Iran’s radical clerical regime is being pushed to dangerous extremes by the strong vibrations rolling into Tehran from the first-step nuclear accord Iran signed in Geneva Sunday, Nov. 24, with the six world powers.
Some Iranian experts advise DEBKA Weekly not to rule out a Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) coup d’etat to depose President Hassan Rouani – or even Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s assassination – for the crime of seducing supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei into going along with the nuclear deal.
The IRGC commanders Gen. Mohammad-Ali Jaafari and the head of its Al Qods Brigades Gen. Qassem Soleimeni lead the pack baying for the nuclear accord to be scrapped and its authors eliminated.
They are taking care not to vent their fury in public, fearing to directly cross the supreme leader who congratulated the negotiators on their success.
Normally vocal about their views, now these hard-line generals are being cautiously reticent, skirting around the word “coup” even in their close-door counsels – not just to guard against betrayal, but because they would need the supreme leader’s blessing for lending religious sanctity to any extreme action they may take.
Fearing that Rouhani and Jarif had got into Khamenei’s head, Gen. Jaafari was afraid to speak out about his reservations when Khamenei invited him to do so. He decided to stay mum in the face of the supreme leader’s staunch commitment to the diplomatic path set by the preliminary nuclear deal with the world powers.
The IRGC’s schemes for scuttling the nuclear accord
Adapting their steps to this situation, the Guards generals, set their sights on derailing the accord – in the first instance by preventing its implementation. This objective was well served by the battle of versions evolving between Tehran and Washington on its interpretation. (See the first article.)
Zarif says emphatically that the document formally recognizes Iran’s nuclear rights and right to enrichment. His detractors accuse him of rescinding Iran’s right to stock enriched uranium or go back to 20 percent enrichment. They are also boiling over the Iranian negotiators’ consent – denied later by Zarif – to halt construction of the heavy water reactor at Arak in defiance of Khamenei’s express veto on this concession.
All in all, no one is certain about what exactly Zarif actually signed off for. So the IRGC hope to sink the agreement by keeping the nuclear program running as usual, using the uncertainty as their pretext to claim that Tehran tested the Western powers’ good faith and found it wanting.
It is important to point out here that only three parties hold the keys to Iran’s nuclear facilities – certainly for its most secret sites. They are Ali Khamenei, the Atomic Energy Commission now headed by former nuclear negotiator Ali Akbar Salehi and the Revolutionary Guards.
The IRGC commands physical access to the facilities by the guards and supervisors it has posted at the entrances and exits.
While the supreme authority over the nuclear program rests with Khamenei, the IRGC has the resources to defy his wishes.
Infighting in Tehran will determine the fate of nuclear diplomacy
The six-month period remaining to negotiate a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is the potential arena for a three-way struggle for dominance. The outcome will determine whether it is at all possible to settle the issue of Iran’s nuclear program by diplomacy.
The hard-line generals have prepared more than one monkey wrench for throwing into the diplomatic process: Another is to keep the Rouhani administration constantly on edge by mobilizing a radical parliamentary majority to vote against ratifying the accord. Rouhani would be discredited and sanctions relief held in abeyance, so generating a crisis the president may not survive.
To counter the IRGC’s anti-diplomacy campaign, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that Rouhani and Zarif have been singing its praises to various quarters inside the regime: The preliminary and the comprehensive accords down the line, they say, will finally smooth out the historic hostility between the Islamic Republic and the United States and restore Iran to its rightful place among the family of nations.
If the accords go through, the Americans will be ready to pull their war fleet out of the Persian Gulf and make way for Iran to fill the gap as the unchallenged regional powerhouse.
Arab nations opened up to Iranian penetration
Israel’s security would be badly jolted and the surrounding Arab nations opened up to Iranian penetration. The radical IRGC heads found all these advantages very appealing, but not worth giving up the goal for which Iran has been striving for thirty years of a nuclear bomb.
To win them round, Zarif tried lambasting the US and Israel. He also insisted that the accord concluded in Geneva was not enduringly binding and Iran could walk away from it at any time.
Rouhani, in a speech marking his first 100 days in office, painted a bleak picture of the economy, implying that Iran had no option but to accept the Geneva deal. But he did not overdo the gloom, fearing to give the Guards a pretext for declaring a national emergency in order to seize control of the government administration and reduce Khamenei to a figurehead leader.
In the course of the six-month run-up to a final nuclear accord, the skirmishing within the Islamic regime may spill over into violence. The Guards are still contemplating getting rid of Zarif as a warning to President Rouhani not to step out of line.