The Mullahs are here till the end (Daniel 8:4)

iran-Ayatollah
Iranian ex-pat: Nuclear deal ruins opportunity to remove the ayatollahs from power

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Sat, 08 Aug 2015, 08:19 PM

‘We are used to just a few weeks of sunshine,” Saba Farzan, an Iranian journalist, remarks about the unusually hot weather in Berlin.

While Germans have been enjoying the parks and lakes, Farzan, who is executive director of the strategy think tank Foreign Policy Circle, has been consumed with the nuclear deal signed between the Islamic Republic and six world powers led by the United States. The deal, signed on July 14, has yet to be fully ratified in the US Congress, where it will face opposition, or in Tehran, but it is widely expected to be finalized.

“The deal means this regime will stay in power and that anti-Semitism will stay in power, and it is bad news for Iranian civil society,” Farzan says in a phone interview with the Magazine.

IN MANY countries threatened by the Iranian regime’s influence, there is consternation over the deal, no more so than in Israel. But for many like Farzan, the deal strikes a personal note. She was born in 1980; her family fled the country a few years later because of the extremism of the ayatollahs who came to power after the fall of the shah in 1979.

“I have lived in Germany since I was six years old. We fled Iran as political refugees and were accepted in Germany right away. We were granted asylum and started a new life.”

In those years Iran went through a series of upheavals.

The initial enthusiasm of the fall of the shah and hope for a pluralistic democracy were dashed. Then came the Iran-Iraq war, the crackdowns on civil society, the imposition of religious laws.
“It was like in Lebanon in the 1980s, a dark place,” recalls Farzan. “My dad was a sociologist. [He and my mother] were from Shi’a families.”

Her parents were secular and “ardent supporters of enlightenment in the Islamic religion” who endorsed “separation of religion and state.”

They found a home in Germany and integrated quickly.

“From the beginning we felt safe and secure and happy in Germany. It granted freedom and opportunity to us. This is something I am grateful for, every single day. It is why I became a journalist and was interested in foreign and security policy.”

For Iran observers like Farzan, the last decades in Iran have been a repetitive cycle. Over the 36 years since the fall of the shah, the country has meandered from more extreme conservatives like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was president from 2005 to 2013, to more “moderates” like Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani.

But Iranian civil society has changed. This generation, Farzan says, is the most nonideological, secular- oriented and educated since the revolution. However, this window of opportunity, as this generation comes of age, is being lost.

The Iran deal is a setback, she argues, and “the architecture behind the global Iran policy is an incredible willingness to appease the dictators and to just get over this conflict. It is essentially, as a friend of mine described the deal that was cut last week in Vienna, in fact a business deal.”

The concept is that the deal will allow billions of dollars to flow into the coffers of the Iranian leadership. That is supposed to give them less of an incentive to build a nuclear weapon. It is basically a bribe.

“That didn’t work in North Korea or elsewhere. Second, you cannot build a whole policy based on the hope that with enough money bad people will not do bad things. That is naïve and stupid. You can’t construct policy based on that hope. Nothing changed in the last 20 years [in Iran]. Except that, of course, the toughest sanctions regime this world ever saw was built up against Iran. We could have gotten different results if we had kept going with those sanctions.”

JOURNALISM WASN’T Farzan’s first calling. Initially, she sought to study literature and sociology in Bayreuth, Germany. While researching German-Jewish opera composer Kurt Weill, Farzan started to draw parallels between the artist who fled the Nazi regime and her own history. When the Green Revolution protests swept Iran in 2009, Farzan began to focus on Germany’s foreign policy with the Islamic Republic.

She started writing op-eds and participating in conferences, criticizing Germany’s emphasis on trade relations with Iran.

“As we speak today the German economy minister [Sigmar Gabriel] is in Iran. He is the first Western official after the deal who traveled to Iran.”

He is the first senior-level German government official to visit Tehran in 13 years. Some estimates claim that, due to the deal, Iran will be able to unlock more than $100 billion in trade after the sanctions are lifted. The Germans want to get on the financial bandwagon.

“You cannot structure foreign policy based on trade relations. That is not a strategic view to build the security of your country,” argues Farzan.

Even when sanctions began to be imposed on Iran in 2006, the UN resolutions were never strictly enforced, Farzan says.
 
“We indirectly allowed it to continue its work on nuclear weapons.”

Also, the sanctions did not have their desired effect, because Iran is not a rational actor.

“It doesn’t care about its own population. It cares about its proxy groups [such as Hezbollah]. It cares about the influence they have in Latin America. They [the Iranian leadership] care that the Obama administration surrenders to their demands. They are irrational from our point of view. It is a revolutionary ideology we are dealing with.”

She contrasts the Iranian mullahs with the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who renounced his nuclear weapons program in 2003. He understood the West’s threat, whereas the Iranian regime acts irrationally, in her view.

