The Proximity of a Nuclear Accord Brings Iran Closer to a Military Coup
As negotiations on a nuclear Iran advance toward a final accord, serious questions remain about its domestic repercussions. Will the radicals cause an upheaval or even resort to a violent overthrow of government to save their nuclear program from concessions? If Iran and the P5+1 actually reach an accord by the July 20 deadline, will Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put pen to paper?
DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources report that with every passing day, the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are completing preparations to sabotage any moves that hinder Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb.
The West prefers to look the other way when it comes to the domestic turmoil raised by Iran’s nuclear diplomacy, taking it for granted that President Hassan Rouhani will sign the agreement on Khamenei’s orders.
That presumption is deeply flawed. Ali Eddin Borujerdi, chairman of the Majlis’ Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, this week outlined the chain of command, so to speak, in Iran’s nuclear policymaking process. All decisions made by the Supreme Council for National Security’s nuclear committee, headed by Rear Adm. (res) Ali Shamkhani, must be submitted to Khamenei for his approval, he said. Only then, are they passed on to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as guidelines for his bargaining position in the nuclear talks.
Rev Guards chiefs accuse the US of plotting regime change
As an ex-defense minister and former naval commander in both the Iranian armed forces and the Revolutionary Guards, Shamkhani is considered highly knowledgeable about Iran’s strategic needs and options. Nonetheless, not all top IRGC chiefs fully trust his judgment. They suspect Iran is on the verge of making concessions that will place too many obstacles on the path to building a nuclear bomb.
Those radicals are also highly suspicious of the visit paid to Israel this week by two key American players on the nuclear diplomatic scene, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, joined by Wendy Sherman, senior US negotiator at the Six-Power talks with Iran.
They read in this visit a decision by the US and its Western allies to separate Iran from its nuclear weapon option. They reacted with fury to the assurance Rice gave Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they met in Jerusalem Wednesday, April 7, that Washington will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon and would back up this pledge with force.
In the view of the IRGC chiefs, the West has explicitly undertaken to prevent Tehran from obtaining the bomb, is aiming to get its ballistic missiles dismantled and then, after squeezing out these concessions, will go to work to raise international pressure against Iran’s human rights record.
This, say some Iranian radicals, goes much further than an American bid to strip Tehran of its nuclear capacity; it is a bid for regime change.
A biopic to defame Rouhani didn’t work
Our sources in Tehran say that these misgivings have caused Revolutionary Guard commanders to demand that Khamenei suspend the talks altogether and accept the recommendation of the committee set up by their commander in chief, Gen. Ali Ja’afari, which is to cut short the international diplomatic track and avoid further concessions.
They regard the allowances already offered by Rouhani and Zarif, such as the conversion of the Arak heavy water plant for producing a low grade of plutonium unsuitable for a weapon, as part of a process of forcing Tehran back, step by step, until progress towards a nuclear bomb reaches vanishing point.
To upend the diplomatic effort, the IRGC sought to defame Rouhani and his cabinet – without much success. They actually produced a biopic of Rouhani portraying him as unfaithful to the values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and generally unreliable.
Many lawmakers came forward with scathingly critical comments on his policies.
They also organized a conference under the slogan, “We are Worried,” to protest Rouhani’s “concessions.” Saeed Jalili, who led nuclear negotiations under former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stood up to disparage the current negotiating team and accuse them of making treasonable compromises.
Rouhani and Co. hit back
Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi, who leads Iran’s negotiating team, warned this week that a “group of enemies” was attempting to scuttle an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries ahead of the next round starting May 13.
While he slanted his comments to incriminate Netanyahu, anyone with a keen ear for the goings-on in Iran soon decoded his references as applying to the Revolutionary Guard commanders. Araqchi called those enemies “forces of evil and saboteurs” who are willing to obstruct any pact between Iran and the major powers.
Rouhani did not pull his punches when Wednesday, he mentioned “a camp in Iran,” whose interests conflict with a nuclear deal and are therefore working to derail it. Lashing out against the opponents of compromise, he asked, “Do they mean that instead of dialogue and accord, we should just brandish an axe against the world?”
The Iranian president also revealed that corruption is shaking the country to the core. He mentioned the embezzlement of 822,000 billion toman (about $288 billion) from oil income and other deals – a sum equivalent to the annual budget of the country of 77 million.
Rouhani appeared to clash head-on with policies expounded by Khamenei, when he stressed that without a nuclear understanding with the P5+1 which resulted in the lifting of all sanctions, Iran’s economy is heading for a crash.
All of this has put Khamenei between a rock – the radical Revolutionary Guards – and a hard place – the pro-diplomacy faction which espouses moderate nuclear, social and economic policies.
The Rev Guards’ plots against a nuclear pact – and the regime
The supreme leader’s word was once taken as absolute, but the radical onslaught on a nuclear accommodation with the West has heated Tehran’s political turmoil to boiling point and raised the real possibility of a military coup.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report that in recent internal consultations, Revolutionary Guard commanders discussed Rouhani’s ouster. They considered drumming up an emergency as the pretext for placing Khamenei under a form of house arrest. The Revolutionary Guards would then take over as the supreme leader’s “spokesmen” and dictate his policies.
This week, Revolutionary Guard Navy Commander Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi said that his navy could destroy the American super-carrier USS Nimitz, one of the largest warships in existence, in under a minute.
This boast betrayed the overweening self-confidence of the Revolutionary Guard chiefs eying a takeover of the country, should Rouhani – or even Khamenei – foil their plan to speed up progress toward a nuclear bomb.
On May 13, the six powers and Iran are due to begin drafting a comprehensive accord on Iran’s nuclear program. If Iran’s radicals have their way, they will scupper it – possibly by a coup d’etat – well before it is due for signing in three months’ time. They will also cancel Iran’s membership of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.