Although seriously burned in their efforts to stay abreast of Iran's signal progress toward a nuclear bomb (see the two previous items in this issue), the American CIA, the French DGSE foreign intelligence service and the German BND spy agency now conclude that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has beaten President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in their duel for dominance.
This does not mean that the sparring incidents between their two camps are over, a Western intelligence official who follows events in Iran told DEBKA-Net-Weekly. Last week, officials in the president's immediate circle were arrested. This provoked a statement Wednesday, June 29, from Ahmadinejad that the Cabinet of Ministers is at the forefront and "if anyone touches them, it is my duty to stand in their defense."
He may still talk big but he has known for some weeks that his day is over and his importance shrunk from executive president to a ceremonial figure without real power.
Our Iranian sources report that he realized the game was up in mid-June when Gen. Ali Jafari Mohammad, supreme commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and his top staff – after sitting on the fence for months – finally shifted their considerable military and economic weight and placed it behind the Supreme Leader.
The power somersault in Tehran, like the acceleration of Iran's military nuclear program, caught Western and Middle East capitals unprepared.
Ahmadinejad brought Iran to N-bomb capability. Now he can go
It was taken for granted until now that Ahmadinejad, though an inflammatory speaker, was more pragmatic than Khamenei. It was hoped in Washington that he would come around to a deal on Iran's nuclear weapons program and the limits of its expansion through the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
This perception gained ground after President Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009 – and especially after Ahmadinejad brought his father-in-law and chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, the most pro-Western figure in Tehran, to prominence.
But most people tend to forget that just six years ago, Khamenei picked the then obscure Mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for president as the only member of the top leadership capable of putting the sagging nuclear program on its feet and achieving the goals desired by the Supreme Leader, namely, the ability to produce a nuclear weapon and to organize the production of nuclear-capable missiles.
Last week, a Western intelligence figure confided to a senior Israeli intelligence official: "In just five years, Ahmadinejad has brought Iran to a nuclear level on a par with Israel, an achievement which took Israel 35 years to complete.
Now that he has brought Iran's nuclear industry to the desired level, Khamenei can afford to drop the president and his following from power, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources – especially since Ahmadinejad began to entertain his own political ambitions.
Parliamentarians demand his hat (head)
The Supreme Leader's style of rule leaves no room for peers or high-profile factions like Ahmadinejad and his circle. They committed the cardinal sin of believing their control of the country's nuclear and military assets made them all-powerful and forgot that real power rested exclusively in the hands of Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) high command.
The IRGC chief's defection made the president's downward slide irreversible.
In a desperate attempt to save himself, Ahmadinejad at a private meeting last week hurled charges against the Guards: "There is a record of illegal transfer of goods from abroad into the country. Smuggling equals thefts from public funds… [The large sums spent on cigarettes] invite all first class smugglers of the world, let alone our own 'smuggler brethren.'" Gen. Jafari closed the argument by replying: "This organization, just like other military institutions, has military jetties but has never used them for commercial activities."
In the Majlis, Mohammad Karami-Rad, parliamentarian and former Guardsman, commented: "If His Lordship (the Supreme Leader) asks us to bring him a hat, we know what to bring him… regardless of whose hat it may be."
(DEBKA-Net-Weekly: An old Persian proverb says that if the king demands someone's hat, his servants understand they are to cut off his head and bring it to the king.)
Khamenei faked economic collapse to hide boom
The shift of power away from the president has damped down US President Barack Obama's tentative moves towards engaging Iran on the nuclear controversy and the division of spheres of influence between Washington and Tehran in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
The other bad news reaching the US from Iran is that the appearance of damage to the economy caused by international sanctions is bogus. US intelligence experts were stunned to discover that Khamenei's henchmen had trumped up sham economic hardship to deceive the Obama administration into believing that the sanctions were effective, had brought Iran to the brink of economic and financial collapse and the population was on the point of rising up against the Islamic regime.
In fact, our sources report, the country is experiencing a boom.
Western businessmen who visited Iran in the past month confirm this: They report that activity in the streets, markets and banks as well as a building surge attest to a thriving economy the likes of which has not been seen in all 32 years of Shiite Revolutionary rule. Prosperity is not only the lot of big city dwellers but has also reached remote rural areas.
Iran makes hay from the Arab Revolt
Tehran is also taking advantage of opportunities presented by the unrest in the Arab world.
This was confirmed too in the spate of disclosures spilling out from different American, Israeli and French quarters on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 6-7.
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported: "Iran's elite military unit, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, has transferred lethal new munitions to its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, according to senior US officials, in a bid to accelerate the US withdrawals from these countries."
Later that day, Israel military intelligence AMAN chief Gen. Aviv Kochavi lectured the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee on widespread Iranian meddling in the affairs of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. He reported that Iranian intelligence agents had penetrated the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in order to influence the results of the elections there in September.
On Wednesday, the French Le Monde, citing Western intelligence sources, said that last month Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had instructed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to begin transferring to Libyan rebels arms, including surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, as well as grenade launchers.
The article said the aim was to drag the US and the NATO countries in a protracted and expensive war that would exact heavy losses, so as to preclude their military intervention in Syria.
Does this rush of revelations about Iran's doings mean the Obama administration is laying the groundwork for a military operation against Iran and its Supreme leader? Time will tell.