BUT THE question remains whether Iran’s nuclear weapons program is in fact a distraction for a larger regional policy of extending the influence and power of Iran in places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

“Iran has used this [weapons program] in its own interest and advantage. I have no doubt that this is really a nuclear weapons program. If you look at the components and the ballistic missiles and enrichment, and the infrastructure, it only makes sense if you want to have a nuclear weapon,” says Farzan.

However, the mullahs play a double game, she says; they may lack the means to complete a nuclear weapon.

“They play with the idea of letting the region think they are much more advanced and ready to build up a nuclear weapon…. Maybe it is sort of enough for them to cause destabilization.”

She ascribes this partly to the very Persian identity of the Iranian nuclear program.

“They want to build it themselves; they don’t want to buy it from the North Koreans or Pakistanis.”
This is an important point because Pakistan’s nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan was confirmed in 2004 to have aided the development of nuclear programs in Libya and North Korea and offered his services to Iran. The first Pakistani nuclear weapons test took place in 1998 and was a complete surprise to the world.

The serious Iranian nuclear program should be seen in that light, because it stretches back to the 1990s when, it should be recalled, the international community was focused on Iraq’s nuclear program. Since the middle of the first decade of this century, Israeli and American intelligence estimates have repeatedly claimed Iran would have the bomb by now.

Farzan argues that the Iranians are more paranoid about their own internal problems than Western pressure to end the nuclear program.

“They studied us [the West] very closely. Look at the people in charge; many of them have been educated in the West – from Europe and the US – and they have studied us much better than we have studied them. We didn’t study them at all. That is why sometimes we believe what they say and are so slow in our responses.

The Iranians think strategically ahead and see where a vacuum exists that they can fill with their own ideology and proxies. They saw it coming that in Iraq things would fall apart.”

The picture of Iran is that, while it may have irrational elements, its strategic thinking is very cautious and pragmatic. For instance, it waited for the US to fail in Iraq in order to insert itself and wrap its tentacles around the Iraq government of Nouri al-Maliki over the last decade. The resulting sectarian chaos is very much in Iran’s interest.

But inside Iran, not all is well for the regime.

“The young generation and well educated are ready to connect to the outside. Their talents were not included into the economic way that Iran is going, or into political participation,” says Farzan. The money that the Iranian regime stands to earn from the deal will not trickle down to the educated classes.

“They have overstretched their capacities in the region.

Yes, they control four Arab capitals [Baghdad, Sana’a, Beirut and Damascus]. They have opened up so many battlefields for them that it is a question of logistics and the political price they pay in the region….

At the same time, it is questionable how long they can sustain this interference – not just in two, three or four places, but the next battlefields are around the corner, like in Jordan, Bahrain or other countries.”

In some ways the regime may be a paper tiger, exaggerating its prowess but in actuality quite weak. Farzan points to the fact that Iran’s military is undeveloped compared to Saudi Arabia, which has the latest American equipment.
 
“[Iran] is a paper tiger we are now feeding with cash and political acceptance.”

THE IRANIAN exile community, which numbers several million spread out through Europe, the United States and Canada, is very diverse in its approaches to what to do about the regime.
For instance, Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who was born in Tehran, argued last week that “no agreement is perfect, but at times the scale of the imperfection is so great that the judicious course is to reject the deal and renegotiate a more stringent one.”

Farzan says the approaches of those in the community are complex.

“Whether in the diaspora or in Iran, if you can gather five Iranians you [will] have seven opinions…. It is a diverse community. That is one thing that is hopeful for a democratic future in Iran. The negative aspect of it is that only very few Iranians can agree on something that they would want. Some say reform. Some say a revolution. One says an evolution. Some think it will take longer but with better results.”

She ascribes this to the long history of revolutions in Iran, stretching back to the early 20th century and the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906. One problem for Iranians who oppose the regime is that “they feel left alone by the Western world…. They are suffering under the dictatorship.”
When Barack Obama was elected he brought hope to Iranians that reform would come, not only because he was a Democrat who they thought would support progressive change but also because of his personal story.

“They really rose up in 2009 when Obama was president. They thought and expected that Barack Obama, as the first black American president, would support them, in memory of the civil rights movement, that he could relate to the suffering that they were going through. But it was the exact opposite. He was willing to throw them under the bus and consistently try and reach a deal with this dictatorship, fully knowing that the deal would cement the power that this regime has.”

But hope is not lost. Farzan believes there will be more protests and activism.

“As much as I hope and pray that Iran is on the verge of a revolution, a lot of the things that will happen in the immediate future depends on who will be the US president.”

That means that many are pegging their hope for the future on a future US administration scuttling the deal.

Farzan hopes that when Iran changes and the ayatollahs are removed, the country can rekindle its natural commonalities with Israel.

