international community has enabled the US to increase international sanctions. They hope Obama will be followed by a Republican warmonger who will threaten Iran with all out war, taking away US legitimacy and bringing Russian and Chinese support back to Iran.
But more important than the impact of sanctions is what Iran is doing to its own economy, which is far more ruinous than anything the West has been doing. This is a factor that will help in bringing Khamenei to the negotiating table.
How do you assess the effectiveness of sanctions?
The best way to measure it is the change in Iranian policy. After the declaration of the EU oil sanctions in 2012, we saw in the P5+1 talks that Iran was willing to discuss its nuclear programme, which it had refused to do before. We also see Iran converting some of its 20 per cent enriched uranium to nuclear fuel, temporarily putting it beyond use for a bomb. This is another conflict alleviating measure, attempting to reduce tension with the West.
If people expect Iran to fold within a year – that’s not going to happen. But sanctions are slowly biting into the regime’s legitimacy. What is helping make sanctions more effective is the regime’s choice of unpopular leaders for senior posts, which has made it hard for the leadership to shift the blame for the sanctions onto the West. Had Mousavi, a reformist candidate, been elected in 2009 it would have been harder for the West to impose sanctions.
Iran’s popularity garnered in the Arab world through opposition to Israel has been eroded by its support for Assad in Syria. Do you see that changing any time soon?
Khamenei is not going to sink with Assad. The moment he realises Assad does not have a chance he will drop him. But for now it’s important for the regime to continue supporting Assad, for several reasons. Of all countries in the Middle East, the country Iranians know best is Syria. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians visited Syria as a regime subsidised holiday destination. If the people of Syria get rid of Assad it will set a precedent for the people of Iran who know Syria quite well. At the same time, Iran does not want to lose its current weapons transfer route to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Syria is the last state in the region to be whole heartedly in support of Iran’s regional policies.
The policy is costing Iran a lot of money at a time when it is facing economic difficulty, and so it is not very popular with the people, but Khamenei regime will continue to support Assad until such time a he is definitely on his way out.
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Who Brought Iran Close to a Nuclear Bomb? The Focal Point of Rowhani’s and Jalili’s Election Propaganda
Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 13, No. 17
12 June 2013
- With a few days remaining before the June 14 presidential elections in Iran, the most fraught, sensitive issue in the campaign concerns Iran’s foreign policy – its relations with the West in general and the nuclear talks in particular. Whereas the “principalist” [hard-line] candidates take a dogmatic, uncompromising line on Iran’s foreign relations and its stance on the nuclear issue, the “pragmatic” candidates show a readiness to open a new chapter in Iran’s dealings with the world and conduct the nuclear talks in a calmer atmosphere.
- The “nuclear debate” is mainly being waged between two presidential candidates: current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and, from the “pragmatic” camp, Hassan Rowhani, who served as nuclear negotiator while Mohammad Khatami was president. Jalili disparages Rowhani for the fact that, while he was nuclear negotiator, Iran agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and indeed its nuclear program came to a halt. Rowhani charges that it was Jalili’s (and Ahmadinejad’s) aggressive, uncompromising, defiant approach that led to sanctions, Iran’s isolation in the international arena and a series of UN Security Council resolutions against it, and that during his own tenure the nuclear program actually progressed.
- Overall, Jalili and Rowhani reveal the two sides of Iran’s nuclear negotiating tactics. These tactics complement each other and are derived from the geostrategic circumstances under which they are pursued. Rowhani conducted negotiations after the U.S. campaign to liberate Iraq, when caution was necessary. In Jalili’s period (2007 to the present), Iran has felt greater self-assurance as the anti-terror endeavor has been distanced from Iran, the United States’ regional status has weakened, and Iran’s ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, has been able to survive in power despite a two-year long revolt.
- In any event, whoever is elected, the influence of the next president of Iran on the conduct of the nuclear negotiations will be meager. The issue is in the hands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard. It is aalso clear that Iran’s nuclear negotiating strategies in the different periods have brought it to a threshold where, if it so chooses, it can attain nuclear capability.
