The Islamic regime of Iran was shaken badly this week by damaging defections in protest against its brutal crackdown of the opposition.
Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the iconic founder of the Islamic revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeinei, decided to leave Iran with the rest of the family and settle in Najaf, the holy Shiite city in Iraq. Regime officials are sparing no effort to dissuade the Khomeini clan from a step that would seriously undermine its religious legitimacy.
The families of the two top opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, are wracking their brains for ways to ward off the threats of arrest and execution hanging over them.
Their most exalted sympathizer, the wily ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani, has developed his own weapon of defense. He has let supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and president Mahmoud Ahmadinjead know about a package of secret and sensitive documents attesting to their criminal and corrupt activities which his son has taken out of the country, with instructions to publish them should harm come to any member of the family in Iran.
This threat resulted in a sharp decline in attacks on Rafsanjani in recent weeks. Nonetheless, the president's followers this week again raised demands to put him on trial.
As they fought for their lives, the pro-democracy movement's leaders of Iran felt as though a bucket of icy water had been dashed down their backs when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared Monday, Jan. 4 that the Obama administration wants "to keep the door to dialogue open" with Iran.
Obama called “coward” and “lame duck”
Although the United States has avoided using the term deadline, she said, "It cannot wait indefinitely to hear from Iran about curtailing its nuclear program and has begun talking to its international partners about pressure and sanctions."
Leading dissidents were most incensed by the top US diplomat's comment: "Our goal is to pressure the Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering" of Iranians, "who deserve better than what they currently are receiving."
This was the reverse of the opposition movement's expectations from Washington and evidence of its total failure to correctly size up the situation inside Iran, said DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources.
For the regime, Clinton's remarks were a shot in the arm that cheered on the harshest campaign of suppression waged against any form of dissent in the thirty years of Islamic rule. In their frustration, its leaders, unnamed out of mortal fear, hurled epithets like "ditherer," "coward" and "lame duck" at the Obama administration. They accused Washington of undermining the struggle for justice and democracy waged by the Iranian people at great sacrifice since the rigged presidential election of June.
They stressed that millions of suffering Iranians crave international sanctions, the harsher the better, to weaken or even topple the regime. They would gladly endure extreme hardship to this end, if only to strengthen the popular protest against a tyrannical, corrupt government by showing how far it shirks its responsibilities for the nation's welfare.
And indeed the Clinton remarks were welcomed by Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Ramin Mehmanparast, Tuesday, Jan. 5 as confirming that there is no longer any “deadline” for restarting dialogue on Iran’s nuclear program.
Clinton's remarks trigger more repressive steps
He was followed the next day by intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi, who imposed a ban on conversation between Iranian citizens and foreign correspondents on pain of grave punishment. Wednesday, a senior Iranian intelligence official listed nearly a hundred foreign institutions and individuals barred to contacts by Iranians. They include all foreign radio and television stations broadcasting to Iran and all the foreign cultural and research institutions working with Iran or associated with Iranian counterparts.
After at least 180 dead and mass arrests, Tehran is still trying to justify its savage crackdown by accusing the demonstrators of complicity in a “Zionist, Imperialist plot”. Its aim is to minimize the protest to a small group of misguided individuals incited by foreign interests rather than a broad popular movement.
To demonstrate its own popular support, the government tried to drum up a big rally in Tehran on Jan. 1. The turnout was a lot smaller than hoped for despite orders to all government personnel to show up.
An opposition figure, released this week from jail against hefty bail, told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the shah's downfall in 1979 was accelerated by widespread strikes and shutdowns. Shutdowns today if caused by international sanctions, far from uniting the people behind the regime, would rather turn the masses against it as the cause of the catastrophe. This Washington has failed to grasp.
Therefore, Clinton's comment about pressuring the Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, "without contributing to the suffering" of Iranians, shows that her government has misread the scale of disaffection in Iran.
Easing of US pressure allows regime to ratchet up internal repression
The ayatollahs, who until recently were the regime's solid bulwark, are now seriously divided between pro- and anti- government supporters. Senior clerics are being persecuted and this too weakens the regime's standing at home and makes them more vulnerable to international pressure and expanded sanctions.
The spreading disaffection gives the Obama administration its big chance for a breakthrough in the nuclear controversy by leaning hard on the beleaguered regime. Instead it is playing up to Tehran's year-long delaying tactics and intransigence against every constructive proposal put forward in direct negotiations.
Targeting the Revolutionary Guards for punishment is likewise misplaced, said DEBKA-Net-Weekly's opposition sources, because it will lead the government to rely more heavily on the regular armed forces chiefs. If some of the army generals sympathized with the protest movement until now, they will take care to swing back behind the firmed-up government and let themselves be used to circumvent the Guards.
With the threat of sanctions lifted, the crackdown continues. The authorities are trying to have the senior cleric Ayatollah Youssef Sanei sacked for daring to condemn the regime; another high-ranking and popular critic, Ayatollah Jalal-Eddin Taheri Esfahani, had his office looted after he denounced the spiritual ruler, Ali Khamenei. Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Dasgheib not only had his office raided but the mosque where he leads prayers shut down.
The family of the leading dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who passed away two weeks ago, is subject to harassment, threats and warnings to stay out of politics and any public activity.
The regime has had no qualms about sending thugs to raid the home and mosque compound of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, in the northern Tehran district of Jamaran in order to stop the reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami from delivering a sermon on the festival of Ashura.
Whereas the time is ripe for divide-and-rule tactics against the radical regime in Tehran, the Obama administration has chosen this moment for a no-pressure policy toward the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad pair, thereby strengthening its levers of power and disappointing a people crying out for America to bring its government low.