“This regime is standing in the way of these two countries becoming equal and true partners…. Jews and Persians have [many things] in common… not just because they are both ancient civilizations.”
From a strategic point of view, she argues that Iran is a much more logical partner for Israel than the Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.

For the time being, she concludes, we must look at whatever silver linings we can find in light of the deal and continue to support Iranian civil society

Iran Deal Still Has To Go Through The Mullahs

 

Iran hardliners lash out as U.N. endorses nuclear deal
By Bozorghmehr Sharafedin

DUBAI, JULY 20 | Mon Jul 20, 2015 12:37pm EDT

By Bozorghmehr Sharafedin

DUBAI, July 20 (Reuters) – Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards denounced a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing last week’s nuclear deal, saying it crossed “red lines” set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Monday endorsing the deal, which relieves Iran of sanctions and ensures it retains a nuclear fuel cycle, but keeps in place an arms embargo and a ban on ballistic missile technology for several more years.

The agreement, a major initiative for both U.S. President Barack Obama and Iran’s pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani, faces opposition from hardliners in both countries. In addition to the United States, it was signed by the four other U.N. Security Council veto-wielding permanent members, as well as Germany.

In the United States, Obama has said he would veto an attempt to scupper the deal by the Republican-led U.S. Congress.

In Iran, Khamenei, who wields final authority above that of the elected leader Rouhani, has so far withheld a clear verdict.

By asserting that the deal goes beyond limits which Khamenei himself set, hardliners may be trying to push him to reject it. The deal is still under review and must be endorsed by Iran’s National Security Council and later by Khamenei.

Some parts of the (resolution) draft have clearly crossed the Islamic republic’s red lines, especially in Iran’s military capabilities,” top Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammed Ali Jafari was quoted as saying shortly before the resolution was passed in New York.

We will never accept it,” he was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.
Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of Kayhan, a newspaper closely associated with Khamenei, wrote that accepting the new resolution would be tantamount to accepting previous Security Council resolutions, which Iran considers illegal.

“Even by simply looking at the deal you can see some vital red lines of the Islamic Republic have not been preserved,” he wrote.

Ahmad Bakhshayesh, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in parliament, said the nuclear negotiations had veered too far into the military sphere.

“The negotiating team was not supposed to negotiate on Iran’s ballistic missile technology,” he was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.

“UNPRECEDENTED ACHIEVEMENT”

Rouhani has defended the deal staunchly in Iran. His senior nuclear negotiator, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, dismissed critics’ concerns and said the U.N. Security Council resolution was an “unprecedented achievement in Iran’s history”.

“….The new UNSC resolution would only ban missiles designed to carry a nuclear warhead, (and) Iran does not have a nuclear missile program,” Araghchi told state broadcaster IRIB in a live interview.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued minutes after the U.N. Security Council passed its resolution that it still rejects any sanctions as “baseless, unjust and illegal”.

“So no part of (the nuclear deal) should be interpreted directly or indirectly as Iran’s surrender to or acceptance of the sanctions and restrictions imposed by the UNSC, the U.S., the E.U. or member countries.”

While avoiding a clearcut verdict in public, Khamenei said in a sermon at prayers on Saturday that he would not let the deal be “abused” or endanger “Iran’s security and defense capabilities”.
He asked the nation to stay united while the agreement is being examined by officials to ensure national interests were preserved.

Iranian supporters of the deal say Khamenei was briefed on the negotiations and it could not have gone through without his green light. But opponents say the Supreme Leader’s decision to subject the text to scrutiny means he has not yet agreed to it.

“It’s impossible that our Supreme Leader agrees with a deal that has crossed the red lines. The leader would have not asked the text of the deal to be examined carefully if he had already endorsed it,” Shariatmadari said.

The head of Iran’s nuclear organization Ali Akbar Salehi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the two main negotiators in Vienna, will attend a closed-door session of parliament on Tuesday to brief lawmakers on the deal.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Peter Graff)

Iran Playing The Long Game With Yazdi (Daniel 8:3)

The Mullahs’ Contrasting World Visions

The Obama administration has built its Iran policy on the hope of “positive change” in the domestic balance of power within the Iranian regime. How realistic is that hope? One answer came last Monday when Iran’s top political mullahs met behind closed doors in Tehran

Mullahs of Iran
London, Asharq Al-AwsatAs Iran and the United States resume talks on a deal for Iran’s nuclear program, there are conflicting signals from Tehran regarding the Islamic Republic’s strategy.
Last Monday a group of 80 or so mullahs gathered behind closed doors in Tehran and elected a new head of a shadowy body named The Assembly of Experts.

So, why should anyone in Iran, even less in the outside world, be interested in such an esoteric exercise?

The answer is because in the current context of Iranian politics this was quite an important event.
But before we see why, let us first see what the assembly is supposed to do, and who is the man now responsible for heading it for the next year.