With just a few days remaining before the June 14 presidential elections in Iran, election propaganda is in full swing. The removal of high-profile candidates Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who could have injected some interest into the dull campaign, left only anemic candidates in the arena. These are more or less divided into three contending forces. The first is Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and head of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team; the second is the principalist 2+1 group comprising Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Ali Akbar Velayati, and Gholam Ali Haddad Adel; and the third or “pragmatic” faction includes Hassan Rowhani, who is considered similar to Rafsanjani and formerly headed the nuclear negotiating team; Mohammad-Reza Aref, Mohammad Gharazi, and Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The candidates held a series of televised debates leading up to the elections. The first focused on the economic sphere, with the different candidates dispensing promises for a better future for the Iranian economy along with harsh criticism of the previous government’s performance in this domain. The second debate focused on social and cultural issues and the third on foreign affairs with a heated discussion on the sensitive nuclear topic. With the citizenry in growing distress, the economic issue has played a central role in the elections. Candidates have presented far-reaching economic programs, promising to salvage Iran “if I am elected.” An even more fraught, sensitive issue in the campaign, however, concerns Iran’s foreign policy – its relations with the West in general and the nuclear talks in particular. Whereas the conservative candidates, including Jalili, take a dogmatic, uncompromising line on Iran’s foreign relations and its stance on the nuclear issue, the “pragmatic” candidates show a readiness to open a new chapter in Iran’s dealings with the world and conduct the nuclear talks in a calmer atmosphere.
Nuclear Negotiators Collide
The debate is mainly being waged between Saeed Jalili and Hassan Rowhani (who got some surprising help during the third debate from Ali Akbar Velayati, former Foreign Minister and the current senior advisor on international affairs to Khamenei) , who served as nuclear negotiator while Mohammad Khatami was president. Both criticize Iranian nuclear negotiating strategy with the West, and each uses a far-flung network that includes theme- based websites, social networks (Twitter and Facebook), and YouTube channels. Jalili also makes use of the semi-official Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard to present and promote his positions.
Jalili and his deputy disparage Rowhani – who has been seen as the hope of the pragmatic camp since Rafsanjani’s removal from the race by the Guardian Council – for the fact that, while he was nuclear negotiator, Iran agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities, and indeed its nuclear program came to a halt. Jalili contends that Rowhani, along with the reformist governments of Rafsanjani and Khatami, displayed willingness for compromise with the West and harmed Iran’s regional posture and resolve toward the West. Jalili claims that while he heads the nuclear negotiating team under the government of Ahmadinejad (who has now lost favor in Khamenei’s eyes) and the ultimate leadership of Khamenei, Iran has steadily been strengthening its regional status as the only actor challenging the West. He cites as evidence the nuclear program’s dramatic progress.
Jalili: A Promotional Video That Depicts Him as the “Nuclear Hero”
Jalili produced a promotional video that was shown on Iranian state television and distributed to all types of media including social networks. The clip glorifies his role as head of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team and portrays him as resolute, uncompromising, and hence responsible for Iran’s achievements in the nuclear domain. During the film, Ali Bagheri – Jalili’s deputy in the nuclear negotiations, head of his campaign staff and author of the nuclear negotiation chronicles– asserts that while Rowhani was serving as nuclear negotiator:
“We disarmed, that is, we retreated from the [nuclear] progress and success. We held negotiations on our nuclear activity, but what activity? We in fact stopped our nuclear activity at that time and left them no reason or motive to recognize our [nuclear] rights.”
Bagheri went so far as to add that Rowhani’s negotiating tactics were no different than if “on the first day of the Iran-Iraq War we would have retreated to Tehran.” Jalili, for his part, says in the video:
“[Joschka] Fischer [German foreign minister during the 2003 talks between the EU3 (Britain, France, and Germany) and Iran, when Iran decided to suspend uranium enrichment] spoke precisely this sentence: ‘The decision was that you [Iran] will first suspend, then close down, and then destroy [the nuclear program]’.”
