Not far away from the headline-grabbing Arab Spring, a power struggle is playing out under the Iranian summer sun as fissures in the one-time partnership between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shatter into an unbridgeable abyss.
Veteran Iranian analyst Dr. Abbas Milani of Stanford University has written a follow-up to his June piece when it seemed Ahmadinejad would be impeached for sedition.
But, as Milani writes in The National Interest “the heat on Ahmadinejad, at fever pitch till a month ago, has subsided, at least for now” as Khamenei exercises the full panoply of powers at his disposal, including through his alliance with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp.
An uneasy peace seems to have emerged in the recently tempestuous face-off between the once-bombastic president and the increasingly authoritarian Khamenei.
When threatened with impeachment by the Supreme Leader’s allies in parliament, the press and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Ahmadinejad, to the surprise of his detractors, did not go quietly into the night – he decided to fight fire with fire.
He threatened to tell the truth about what is happening in the country; He talked of the tens of millions of dollars made each year from the illicit trade in American cigarettes, and how “the brothers” – an unmistakable reference to the IRGC – have not been able to forgo the temptation to avail themselves of this source of income; He talked of these brothers operating many illegal ports of entry where, using the guise of national security, they bring in all manner of commodities at great profit. He even threatened to close down these entry points.
The IRGC responded by angrily denying any involvement in illegal trade of any kind. Khamenei, though determined to trim Ahmadinejad’s wings, was also worried that open factional feuds will embolden the opposition.
He therefore encouraged everyone to fight out their differences behind closed doors. And as for the matter of the recalcitrant president, Khamenei, in the words of one of his cohorts, decided to “fix (taamir) but keep Ahmadinejad.
Milani also notes that Ahmadinejad is not the only potential rival checkmated, with former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani – Khamenei’s friend of 50 years – falling victim to the old adage that there are no friends in politics, only temporary alliances.
Taking a page or two from Stalin’s treatment of Bukharin in the latter’s last days, when Stalin is reported to have played with the beleaguered Bukharin like a cat playing with a cornered mouse before making a meal of him-a story captured brilliantly in Stephen Cohen’s biography of Bukharin-Khamenei has in recent weeks allowed increased attacks on Rafsanjani in some of the websites close to his camp. In one, called Amariyoun, there is an almost two hundred page document chronicling Rafsanjani’s past “sins” everything from working in cahoots with members of the Shah’s regime to “flirting” with the United States, even participating in terrorist acts.
And as the clock ticks away on Iran’s seemingly inexorable scramble towards nuclear weaponisation, Milani offers no nostrums beyond:
Tehran has once again reiterated its position that it will not heed UN resolutions demanding that Iran temporarily stop its enrichment activities. But with the economic situation worsening inside the country, with new sanctions in the works in Washington and possibly even in the UN, and with the Syria despot-the regime’s sole ally in the region-on the ropes, it looks like it is going to be a long, hot summer in Tehran.
To read this fascinating insight into the machinations of the winner takes all game that is the Iranian regime, CLICK HERE.