The assembly consists of 86 senior mullahs representing all of Iran’s provinces and has the power to appoint or dismiss the “Supreme Guide” and to supervise his performance in office and, when necessary, hold him to account.

Under Iran’s Khomeinist constitution, the “Supreme Guide” represents God’s sovereignty on earth and is given immense powers, more than any other head of state anywhere in the world. Several articles of the Khomeinist Constitution, approved in 1979, make it clear that the “Supreme Guide” is also the leader of all Muslims throughout the world, whether they like it or not.

Theoretically at least, the Khomeinist “Supreme Guide” can decide what Islam is and is not at any given time. Whatever he says is regarded as Fasl Al-Khitab (the closing of the debate), unless, of course, the Assembly of Experts overrules him, something that has never happened before.

In more practical terms, the “Supreme Guide” controls the purse strings of the Islamic Republic, one of the richest in the Muslim world. (Over the past three decades the “Supreme Guide” has supervised the expenditure of almost 1 trillion US dollars’ worth of Iranian oil income.) He must give final approval to the national budget and is the commander-in-chief of all armed and security forces. Every ministerial, gubernatorial and ambassadorial appointment must receive his assent. Though elected by universal suffrage, The president of the Islamic Republic cannot assume office without a decree signed by the “Supreme Guide.”

As Roland Dumas, France’s foreign minister in the 1980s, once put it, in the Islamic Republic the “Supreme Guide” is “everything.” “Other officials are actors playing roles such as ministers, ambassadors, etc.”

 A composite identity

But who is the new head or president of the Assembly of Experts?

He is Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, an 84-year-old member of the assembly and one of the few prominent revolutionary mullahs who have managed to combine a clerical career with a high-profile political position.

Yazdi has a composite identity. His surname indicates that his family hailed from the great historic city of Yazd on the edge of the Iranian desert, and one of the last spots in Iran to convert to Islam.
Even today, Yazd, where the largest fire temple in the world is located, is regarded by Zoroastrians all over the world as their “holy” city.

And, yet, Yazdi, who was born in Esfahan, hardly ever lived in his ancestral hometown. However, he could not be regarded as a genuine Esfahani either because while still in his teens he moved to Qom, a center of Shi’ite clerical studies, where he trained to become a mullah. There, his teachers included eminent figures such as Ayatollahs Golpayegani, Mar’ashi-Najafi and Ruhollah Khomeini, the future founder of the Islamic Republic.

His refusal to be identified with any city or province in Iran has earned him the sobriquet of khaneh-bedoush (vagabonds) from his adversaries. He has been elected member of the Islamic Majlis, the Khomeinist parliament, and the Assembly of Experts from such diverse places as Qom, Tehran and even Kermanshah, a largely Kurdish province he had never even visited.

When the mullahs seized power in 1979, Yazdi, still in his forties then, was clearly undecided about the course his career should take. He decided to hedge his bets by playing on both tables. On the political side he became a founding member and leader of the Society of Combatant Clergy, a grouping of mullahs seeking governmental office. He acted as Interim Friday Prayer leader for Tehran and managed to become a member of the Council of the Guardians of the Constitution, a star chamber-like organ that could veto laws passed by the parliament.

At the same time, however, he used his newly won prominence to establish himself as a teacher of theology in Qom with the aim of elevating his rank from a mere Hojjat Al-Islam ( Proof of Islam) to that of a full-fledged Ayatollah (Sign of God).

Over the years his investment in the theological aspect of his career produced important dividends including his elevation to the post of president of the Association of Qom Teachers of Theology, a grouping of pro-government mullahs with much political clout within the regime.

A master of career management, Yazdi succeeded in securing a finger in every pie without becoming exposed to the rough-and-tumble of political struggles. All along he cultivated the friendship of a slightly younger mullah: Hojjat Al-Islam Ali Husseini Khamenei, the future Grand Ayatollah, Imam and “Supreme Guide.”

Profitable friendship

Investment in his friendship with Khamenei provided a big dividend when in 1989, soon after Khomeini’s death, Yazdi was appointed Islamic Chief Justice, one of the top five positions in the Khomeinist system, which he held for 10 years.

Yazdi’s victory last Monday came as a surprise to many, especially because he had not even hinted at being a candidate until an hour before the secret session started.

This was unexpected,” said Masha-Allah Shams Al-Waezeen, a Tehran analyst close to the defeated candidate Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. “I was genuinely surprised that Yazdi won.”

Yazdi’s win was overwhelming. He collected almost twice as many votes as Rafsanjani: 47 to 24, revealing the failure of months of campaigning by the Rafsanjani faction to promote their candidate as “the inevitable winner.”

Yazdi says he had not revealed his intention to become a candidate to anyone until the time the session started. “Our system is not like what they do in infidel countries where they organize election campaigns,” he says. “In our system the Hidden Imam approaches the hearts concerned and advises them on what course to take.”