Bagheri goes on to claim that “in the Paris talks [which led to the agreement to suspend enrichment] they [the EU3] spoke of objective guarantees and, as they saw it, that meant the absence of a full nuclear fuel cycle.” Later in the film Khamenei is quoted as saying that:
“…the Europeans did not settle for a temporary suspension of enrichment, and after we suspended it they urged a full stop. This was a retreat. We retreated. I then already told those in charge that if they wanted to continue a process of ongoing retreat, I myself would enter the arena. And I did that. I told them that we must stop the retreat and turn it into progress.”
Further on in the film Jalili says: “They [the EU3] saw a good opportunity to get us to cease our enrichment at a 3.5-percent level and said that in return they would give us fuel rods, not fuel just rods, and even this only two years after the suspension.”(1)
During the campaign, Fars News quoted him as saying, “It is prohibited to suspend the potential within youth [here he is a drawing an analogy between the potential of uranium and the potential of young people] and it should be enriched not to the level of 5 percent or 20 percent but to 100 percent enrichment.” Fars News omitted the “youth” from its headline that reads: “We Will Raise the Percentage of Enrichment to 100 Percent.” The opening sentence also left no doubt: “We must go up to a path that leads us to 100 percent enrichment.” Nothing was said regarding “enriching the youth of Iran.”
Jalili used the term enrichment in a sophisticated way in order to once again present himself as someone who will further advance the Iranian nuclear program far more than Rowhani, and if he is elected, he will take it to the next level, meaning enrichment for a nuclear bomb. Similarly, the use of the term “suspend” allows Jalili to sting Rowhani, who agreed to a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment during his negotiations with the Europeans between 2003 and 2005.(2)
Iran Needs to Get Moving toward a 100-Percent Uranium-Enrichment Capability
Jalili and his campaign staff repeatedly attack Rowhani regarding the 2003 suspension and emphasize Jalili’s central role and achievements as nuclear negotiator. Jalili’s supporters also added to the campaign the family of assassinated nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi- Roshan. The scientist’s father claimed that if people like Rowhani were to gain power, they would not hesitate to hand the state over to foreigners. The father said that he:
“…recalls that at the time enrichment was suspended in the period of [Rowhani], my son, who said he was part of the uranium-enrichment team, was sad and despairing and told me, his father, that they had closed the nuclear sites and installed closed- circuit televisions and we could not even get near to the sites.”
He added that after the facilities were closed, his son was in so much despair that he even planned to leave the nuclear program; it was on his father’s recommendation that he stayed. After enrichment was renewed, it appeared that Mostafa and his friends could get back to work. They toiled night and day behind the centrifuges to reach 20-percent enrichment. The father recalled that when he would ask his son what was the purpose of attaining the 20-percent level, he would answer, “We want to converse with world imperialism from a position of strength. If they think we can’t manage 20-percent enrichment, they won’t listen to us.”(3)
Rowhani: It’s Very Nice for the Centrifuges to Spin, So Long as the State Can Function
Rowhani, for his part, made certain to respond and in a propaganda video of his own (that also was disseminated on websites and social networks) charges that it was Jalili’s (and Ahmadinejad’s) aggressive, uncompromising, defiant approach that led to Iran’s isolation in the international arena, a series of UN Security Council resolutions against it, sanctions, and hence also the deterioration of its economy.(4) (Ali Akbar Velayati supported Rowhani in this argument during the third debate). Rowhani contends that while during his tenure Iran indeed agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, it was precisely then that the groundwork was laid for developing the country’s nuclear capability quietly and secretly, far from the tumult of the international system. Rowhani also rejected attempts during television interviews to portray him as having retreated and compromised when he agreed to suspend the nuclear program, underlining that “Iran did not suspend but rather completed its nuclear program.” Rowhani, moreover, criticized the Iranian broadcasting network IRIB, charging that its moderators were instructed to ask certain questions.(5) Rowhani also Tweeted that he and Mir Hussein Mousavi visited the first nuclear facilities “capable of proliferation back in the summer of 2002” meaning the Uranium Conversion Faculty (UCF) in Esfahan.(6)
In an interview, Rowhani ardently defended his position on the nuclear negotiations and described himself as an experienced and moderate person who could make good use of his negotiating experience under the Rafsanjani and Khatami governments. Among other things he noted that his tenure as nuclear negotiator saw the development of conversion, enrichment, and centrifuge technology while at the same time Iran was able to avert sanctions and Security Council resolutions and maintain proper relations with the West. Rowhani stressed that Iran completed the nuclear fuel cycle in this period, “but unlike others [such as Jalili] we did not regularly celebrate.” He went on to say:
“It’s very nice that the centrifuges are spinning and operating, but only as long as the state is spinning and functioning. If the centrifuges are working but the rest of the country is not, what is the benefit in that? It is not right that we build a production plant in Natanz but hundreds of other plants are in trouble because of the sanctions and lack of raw materials. This approach is not acceptable to us.”(7)
He completely rejected claims that Iran had suspended its nuclear program after agreeing to the Tehran Declaration in 2003 (issued jointly by Iran and the EU3) and stressed that during his tenure Iran had accumulated great nuclear knowledge and succeeded to produce yellowcake and UF6 (uranium hexafluoride, in the conversion facility at Isfahan), advance the building of the heavy water reactor (known as IR-40) in Arak, and increase the number of centrifuges. When he first took the post, he said, Iran had 750 centrifuges; by the time he left it, Iran had 1700. He said Iran must engage with the West and practice intelligent diplomacy so as to remove the Iranian nuclear issue from the Security Council. Rowhani also said that while he served as negotiator the Bush administration did not succeed to isolate Iran.(8)
A Deficit of Understanding
In a Tweet, Rowhani also hinted that Ahmadinejad and the nuclear negotiating team suffered from a deficit of understanding. “Those who lack experience and academic legal knowledge have trouble understanding the difference between resolutions of the General Conference of the IAEA and those of the UN Security Council.”(9) On another occasion Rowhani remarked that in today’s world one cannot build walls around the state or sever one’s relations with the world; instead one must practice constructive relations with the international community.(10) Rowhani added that if he was elected, once he had tended to the economic problems and the citizens’ welfare, his most important program would be to rehabilitate and reorder Iran’s relations with the world’s states. “In today’s world”, he said, “there are no permanent friends and enemies; friendship and antagonism are determined by interests and mutual respect”. In his view, when one is:
“…mired in mistaken theories that say the whole world is united against us [an allusion to Ahmadinejad], and we have no option except a confrontational stance, there is no chance of improving relations with the world. No country in today’s world can build walls around itself. No country can develop when it is in isolation. We must not enable the enemy to realize its aim of isolating Iran. We must repair our relations with the world, first and foremost with our neighboring countries.”
He also noted that Iran’s relations with the United States are now antagonistic, and Iran should strive at least to lower the level from antagonism to tension.(11)
Rowhani’s Activity—”with the Supreme Leader’s Approval”
Rowhani’s campaign staff reacted sharply to statements by Bagheri, Jalili’s deputy, particularly his insinuations that Rowhani’s agreement to the temporary uranium- enrichment suspension was not coordinated with or approved by Khamenei. As questioned sardonically in Rowhani’s campaign announcement: “Do you, as the ones currently responsible for the nuclear negotiations [with the West], have authority and approval to make important decisions without coordination and approval by the Leader, even though this is what you accuse the previous negotiating team of doing?” It went on to say:
“Bagheri is one of the senior figures involved in the nuclear negotiations and his remarks were unfair. Some of his words implied that the measures enacted by the Supreme National Security Council during the tenure of Hassan Rowhani were taken without the approval of the Spiritual Leader.” (12)
Senior conservative figures in the Revolutionary Guard criticize Rowhani’s willingness (and that of other “reformist” candidates) for a compromise with the United States and even portray them as enjoying outside support from “enemies of Iran.” For example, Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Assembly of Experts, which supervises the activity of the Supreme Leader and determines candidates’ eligibility for the elections, criticized claims by some of the candidates, including Rowhani, that improving relations with the West would boost Iran’s economy and that the problems with the West did not lie in the nuclear sphere but rather in Iran’s revolutionary messages and anti-Western stance.(13)
A Sensitive Issue Involving National Security
The nuclear issue plays an interesting role in Iran’s election propaganda and reveals a bit of the behind-the-scenes decision-making process (conducted by the Leader, not the president) and of the nuclear negotiating tactics. Indeed, some have criticized certain contestants, particularly Jalili and Rowhani, for making use of their role as nuclear negotiators in their election propaganda, including disclosures of information. For example, an opinion article on the Alef website headlined “The Elections are not a Referendum on the Nuclear-Talks Issue” remarked critically regarding the two nuclear-negotiator candidates (“the former, Rowhani and the latter, Jalili”): “Wow, what would happen if Ali Larijani [chairman of the Majlis, who served as nuclear negotiator after Rowhani and before Jalili], too, was a candidate, what an amazing arena of nuclear and security disputes we’d have then.”
