1. Next in Line After Iraq?

DEBKA-Net-Weekly has decided to devote most of this issue to Iran because, according to our best sources, the internal situation there is so volatile that the regime could be overthrown suddenly by a popular uprising backed by the army. This week’s reference by President George W. Bush to the need for reforms in Tehran reflected an urgent sense that the United States may be caught up in a race against the clock – to strike at this member of “the evil axis” before it disintegrates into chaos – whether before, during or after the US offensive against Iraq.


However the president’s words had an unforeseen effect, as will be seen in the five articles below.


 


On July 13, US President George W. Bush aimed a sharp sideswipe at the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran. He called for government reforms, an end to repression in the Islamic Republic, democracy and a better future for the Iranian people. His vision for Iran, a country the United States has accused of sponsoring terrorism, runs along similar lines to the outline he charted on June 23 for the Palestinian Authority.


But his words fell on Tehran with the force of a ballistic missile. Iran’s rulers immediately took them for little short of a cassus belli, propelling them into a massive shifting around of national strategic resources.


In the last year, Iran has invested heavily in building up the Lebanese Hizballah, bolstering the group with its Revolutionary Guards units and a large array of missiles, so as to anchor its national defenses on a forward line far from its borders. The US president’s words were taken by Iran’s rulers to mean that their Islamic regime, Tehran itself, was to be the next target of America’s military thrust after Saddam Hussein. They therefore rushed into full-scale, secret preparations for a war of terror against the United States.


Within hours, Ali Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader and the supreme commander of its armed forces, called two of the most potent state forums into secret session. President Mohammed Khatami was ordered to entrust the supreme state security council, called into immediate session on Sunday, July 14, with a detailed analysis of Bush’s speech and recommendations for an appropriate operational response.


Khamenei himself led an urgent meeting of the supreme council for the export of the Shi’ite revolution, the secret Iranian panel that synchronizes international Iranian and Hizballah terrorist activities. Present, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Tehran, were past masters of ventures into the “export of revolution” such as former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – now the senior global coordinator of Iran’s terrorist and subversive operations and liaison director between terrorist elements and senior political leaders, and Ali Akbar Velayati, the former Iranian foreign minister and currently Khamenei’s most senior adviser on terrorism – a position that effectively puts him in command of Iran’s terror campaigns. Velayati is primarily responsible for Iranian terrorist cells in the Gulf and North and South America, including the United States. Also present were the former interior minister, Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pour, who oversees Iranian ties with Syria and Hizballah, and Mohammed Taktiri, a senior officer of the Islamic council for propaganda and export of the revolution, one of Iran’s multiple terrorist arms. Mohtashami-Pour’s main job is to tend operational links between Khamenei and Imad Mughniyeh, the Iranian leader’s commander of terror operations.


As DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in its previous issue, Mughniyeh has also been appointed supreme military commander of Hizballah forces in southern Lebanon.


Bush’s comments dropped on the Iranian leadership with incendiary effect at a particularly sensitive time. The ayatollahs were smarting from the anti-regime demonstrations staged in Tehran and other main cities four days earlier, on Tuesday, July 9, to mark the third anniversary of the violent suppression of a previous student rally. There was also the painful resignation of a regime stalwart, Ayatollah Sayah Jalal Adin Tahari, Khamenei’s personal representative in Esfahan, the second most important city in Iran.


The ayatollah from Esfahan quit after publishing a biting indictment of the Iranian leadership, holding it responsible for the corruption rampant in the country, the widespread government graft, soaring drug use in all walks of society and an ailing economy with unemployment rocketing at 14 percent.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say the real figure is closer to 30 percent.


Bush’s speech fueled the flames of Tahari’s fierce attack and exacerbated the mounting insecurity of a regime that feels itself more and more under siege.


It also added to the anxieties entertained in Tehran about American intentions ever since a disturbing report came in from Iranian agents. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Tehran can disclose that word has come from the approximately 2,600 to 3,000 Iranian undercover agents posted in eastern and northern Afghanistan of an intense US military buildup along the Afghan-Iranian frontier, most markedly in and around the eastern city of Herat. As we shall report in detail in the next article, the Americans are building what promises to be the biggest air base in the region only 100 km (60 miles) from the Iranian border, a facility with the potential of a direct strategic threat to Iran.

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