Yazdi’s claim means that he had not informed Khamenei about his intention to stand for election. Is that credible?

We may never know the full answer.

However, most analysts agree that Khamenei’s candidate had been Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who did stand in the first round of the voting but decided to withdraw when it became clear he would not win in the second round. Thus, even if Yazdi had not obtained Khamenei’s approval in advance, it is clear that Khamenei supporters switched their votes to him in the second round.

That Khamenei must be happy about Yazdi’s victory became clear on Tuesday when the “Supreme Guide” commented on the results of the election.

“The past and present achievements of Ayatollah Yazdi show that he is eminently suitable for the task he has been chosen for,” Khamenei said.

Yazdi must have doubly enjoyed his victory because Rafsanjani, the man he defeated, had been one of his oldest and most bitter political enemies.

Despite deep political differences, the two men share many points in common. They belong to the same generation, Rafsanjani being a year or two younger. Both come from medium-rich farming families from the edge of the great Iranian desert (Rafsanjani is from Bahreman, near Kerman). Both wear white turbans, indicating their “pure” Iranian origin.

Mullahs who claim Arab ancestry through the Shi’ite Imams wear black turbans. Both Yazdi and Rafsanjani have tried to develop a double politico-religious career. The difference is that Yazdi has emphasized the religious aspect of his career while Rafsanjani has focused on the political side of his.

Yazdi has always claimed a religious title while Rafsanjani started using the title of Ayatollah just over a decade ago. Yazdi’s theological claims are more credible than Rafsanjani’s if only because the former does run a theological course in Qom while Rafsanjani has never taught any religious course.

 Business and corruption

Both Rafsanjani and Yazdi are successful businessmen, having amassed immense fortunes since the revolution in 1979.

At different times both men have been accused of corruption. In 2009, then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a live television debate, accused Rafsanjani and his family of acting like a local version of the Mafia and claimed to have “a mountain of evidence” to prove the charge. He never did. The Rafsanjani faction retaliated when Abbas Palizdar, a member of the Judicial Committee of the Islamic Majlis, accused Yazdi of corruption and money laundering. He, too, provided no evidence.
Since accusing political rivals of corruption is standard practice in most Middle Eastern countries, the charges made against both Yazdi and Rafsanjani must be taken with a pinch of salt.

What is certain, however, is the deep difference that exists between the two men’s approaches to the role of religion in politics.

Yazdi seems to be genuinely convinced that politics, and in fact everything else, should be in the service of religion, albeit the official version presented by the Islamic Republic. In contrast, Rafsanjani believes that religion should be in the service of politics. In Yazdi’s view the mosque should control the state.

In Rafsanjani’s view the state, especially in its “pure Muhammadan version” would be in the driving seat.

There is one more important difference between the two men.

Rafsanjani seems to take a good part of the regime’s religious discourse with a pinch of salt. For example, he treats as mere metaphor the claim that God created the entire universe only for the Ahl Al-Bayt (The members of the House of the Prophet Muhammad). In contrast Yazdi, in his speeches and writings, insists on the literal truth of traditions.

For Rafsanjani, religion is a mechanism for controlling the uneducated masses through a code of ethics imposed by the state. For Yazdi, religion is for everyone, educated or uneducated, rich or poor.

Often regarded as the godfather of the so-called “Reformist” faction, Rafsanjani favors openness to the outside world as long as that does not threaten the mullahs’ hold on power.

The former president has learned English and sent his children to study abroad, including in Canada, Belgium and Great Britain. During his two terms as president of the Islamic Republic, Rafsanjani steered the regime through a number of diplomatic storms with the European Union while also seeking a dialogue with successive US administrations.

Secret channel to Washington

Rafsanjani has always been interested in normalizing relations with the United States. In the 1980s he opened a secret channel with the Reagan administration in Washington and sent his son Mehdi to forge a deal with Lt. Col. Oliver North, then a junior US presidential adviser.

In contrast Yazdi has often warned against the “danger of contamination” in developing contacts with the “infidel” world.

As a leading member of the Society of Combatant Clergy, Yazdi opposed Rafsanjani’s candidacy on both occasions when the latter was elected president. Later, Yazdi also opposed the presidential candidacies of both Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, mid-ranking mullahs regarded as protégés of Rafsanjani.

Yazdi has also played a key role in vetoing Rafsanjani’s candidacy for a seat in the Islamic Majlis and, more recently, the presidency.

“For Rafsanjani religion is a business,” says Ahmad Khavarani, an Iran analyst. “For Yazdi, however, his business is religion.”

During the controversial presidential election of 2009, Yazdi supported Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while Rafsanjani threw his weight behind Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former adversary. When the losing candidates claimed massive fraud, Rafsanjani endorsed their claim while Yazdi dubbed it as part of a fitna (sedition) plotted by Israel and the US.