Alef acknowledges that there is room to discuss and evaluate the performance of the two candidates—“who advanced the program and who retreated, who stopped the work and who did what.” The site asks, however:
“Is it good to discuss the most sensitive, basic, and important issue of the state as part of the election campaign? Indeed the sides have to criticize each other directly and indirectly, and to prove they are right, each time they have to remove another part of the screen [that covers Iran’s nuclear program] and expose national secrets to the world.”
Summing up, the article states:
“The nuclear portfolio cannot be turned into one’s personal plaything. Particularly because no government has been or will be responsible for the general conduct of this portfolio, and its operative domain is not something that can be publicly revealed. It does not matter who started this lose-lose competition, what is important is to remove this issue immediately from the election-propaganda table. The elections are not a referendum on the nuclear talks.”(14)
Different Tactics, the Same Goal
Overall, Rowhani and Jalili reveal the two sides of Iran’s nuclear negotiating tactics. These tactics complement each other and are derived from the geostrategic circumstances under which they are pursued. Rowhani conducted the negotiations after the U.S. campaign to liberate Iraq; caution was necessary because a more defiant policy could have drawn the anti-terror campaign from Iraq to Iran, which Bush had already called part of the “axis of evil” in 2002, a term that has been used to describe Iran and other countries since that time and particularly since the Syrian crisis erupted some two years ago. In Jalili’s period (2007 to the present), however, Iran has felt greater self-assurance as the anti-terror endeavor has been distanced from Iran, the United States’ regional status has weakened under the impact, among other things, of the Arab Spring, and Bashar Assad—a beneficiary of Tehran’s strategic cultivation—has been able to survive in power for two years and stand firm against “Arab and Western enemies,” as was seen recently in al Qusair.
In any case, whoever is elected, the influence of the next president of Iran — on the conduct of the nuclear negotiations will be meager. The issue is in the hands of the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard. Also clear is that Iran’s nuclear negotiating strategiesin the different periods have brought it to a juncture where the decision to build a nuclear bomb is in Iran’s hands alone. Whoever the next Iranian negotiators will be, Rowhani, Larijani, and Jalili managed during a decade of fruitless negotiations with the West, to buy enough time for Iran to reach a threshold where, if it chooses to, it can cross over to nuclear capability.
Regional conditions are apparently playing into Iran’s hands and encouraging its defiance (al Qusair…); sanctions are indeed exacting a heavy price, but not heavy enough to induce it to give up its nuclear program and achievements and regional imperial aspirations.
7. http://tinyurl.com/mogl3hp; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3BF9troEMA&feature=youtu.be
IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Terrogence Company.
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the Iranian nuclear scientist who was killed in a bomb blast, was not only a man of science but also a man of faith. He had a master, Ayatollah Azizollah Khoshvaght, a little-known but highly-ranked cleric.
On the anniversary of Roshan’s death, his widow told an interesting story in an interview she gave to a newsite identified closely with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC). She related that her husband had once asked Ayatollah Khoshvaght when Mahdi, the “hidden Imam” prophesied to dominate the world and cleanse it of sin and sinners, would reappear. Ayatollah Khoshvaght looked at him and said “it depends on what you are doing in Natanz [Iran’s enrichment facility].” The story wouldn’t be significant if Ayatollah Khoshvaght had merely been an old mullah spouting nonsense with no one listening to him, but he was not.
