A US intelligence report recently presented to President Barack Obama has suggested for the first time that conditions may be unfolding for the fall of the Islamic regime.
The report underlines four promising accelerants:
1. Iran's rulers were caught out in a blunder by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. They dented the solid backing China and Iran gives Iran in the diplomatic arena by alarming them and all the countries depending on oil supplies imported through the Persian Gulf.
They also maneuvered the Islamic Republic into an untenable position: Lacking the military capacity for maintaining a protracted standoff, Tehran cannot afford to block world shipping transiting the Strait by attacking vessels, because its military resources are not equal to an all-out armed clash with the superior powers which would fight to unblock the strait. Because it can't put up, Tehran will have to shut up on its saber-rattling.
2. Two months before a general election, the regime is faced with a failing economy. Sanctions against its nuclear program are biting hard, pushing up the prices of essential commodities and reducing the flow of foodstuffs to store shelves. Any further economic hardship could spark domestic outbreaks or even a popular revolt.
No nuclear program slowdown from Iran's domestic troubles
3. The upcoming ballot exacerbates the animosities between the rival camps ruling the country and may generate fierce rows, especially between the factions of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In the view of the US intelligence experts, all these circumstances seriously weaken the government of ayatollahs and offer realistic opportunities for regime change.
Underground resistance to the Islamic regime made a striking appearance Wednesday, Jan. 11 with the assassination of a nuclear scientist, Deputy Director of the Natanz uranium enrichment center, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the fourth of its kind in the past two years. (The fifth attempt failed).
It occurred 48 hours after it was confirmed that advanced uranium enrichment had begun at the Fordo underground site near the holy city of Qom.
Anti-regime forces showed they were alive and kicking against the regime's most cherished strategic objects when two helmeted motorcyclists triggered a bomb in the heart of Tehran and killed a senior nuclear scientist.
Even if the bombers were put up to it by US or Israeli foreign agents, as Tehran claims, local dissidents proved able and willing to carry out the hit.
4. The report's authors warn President Obama that these domestic upsets have not slowed the Iran's nuclear weapon program's momentum or interfered with its military and Revolutionary Guards preparations for a military clash with the US, the Gulf States and Israel.
Ayatollah Khamenei is the undisputed czar of Iran's armed forces and nuclear program. As long as he is in place as Supreme Leader, nothing will change in either of those fields of endeavor.
Iran is seriously cash-strapped, losing foreign trade
Hopes inside and outside Iran for the regime's downfall are pinned on Iran's steep economic decline.
Assadollah Asgar Ovladi, who heads the pro-Khamenei coalition, warned Tuesday, Jan. 10, that Iran is no more than six months away from famine. Inflation in the past year had rocketed to 40 percent.
As one of the leading lights of the powerful Tehran bazaar, Ovladi knows what he is talking about. He noted that the sharp rise in the rates of foreign currency had slashed the import of raw materials, closing down production in many factories and creating severe shortages of essential commodities, as well as throwing people out of work.
Also head of the Iran-China chamber of commerce, the bazaari leader reported that an insufficiency of foreign currency had forced Iran to slow its imports from China, although under the Ahmadinejad's economic reign, Iran had grown into a huge market for cheap Chinese products.
Asgar-Ovladi warned that when people became hungry, smuggling would flourish and end up ruining the legitimate national economy. In a recent speech, Ahmadinejad admitted that “our brothers” [pointing at the Revolutionary Guards] are Iran's biggest smugglers.
Major Asian oil buyers pare Iranian oil purchases to support sanctions
Not only has the Islamic Republic run short of cash for foreign trade, it faces the withdrawal of many countries from bilateral trade for fear of losing their Western markets. Because of sanctions against Iranian banks, Tehran is unable to realize payment for its oil sales to other countries – without forfeiting large slices of income.
A prominent example is India: Iran had to hand over astronomical fees to the Turkish bank which brokered the transfer of three billion dollars of the $12 billion India paid for its oil last year. But worse was to come: This week, the Indian government told refiners to reduce Iranian oil imports and find alternatives. Delhi was quickly followed by Tokyo.
To ease the pain of sanctions, Iran has proposed to China, Russia and several other countries the use of a barter system for future trading with the Islamic Republic. The trouble is that those countries don't sell the industrial machinery and technology that Iran needs.
Tehran is meanwhile struggling to combat the run on the dollar to the point of censoring the Farsi word for dollar on cell phones. Last week, the authorities shut down a Web site reporting foreign currency fluctuations on the Iranian black market every few minutes.
No budget, waning currency, Ahmadinejad discredited
Nonetheless, Tuesday, the US dollar reached 1,730 toman, more than double its rate three years ago and 240 times the rate 33 years ago when the ayatollahs took power in Iran.
There is also a big rush on gold coins and their price is steadily rising.
The Ahmadinejad government has delayed the presentation of the next state budget to parliament because quite simply, international sanctions on oil have completely skewed government economic planners' estimates of income from oil exports.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources in Tehran report that President Ahmadinejad is planning to finger Mahmud Bahmani, chairman of Irans' central bank, as his scapegoat for Iran's economic woes. He wants to replace him with his own right-hand man, Hamid Baqaee, who is under suspicion of corruption and therefore barred for government appointments.
Baqaee is not the only member of the president's close circle under the same suspicion. Several are under arrest, including the deputy industry and trade minister. Others have absconded from the country.
By seeking to put a crony into a plum job, the president has put his hand in the hornets' nest of infighting at the top level of government in Tehran as the warring factions seek to shut their rivals' lists from running in the March election on various pretexts. The Supreme Leader's main guns are making a point of discrediting the president and hounding him out of political life.