All that shows that the choice the Assembly of Experts faced was a clear one between a strategy of closing the chapter of the Islamic Revolution in favor of normalization at home and abroad on the one hand, and seizing the opportunity to create an “Islamic superpower” led by Iran on the other.

While Rafsanjani’s discourses are peppered with jeremiads about dangers facing the Khomeinist regime, Yazdi’s tone remains triumphant. Rafsanjani warns that unless Iran changes course it would be heading for big trouble.

In contrast, Yazdi insists that Iran’s only credible adversary, the United States, is “in terminal decline” and that the Islamic Republic’s “spectacular victories in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen” indicate “a strategic shift in the balance of power at least on a regional scale.”

Interestingly, Yazdi may be outflanked by mullahs even more radical, and more starry-eyed, about Iran’s promised domination of the Middle East, than himself.

 Surprise victory

Thus, Yazdi may appear as a centrist between Rafsanjani, the advocate of compromise, and Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who calls for “exporting the revolution” to all Muslim majority countries. (Mesbah-Yazdi is no relation of Mohammad Yazdi.)

But what is the significance of Yazdi’s surprise victory?

Pro-Rafsanjani analysts seek to minimize the importance of Yazdi’s election with two arguments.

The first, advanced by Sadegh Zibakalam, a columnist for pro-Rafsanjani daily Sharq (The East) in Tehran, is that Yazdi is elected for only one year since the whole of the Assembly of Experts will be up for election in February 2016.

“We don’t know who will secure a majority next year, Zibakalam says. “ It would be unwise to write off Rafsanjani.”

Rafsanjani himself has gone even further by claiming that he continues to wield “real influence” in the assembly.

“The real task of the assembly is to choose the next Supreme Guide whenever the occasion arises,” he said last week. “At such a moment I will have my say as a member of the assembly. I don’t need to be president of the Assembly to have my say.”

Other commentators, however, dismiss Rafsanjani’s analysis as wishful thinking.

“The main message of this election is that hardliners refuse to loosen the grip on power in key state entities,” says Hussein Rassam, a former political analyst for the British Embassy in Tehran. “And when the day comes, chances of a hardliner successor to Ayatollah Khamenei continue to remain strong for now.”

In more immediate terms, Yazdi’s election is a setback for President Barack Obama’s policy on Iran, which is predicated on helping the so-called “moderates” capture all levers of power in Tehran and gradually guiding the Islamic Republic towards normality.

Obama has hinted that he believes such a course would take around 10 years to be completed, the period fixed for the nuclear deal being negotiated with Tehran.

During that decade, Khamenei, now aged 76 and reportedly in poor health, may bow out of stage or be pushed to exit it by the Rafsanjani faction. Sources of recent widespread rumors about Khamenei’s “impending demise” have now been traced back to individuals close to the Rafsanjani faction, speculating over sequels of an operation for prostate cancer carried out on the “Supreme Guide.”

Scenario for change

The scenario that the Rafsanjani faction is trying to sell to Obama runs something like this: Rafsanjani takes over the Assembly of Experts thus holding a Damocles sword above Khamenei’s head. In 2016, the Rafsanjani faction wins a majority in both the Assembly of Experts and the Islamic Majlis while still holding the presidency through Rafsanjani’s protégé Rouhani.

Rafsanjani has publicly stated on a number of occasions that he has always favored a collegiate leadership system in which the function of the “Supreme Guide” is assumed by a group of three to five mullahs.

Such a reform would heighten the profile of the elected president of the Republic by letting him function as a genuine head of the executive branch of government while also allowing the Islamic Majlis to operate as a genuine legislature. The Council of the Guardians of the Constitution would be merged with the Expediency Council which Rafsanjani has chaired for almost 20 years.

Rafsanjani’s supporters have always seen him as an Iranian version of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese Communist leader who helped lead the People’s Republic out of its revolutionary crisis and towards political normality and economic development. Rafsanjani has often highlighted his pragmatism, hinting that he is prepared to sacrifice ideology to the exercise of power. In 1989, when he had been elected president, soon after Khomeini’s death he surprised many by saying that he and many other political mullahs were prepared to drop their traditional clothes and wear “ordinary suits” if that were necessary for “serving the people.”

Rafsanjani wrote a biography of Mirza Taqi Khan Amir-Kabir, a 19th century prime minister, whom he regarded as his ideal political model. Amir-Kabir is chiefly remembered for trying to introduce Western sciences and rules of government to Qajar Iran in the face of stiff opposition from reactionary mullahs. Rather than trying to build up a clerical profile, Rafsanjani used the media to promote himself as “The General of Construction,” emphasizing economic development rather than religious piety.

Thus, Rafsanjani’s scenario for change includes a gradual toning down of the regime’s religious themes in favor of a new discourse highlighting economic growth, scientific advancement and social reform.

