Just a week before nuclear talks resume between Iran and the 5+1 group (the permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany), the celebration of the 35th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Tuesday, Feb. 11, became the platform for the slinging match ongoing between the proponents of President Hassan Rouhani’s foray into nuclear diplomacy and its hard-line opponents.
As the top brass rose to speak, internal security forces arrested a group of “pro-Rouhani supporters” as they joined the gala occasion at Tehran’s Azadi (Liberation) Square.
The regime’s propaganda machine routinely choreographs these events to cut out dissenting notes. This year, conflicting voices bounced through the revolutionary bombast.
Rouhani’s appeal for friendlier relations with the world’s nations was shouted down by deafening slogans of “Death to America!, Death to Israel! Death to Britain!” Thee coffins draped in their flags were held aloft.
When the president advised “those delusional people who say the military option is on the table… to change their glasses” – promising that those options were no longer valid – demonstrators burned pictures of President Barack Obama at the foot of the platform.
Some of them held up placards proclaiming: "We're Ready for the Big Confrontation." They represented senior radicals of the radical school, such as Ahmed Jannati, who claimed this week that the Islamic Revolution’s founding father Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had aspired to force an armed showdown on Big Satan America.
Threatening invective pours scorn on “enemies’” prowess
Iran’s radical faction believes it can play on Obama’s aversion for the use of military force by muscle-flexing and belligerent threats. The strategy the Iranian hard liners employ is to inflate their own capabilities and scoff at the “enemies’” military prowess.
Wednesday, Feb. 12 Iran’s chief of staff, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, bluntly reinforced the threatening chorus, saying that Iran is ready for the “decisive battle” against the US and the Zionist regime. "We warn them that if an attack is launched on our troops from any territory, we will invade all the enemy’s possessions.” He added: “If we are targeted from the US bases in the region, we will hit those bases."
The general went on to comment that the “enemies” concluded after studying a military invasion of Iran for ten years that they lacked the ability to carry it out.
Day by day, Iran built up its war message this week.
Sunday, a day before the anniversary, the military test-fired two long-range ballistic missiles after sending two warships to the Atlantic to deploy “close to US shores.”
Washington downplayed their presence, saying only, “They will find the oceans are full of warships from many countries."
Iranian ballistic missiles – models not yet in production
Sunday, Iranian Defense Ministry Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan bragged about the unbeatable properties of the two newly-tested rockets. One, he said, was a laser-guided surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missile; the second, capable of carrying multiple warheads and evading enemy missile defenses “to destroy large and multiple targets”.
US Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby commented stiffly that UN Security Council Resolution 1929 prohibits Iran from engaging in “activity related to nuclear-capable missiles, including launches using ballistic missile technology” – and left it at that.
In line with its provocative strategy, DEBKA Weekly's military sources find Iranian military leaders reverting to their old tactic of proudly hailing new home-made weapons systems which exist on paper or are otherwise nowhere near operational.
After two years of intensive efforts, the Iranian army and Revolutionary Guards have failed to produce ballistic missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads. Their missile industry has only managed to improve their rockets’ guidance systems and accuracy – significant in themselves but no breakthrough.
Their menacing tactics this week had two objectives. One was to scare the US Congress into shying away from new and harsher sanctions on Tehran. This happened anyway. Most lawmakers who had initially endorsed the sanctions bill bowed to pressure from the White House and decided to bide their time.
Tehran’s second object was to make President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry back off their assertions that America’s military option is still on the table by pouring scorn on US military capabilities.
Rev Guards spearhead abuse of pro-diplomacy proponents
Last Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech that Rouhani's nuclear policy did not deserve such harsh criticism. Yet even he failed to staunch the hard-line faction’s rage over the interim nuclear deal signed last November. This chink in his fallibility may be symptomatic of the supreme leader’s weakening hold on absolute power.
The most vociferous critics are high-ranking Revolutionary Guards commanders.
Supreme IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jaafari issued a blunt warning to “domestic elements not to try and improve relations with America."
Air Force commander Ali Haji Zadeh said: "Negotiations aren't a bad thing but we must always remember that we are negotiating with the enemy."
Air Defense officer Ebrayim Sayyadi cautioned against the “sellout of our tremendous nuclear achievements for diplomacy.”
According to parliamentarian Ahmad Nabavian, "The Geneva agreement seriously impugned Iran's national honor. We agreed to halt our nuclear program in return for minuscule amounts of cash which really belonged to us and were only frozen.”
He was referring to the $550 million of funds frozen in US banks for decades which Washington released to Tehran last week.
Radicals accuse Rouhani of selling out Iran’s nuclear assets
More and more influential radicals are increasingly outspoken. Under the heat, Rouhani felt compelled to insert in the speech he delivered Tuesday at Azadi Square: "The nation has one leader, one president and one foreign policy" and this must not be questioned.
But the hard-liners were not placated, or put off their schemes for sabotaging the nuclear negotiations resuming next week.
DEBKA Weekly's Iranian sources report that the wilder elements have gone so far as plots for assassinating Foreign Minister Javad Zarif or deposing Rouhani's government and calling a new election.
Another proposal is to put Iran’s nuclear concessions to the six powers in Geneva to national referendum and making sure of their defeat.
While Rouhani talks up the "tremendous achievements" Tehran has won at the negotiating table and the “defeat of the world camp," his radical foes hold him guilty for Iran forfeiting control of its 20-percent enriched uranium stocks and submitting to international demands not to enlarge its reserve of 5-percent enriched uranium, use its new-generation centrifuges, or even increase the number of working centrifuges at its enrichment facilities.
Rouhani is additionally accused of signing a deal allowing UN nuclear watchdog monitors to fully map all the country’s nuclear sites and inspect the Arak heavy water-plutonium reactor at close quarters.
Access to the facilities for uranium-enrichment by laser will also now take place.
If Tehran complies with all the commitments made by its negotiators in Geneva – which is, by the way, a big “if” – Iran will be reduced to treading water on its nuclear program.
Spreading poverty makes nuclear concessions unavoidable
The IRGC commanders’ fury boiled over this week with a new discovery: The destruction of Iran’s long-range ballistic missiles is on the table of negotiations for a final, comprehensive accord, which go forward later this month. This provision has been demanded in the interests of safeguarding Israel and Europe from Iranian missile aggression.
The hard-liners confront the Rouhani faction with Khamenei’s favorite adage: “Give the West an inch and they will take a mile.”
But supreme leader takes a different line these days: He has woken up to a harsh reality that can only be alleviated by President Rouhani’s path of engagement with the West: The Iranian economy has slid past bankruptcy and the Revolutionary Republic will crash by the end of the year without a rescue operation in the form of urgent sanctions relief.
The crisis surfaced in embarrassing scenes last week during the distribution of government “food baskets” in many areas of the country. Each basket contained one chicken, 32 eggs, and a kilo of rice and tea. Starving people mobbed distributors and snatched the meager ration and food riots erupted in many parts of the country.
The supreme leader now maintains that Tehran cannot avoid making nuclear concessions to ease the dire poverty stemming from sanctions across the country. The hard-liners accuse the pro-diplomacy faction of fabricating the show to support their position.
DEBKA Weekly's sources in Tehran see the infighting in Tehran escalating in the weeks and months to come, to cast an ominous cloud over the nuclear talks for a comprehensive agreement.