Final Showdown between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad
On April 16, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pushed Heydar Moslehi into resigning as Intelligence Minister to make way for a close crony, one of his deputy presidents Hossein Abdullahian.
As a member of Ahmadinejad's inner circle, the new man is also a good friend of the president's chief of staff Esfandayr Rahim-Mashaee, a key figure in the president's future plans.
Ahmadinejad neglected to inform supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of these changes. This was a calculated slap in the eye for the Leader, since the secret service apparatus is a core component of Revolutionary Islamic Iran's ruling establishment and part of the supreme leader's personal domain. The prerogative for firing and hiring intelligence officials is his – not the president's.
So when the Leader saw the laconic communiqué announcing Moslehi's resignation and appointment to the token post of personal adviser to the president on security affairs, he hit the ceiling and promptly issued a counter-bulletin to the Iranian news agency revoking the resignation and retaining Moslehi as intelligence minister.
In so doing, he invoked the absolute power vested in him as supreme jurist for overturning any government action or law in the interests of the Islamic regime. Such decrees, called hokm-e hokumati, are very rare, occurring only when disputes cannot be resolved in private.
Khamenei was moved to this extreme measure by Ahmadinejad's deliberate attempt to circumvent him, part of the president's drive to seize control of all key power bases in the country in fulfillment of his self-appointed mission to prepare the way for the coming of the Mahdi – a personal mission he revealed in his book last year (and which DEBKA-Net-Weekly 473 analyzed in its Dec. 10, 2010 issue.)
Ahmadinejad goes on strike
Significantly, Khamenei went over the president's head to inform Moslehi he was reinstated. But the Leader's communiqué was held back for fourteen hours by the official news agency (IRNA) and the Ahmadinejad-affiliated websites. In the end, IRNA's director, Ali-Akbar Javanfekr, who also serves as the president's personal adviser on media affairs, refused to publish the supreme leader's reversal of the president's decision, claiming on his Facebook page that publication would play into the hands of schemers plotting to foment strife between the two leaders.
His refusal to publish was also unprecedented.
But Ahmadinejad was not yet done.
Tuesday, April 19, he proposed doing away with the Intelligence Ministry and renaming it Ministry of Intelligence Affairs under presidential management, so bringing his feud with the supreme leader into deadlock.
Thursday, April 28, the position was as follows:
Heydar Moslehi is restored as intelligence minister but boycotted by all other Ahmadinejad government ministers and personnel. The cabinet, the only official forum for his briefings, is now closed to him. The Iranian secret service is therefore paralyzed.
Since April 17, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian and intelligence sources report Ahmadinejad has not showed up for work and is not answering his phone or calling cabinet meetings. He is staying at home on strike. As far he is concerned, Hossein Abdullahian is Intelligence Minister – not Moslehi.
Then, Monday, April 25, Khamenei had his say to a group of visitors from Fars province: After accusing foreign media of blowing up an "unimportant incident" to highlight a rift between Iranian leaders, he made it clear that far from surrendering to Ahmadinejad, "The regime of the Islamic Republic is a powerful machine and the Leader is firmly standing by its correct positions… As long as I am alive, I will not allow the great movement of the Iranian nation towards the ideals to deviate [from its course]."
Clergy smears Ahmadinejad's candidate for president
Khamenei thus placed a large stumbling block in the path of Ahmadinejad's grand ambitions.
Eighteen months before the 2012 elections, control of the national security machinery is an essential part of the president's plans: While barred from running for a third term as president, he is planning to engineer the "election" of his father-in-law and right-hand man, the a/m Rahim-Mashaee. To get potential rivals off the field and guarantee his crony's election as president, he needs loyalists running the security services and making the proper "arrangements."
The senior Iranian clergy, including Khamenei despises Rahim-Mashaee, especially since he said two years ago that the Iranian regime does not hate the Israelis or view them as enemies, a virtual heresy in the Islamic Republic.
This is the point at which the infighting in Tehran intersects with the new diplomatic association launched quietly by President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report.
At the start of the month, Khamenei forbade Rahim-Mashaee from traveling to New York for the Iranian expatriate Novruz New Year's celebrations in America. He suspected Ahmadinejad's kinsman was planning to sit down secretly with US and Turkish diplomats and discuss terms for co-opting the Iranian president to the new Washington-Ankara alignment.
This Khamenei is determined to obstruct. Since then, Rahim-Mashaee has been targeted for merciless defamation by the clergy.
Last Tuesday (April 19), Ayatollah Ahmad Alam-Al-Hoda, the Supreme Leader's envoy in Mashhad and a religious extremist branded Rahim-Mashaee a "Bein-Al-Ghay," which means a corrupt deviant – or in street parlance a homosexual – with aspersions on the president by association.
If President Obama believed that Turkey's intercession with Tehran would pave the way at this time for another bid to engage Iran, he will have to think again.