Yazdi, in contrast, believes that downgrading religious themes could lead to the inevitable downfall of the regime.

If people want economic growth and scientific and technological achievements why should they seek such things from the mullahs rather than economists and scientists?

 In any case, for Yazdi what matters above all is building a society based on religious values and governed by the Islamic Shari’a. “We did not make a revolution for economic reasons,” he says. “Our revolution was prompted by our people’s thirst for Islam.”

Rafsanjani’s scenario has always suffered from a number of flaws. First, there is no guarantee that Khamenei could be easily scripted out. By all accounts he remains the single most popular figure of the regime within its increasingly narrow support base. In any election organized by this regime and thus closed to “outsiders,” Khamenei or almost anyone he supports would win against anyone fielded by the Rafsanjani faction.

Also, there is no reason why Khamenei should not survive a banal prostate cancer. If he lives as long as Khomeini did, Khamenei would still have at least another 10 years to go, the same length of time envisaged by Obama in his quest for a deal with the mullahs.

Hamid Zomorrodi, a Tehran analyst, believes that Yazdi’s election on Monday shows that the first wheel of the change machine marketed by Rafsanjani has come loose.

“Even if Obama boosts the position of the Rafsanjani faction by giving it the semblance of a ‘diplomatic victory,’ there is no guarantee that other wheels of this ramshackle machine would not also come off in 2016,” he said.

 
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

Sanction Easing Leaves Ayatollah In Control (Daniel 8:3)

Middle East Countries Wary Of Iran Sanctions Easing, Not Possible Nuclear Weapons
Khamenei's Iron Fist

Khamenei’s Iron Fist
  @ErinBanco e.banco@ibtimes.com on February 26 2015 3:56 PM EST
 
ISTANBUL — While the U.S. and Israel focus on the implications of Iran developing its nuclear program, some of Iran’s regional adversaries are concerned about something else: the power that Iran’s economy, unshackled from sanctions by a nuclear deal with the international community, would exert in the Middle East. As negotiations in Geneva inch toward a possible deal in which Iran would freeze its nuclear energy program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions, Iran’s neighbors look worriedly at a huge nation that’s been isolated from world trade for decades and whose re-entry in it may tip the balance of economic power in the Middle East. 
 
With a population of more than 78 million, Iran is the Mideast’s second-largest nation after Egypt and already the second-biggest economy after Saudi Arabia. With almost two Iranians out of three under the age of 30, many of them with higher degrees, the young, well-educated nation could soon turn into an economic powerhouse.
And for countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, an Iran released from its current economic restrictions and able to trade freely is a threat, in sectors from mining to the automotive industry. For the governments of those Sunni-dominated nations, those economic concerns also compound ongoing concerns over the growing political influence of Shiite Iran in places such as Iraq and Syria. 
Iran has grown into its current size as an economy even under an international isolation that began in 1979, when an Islamist revolution overthrew the pro-Western regime of the Shah and the occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran led to the end of relationships with the U.S. Washington and the European Union took an even harsher stance in 2012, when increased sanctions imposed as Iran went forward with its nuclear program helped cause a two-year recession.
U.S. companies are prohibited from trading with Iran, and doing so remains nearly impossible  for non-U.S. companies. Any foreign company not owned by a U.S. individual that trades with Iran runs the risk of being blacklisted by the U.S. and excluded from its market.
But that could change if the U.S. and Iran reach an agreement. Recent reports have indicated that U.S. officials are considering putting forward a plan that would restrict Tehran’s nuclear capabilities for 10 years in exchange for the easing of some economic sanctions. Analysts and lawyers specializing in sanctions said one of the first parts of the sanction structure to be lifted or eased would be the extraterritorial factor, which allows the U.S. government to punish third-party entities that deal with Iran.
If Iran comes back in full onto the world oil market, an immediate effect is that Saudi Arabia’s industrial ambitions may suffer. Mohamad Aly Ramady, an economist based in Riyadh, said Saudi Arabia is using its revenue from oil and minerals extraction to help jump-start an emerging auto sector. Over the past two years, Saudi Arabia has worked with Indian-owned companies to begin car production in the city of Yanbu, but if Iran were able to export cars, it would hinder potential future sales of Saudi vehicles in the Middle East.
Iran has ranked for years in the top 15 largest car-producing nations, making 1.6 million vehicles in 2011, more than Great Britain and more than double Italy. Renewed sanctions then hit the nation over its nuclear energy program, and the ensuing economic slump slowed car production to just 740,000 in 2013. But Iran has shown it has the ability to make more cars than established industrial powerhouses, and if sanctions were eased it could sell them throughout the Middle East. That could help sink Saudi Arabia’s attempt to diversify away from a largely oil-based economy, after the kingdom has invested more than $50 billion in turning Yanbu into an industrial center.
For Jordan, the fear lies more in how a resurgent Iranian economy could translate into more regional clout.
Iran has for years intervened in volatile situations throughout the Middle East, giving cash and weapons to Shiite groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In the latter, Iran initially propped up President Bashar al-Assad, but its intervention has turned into a fight to stop Sunni militias, including the Islamic State group, or ISIS. The humanitarian crisis created by the regime’s crackdown with Iranian support has pushed  hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee to Jordan, which is burdening the fragile Jordanian economy.
Like Jordan, Turkey also has a major stake in the wars in Iraq and Syria, and has taken in millions of Syrian refugees since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. But the government is more worried about the possibility of Iran being able again to conduct financial transactions directly, which would cut Turkish banks out of the profitable role of intermediary.
Before the U.S. and EU implemented the latest round of sanctions, Turkey’s Halkbank, 75 percent owned by the government, was one of the main hubs for handling Iranian transactions. The few countries that still imported Iranian oil, unable to pay Iran directly, turned to Halkbank to make payments. The Turkish bank is holding on to the cash until it can pay Iranian oil sellers, and lawyers said it is profiting handsomely from millions of dollars in  interest. (The central bank’s main interest rate in Turkey is now at a relatively very high 10.75 percent.)
A deal with Iran that could end that bonanza for Turkey. But sanctions could remain in place, depending on the outcome of the nuclear talks.
The opposers of any agreement with Iran include many Republicans in Washington and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will hold a speech before the U.S. Congress next week — at the Republicans’ invitation, not approved by the White House — in which he is expected to publicly criticize the White House’s efforts to broker a deal. Netanyahu has said before that a deal is going to result in Iran developing a nuclear weapon, which Israel would never allow.