Khoshvaght was Mostafa Khamenei’s father in-law and very close to the supreme leader himself. Khamenei believed deeply in Ayatollah Khoshvaght. Recently, Khamenei’s favorite Imam and Khatib, ayatollah Kazem Sedighi, said:
“Hazrat e Agha [referring to Khamenei] told us ‘do not depend only on your own knowledge, there are storms in this world. Some of them are very powerful. You need to hold firmly to someone or something if you want to be saved, find someone who can save you.’ We asked ’Hazrat e Agha,’ who do you propose?’ Khamenei answered ‘Ayatollah Khoshvaght.’”
Ayatollah Khoshvaght, who died in February, was a teacher and preacher of morality, an interesting occupation for someone whose hobby was to issue death fatwas. He delivered regular lectures on morality and his audience included high-ranking IRGC officers, intelligence officers and operatives, and nuclear scientists like Ahamdi Roshan.
Khsohvaght was not the only one among Ayatollah Khamenei’s closest advisors and followers to be obsessed with the idea of Mahdi’s reappearance. Khamenei’s appointee at IRGC, Ayatollah Ali Saeedi, regularly mentions this notion in his speeches to IRGC officers. In a recent speech in Bushehr, where the nuclear plant is being built, he said that Mahdi’s reappearance is imminent but that before his return, the Middle East has to change radically and fundamentally. In another event he asserted “Ayatollah Khamenei is preparing Mahdi’s reappearance and IRGC is the instrument to do it.” IRGC is, of course, in charge of Iran’s military nuclear program.
Alireza Panahian, an extremely radical cleric close to Khamenei and the favorite mullah of many hardliners, has said in Khamenei’s presence that “the reappearance is very close.” In fact, he has frequently referred to Khamenei himself as Seyyed-e-Khurasani, a figure Muslims believe will appear just before Mahdi’s return. Khamenei, who is from Khurasan, likes to be called Seyyed-e-Khurasani. On a number of occasions, he has said it is the responsibility of the Islamic republic to prepare the world for Mahdi’s reappearance.
To IRGC officers, Mahdi may be hidden, but he is far from absent. In a rare public appearance at Qum, Ghassem Soleimani, the notorious commander of the Quds force, said that during the Iran-Iraq war some IRGC commanders in war-fronts were in contact with the Hidden Imam. Salar Abnoush, commander of IRGC at Qazvin province apparently believes the West has imposed sanctions in order to prevent Mahdi’s reappearance.
High-ranking clerics in Iran claim that the Hidden Imam actively supports their cause. Ayatollah Ahmad Alam-ol-hoda, Friday prayer Imam of Mashhad and a powerful ally of Ayatollah Khamenei, recently said the Hidden Imam was behind the operation to capture the US drone in December 2011. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, vice-president of the Assembly of Experts and the former head of Iran’s judiciary, recently said that the hidden Imam supported Ali Khamenei during the 2009 uprising.
Two of the most lunatic and apocalyptic high-ranking figures in Iran are Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself and his now disgraced one-time protégé, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While Khamenei deeply believes his task is to prepare for Mahdi’s appearance, Ahmadinejad takes the apocalyptic narrative to an unprecedented level of lunacy and weirdness, even by the Islamic republic’s measures. He believes, for example, that the real reason behind the US invasion of Iraq was to search for the Hidden Imam and to postpone his appearance. Many observers believe Khamenei chose Ahmadinejad as president mainly because of their shared belief in this apocalyptic version of Islam.
While many experts tell us Iran is a rational, pragmatic regime like any other in the world, all the facts shout that it is not. A large number of Iranian officials and decision makers have deeply rooted apocalyptic beliefs. Underestimating this radical ideology even as the Iranian regime is on its way to building a nuclear bomb can lead to dangerously wrong conclusions. The suggestion taking hold of late that a nuclear armed Iran is not the end of the world may unfortunately be dead wrong.