The only figure of any consequence left standing by two weeks of post-election turmoil in Tehran is Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. None of the opposition leaders have emerged from the protest movement protest movement battling a rigged poll with a strong imprint.
US president Barack Obama, in his most forceful statement yet, told a news conference in Washington Tuesday, June 23: “The United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic Iran and is not interfering in Iran's affairs.” He stressed: “The Iranian people can speak for themselves.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier that day:
“I absolutely think we've seen the beginnings of change in Iran.”
Those statements were several removes from the reality evolving inside Iran. The Iranian people are muzzled by regime toughs when they try to “speak for themselves” and no signs of change are perceptible, while the objects of their protest, Khamenei and his protegee Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are unassailed.
The sitting leadership slammed the door on further arguments over the fraudulent manipulation of the June 12 poll which resulted in Ahmadinejad's landslide victory: The Guardian Council announced there was no need for another election, and its designated president is to be sworn in by parliament (Majlis) between July 26 and August 19.
Khamenei's toughest problem, far from the madding crowds
The supreme leader has thus bought a clear six weeks for extinguishing the last stirrings of the incipient uprising, putting the 1,000 detained protesters on trial and working out quiet bargains with sections of the Iranian establishment which sat on the fence through the turbulent street confrontations.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report that his biggest hurdle now is posed by the fence-sitters from the clerical establishment, whom he must win over to legitimize his own authority,
For the first time since Khomenei's Shiite revolution of 1979, the ayatollahs, the regime's central pillar, are refusing to endorse the supreme leader's choice of president. Indeed, most of the ayatollahs, excepting the radical Masbah Yazdi, oppose Ahmadinejad not on political but theological grounds.
They are putting their collective foot down at having to endure a despised theological ignoramus for another four years, one who postures as an authority on doctrine and pretends to be the messenger of the Mahdi (Shiite messiah figure) who communes directly with God.
Even radical ayatollahs have their limits and Ahmadinejad has crossed boundaries forbidden to a lay figure and a politician many times over.
Ahmadinejad's diminution represents the only significant change thrown up in Iran by the turbulent events of the last two weeks.
Khamenei needs time for the difficult task of winning the mullahs round and closing their ranks behind the designated president before he can crown him.
This explains the wide timeframe rather than a fixed date for his swearing-in.
It may be recalled that in 1989, Khamenei's own bid for the supreme leadership was derided by most of the clergy who dismissed him as a scholarly lightweight. Most of them did not hold out against him for long, although one of the stoutest, the aged Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, has been kept under house arrest in the holy city of Qom for many years.
Khamenei managed to overcome his colleagues' resistance then by lobbying each one individually in long conversations. He was content with gaining their non-opposition to his rule – if not approval.
A wily salesman, Khamenei will take the same road to break down clerical resistance to Ahmadinejad.
The Islamic regime's pre-election mastery of Iran's cyberspace
While the opposition's rallies appeared to have been triggered by a patently fraudulent election, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that the dissident movement and the regime's crackdown both followed prepared scripts.
As far back as May and early June, Iranian authorities got set for an eruption of protest when election results were released. Mir Hossein Mousavi's close associates, for the most part university professors, intellectuals, youngsters and female activists, were placed under tight undercover surveillance. Wiretaps tracked them at home and on their cell phones and eyed their computers and e-mail traffic in and outside Iran.
Evidence of the regime's pre-emptive planning is beginning to surface now.
Christopher Rhoads and Loretta Chao revealed on Monday, June 22, in the Tech section of the Wall Street Journal: “The Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world's most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale.
“Iranian authorities are able not only to block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes.
“The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cell phone company, in the second half of 2008.
Regime uses Internet to turn the tables on the protesters
So, while admiring Western media were star-struck by the role played by Twitter and YouTube in energizing the uprising and helping the dissidents expose and fool a brutal regime, our intelligence sources report that Iran's spy services were manipulating this Western cyber tool, which they had mastered, to penetrate the opposition's e-mail and use both social networks and many other online resources as extensively as the protesters and their organizers – if not more.
Digital red herrings kept the protest organizers from rallying more than 100,000 or 150,000 demonstrators at any one time.
Disinformation misdirected them to phony venues where they ran into the arms of riot police and security forces waiting in ambush.
Representations of riots and clashes aired by foreign media were often altered and distorted causing protesters to question their leaders.
Opposition activists and their family members trusted text and e-mail messages as coming from their organizers when they were planted by Iranian intelligence agents running a disinformation operation from Iran's central telecom service offices.
In order to keep their successful operation afloat, Iranian intelligence directors ran interference but never allowed a complete cut-off of telephone and Internet lines in the country and its overseas links.
This alone should have alerted the administrators of the social networks, the US State and Defense Departments, when they asked Twitter to keep its lines to Iran open to support the protest movement. But unsuspecting Western media gladly aired clips apparently relayed from the protesters' underground without detecting that some had been doctored to support the authorities' crackdown and discredit the opposition.
Basijl burrows inside protesters' ranks
The digital invasion orchestrated by Ali Khamenei's agencies was aided by a parallel physical penetration of the opposition's strength on the ground, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources.
Pre-knowledge of the locations, times and numbers of scheduled rallies served the Revolutionary Guards for planting Basijj militiamen in civilian garb inside the dissidents' ranks. In the early days of the campaign, the opposition was able to marshal tens of thousands of pro-reform marchers; little did they know that several thousand militiamen, operating in tight knots, marched among them.
At first, the demonstrators were perplexed by the meager security presence in their path and the lack of resistance to their processions. Their numbers decreased sharply when they realized they had suffered a hostile invasion.
The Basijj invaders had two undercover missions:
One was to get close enough to the ringleaders to identify and photograph them.
Two to stand by for a prearranged signal through a hidden receiver each carried and then pull out hidden knives and batons and start beating and slashing the demonstrators around them. The terrified protesters ran off in all directions and the demonstration broke up.
Then, in the small hours of the night, Basijj thugs rounded up the ringleaders they had covertly photographed. Those images had been processed at intelligence headquarters in Tehran, identified and addresses relayed to the squads who carried out the arrests.
They knew exactly where to find the student activists in their Tehran University dorms and which homes in the city to raid. Not content with beating them, Basijj militiamen systematically vandalized their victims' property.
Before Ayatollah Khamenei delivered his landmark sermon on June 19, opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and ex-president Mohammed Khatami, were still toying with the notion of mobilizing hundreds of thousands and maybe a million souls for street rallies.
They were soon to discover that the streets had passed to the control of the supreme leader and his forces.
Well into the second week of the confrontation, Khamenei was so sure of his command that he was not afraid to order four national soccer players, the objects of fierce popular adulation, “banned for life” for sporting opposition green bands at a World Cup match.