White Houses Delay Allowing Iran To Obtain Nukes

Maryam Rajavi: Iran Nuclear Negotiations a Serious Threat

Iran-StallTactics

Failure of the year-long negotiations, seven months extension of endless negotiations, ignoring Security Council resolutions, leave the way open for mullahs to acquire nuclear bomb, entailing serious threat to world peace and security

Maryam Rajavi:

Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, described the failure of negotiations by the United States and the five powers with the religious fascism ruling Iran due to unjustified concessions to the regime and flexibilities exercised in dealing with the regime and said: Ignoring Security Council resolutions and extending endless negotiations with the Iranian regime leave the way open to acquire nuclear bomb which is considered by the mullahs as a “guarantee for survival” of the regime.

Continuing with negotiations which have been going on for 12 years instead of decisiveness and intensifying sanctions amounts to taking a path which will inevitably lead to nuclear bomb. This is the repeat of the same policies and mistakes which have brought the mullahs so close to the nuclear bomb.

Mrs. Rajavi added that the mullahs’ medieval regime engulfed with internal crises and in fear of consequences of relinquishing its nuclear bomb program, in accordance with the redline set out by Ali Khamenei, will refrain from signing a comprehensive accord which would prevent it from obtaining nuclear bomb. Nuclear bomb and domination of Iraq are vital for the Godfather of ISIS and international banker of terrorism. Giving seven more months to the regime will only provide further opportunity to the regime to obtain bomb.

Mrs. Rajavi stressed that last year the clerical regime, under pressure by international sanction, internal isolation and revelation of its nuclear weapons program by the Resistance, was forced to retreat one step and signed the Geneva accord. Numerous unjustified concessions by Western governments have emboldened the regime. This is the result of shameful silence regarding the gross violation of human rights in Iran including among others throwing acid on women and daily executions across Iran and also regarding export of terrorism and occupation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Mrs. Rajavi recalled that after the Geneva accord she had declared that “the extent of the regime’s retreat and abandoning nuclear weapons as well as its compliance with international obligations depend precisely on the degree of decisiveness and firmness of the world community vis-à-vis the regime’s evil intentions and its intrinsic deceptiveness… Any leniency, hesitancy and concessions by the international community will prompt Khamenei to once again move towards manufacturing nuclear weapons through deception and cheating.”

Mrs. Rajavi reiterated that full implementation of Security Council resolutions, in particular complete halt in enrichment activities, acceptance and ratification of additional protocol, and free access to suspicious sites and installations of the regime by inspectors are crucial to ensure the regime would abandon its efforts to acquire nuclear bomb. Experience shows that such result can only be achieved by decisiveness and comprehensive political, oil and arms sanction as well as evicting Iran from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

A report by the International Committee in Search of Justice published last week clearly indicated that the Iranian regime’s nuclear program was from the outset with military intentions and all its apparent civilian activities were at the service of building nuclear bomb. The regime never reported these activities voluntarily to the International Atomic Energy Agency under None Proliferation Treaty and it was the Iranian Resistance that for the first time revealed the regime’s program.