Wednesday, June 17, Iran took another step towards civil war and by this weekend was inching towards a bloodbath.
A heavy turnout for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's call to stage Takaya prayers of mourning for dead protesters in Tehran's mosques and public prayer halls could have triggered an armed clash with the security forces fielded by the regime.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian and intelligence sources reveal that the two camps – pro-reformists, and pro-government – are no longer alone in the confrontation. Mousavi's movement is acquiring hitchhikers who have been waiting in the wings for a chance to move in and over whose direction he will have little if any control. Each has its own ideology and agenda and owes no allegiance either to the regime or the “reformist” leaders who have challenged the June 12 presidential election.
Some of their names will be new to the West.
Our sources say some of these groups are highly trained and heavily-armed fighters. They are capable of seizing military bases, city centers, and strategic buildings and so determine the outcome of battles in Tehran and across the country. Then there are also fringe groups of various persuasions, some anti-clerical and other dissidents.
Mousavi, who was defeated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in what he alleged was a rigged vote, stands by his demand for the election to be annulled. This ultimatum is keeping the Iranian street at a high pitch of tension which could quickly tip over into mayhem.
Dissident intellectuals arrested
Wednesday, supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tried to damp down the protests movement by a series of draconian measures.
He is severely hampered by his isolation among fellow senior clerics who have cold-shouldered him since he wholeheartedly adopted the pugnacious Ahmadinejad as his closest crony.
Security forces fanned out across the country for mass arrests of intellectuals, reformists, journalists, economists, clerics, students and political figures known to have voiced views against the Islamic regime and its leaders. Several thousands were arrested in what amounted to a purge of opposition voices.
Large contingents of Revolutionary Guards, security forces and loyalist Bassij (volunteer militiamen) were posted at key points in Tehran and other cities ready to break up anti-government demonstrations.
Our exclusive sources reveal that hundreds of Palestinian Hamas jihadis and Lebanese terrorists from Hizballah were plucked from military training camps in Iran to man the first firing line against the crowds.
The foreigners were brought in for fear that some Revolutionary Guardsmen, many of whom hail from the common people, may have their own gripes against the regime and refuse to fire on the protesters.
Mousavi puts the number of victims shot dead for protesting the fraudulent election at thirty-two – four times that claimed by the authorities.
His emphasis on the rally of Thursday, June 18, taking the form of mourning processions in solidarity with those dead comrades touches a sensitive nerve for the regime.
Khamenei – isolated by fellow ayatollahs
Public mourning rites have been known to spark incitement against authority and even violent protest. The slaughter of innocent civilians added fury to the revolution which overthrew the shah 30 years ago.
In the past, the ayatollahs have often banned public mourning ceremonies for victims of barbaric treatment at the hands of security forces. This time, no such edict was enforceable because the mourning marches were a nationwide event, taking place in most of Iran's major cities and even provincial towns and villages. Armed intervention would have touched off widespread clashes and more deaths than ever.
In any case, Khamenei, isolated among his clerical caste, cannot afford to violate the fundamental Shiite dictate of martyrdom by killing unarmed civilians who are protesting against injustice.
This would add religious fuel to the fire.
On the other hand, non-interference in the rallies and mourning ceremonies staged by the opposition leader against the regime are bound to spill out of the mosques into the streets with large crowds shouting slogans and demanding a new election. This wave of dissidence would quickly get out of hand, spread across the country and swell into a popular uprising which it would be impossible to quench with a belated acceptance of the opposition's demands.
Therefore, Ayatollah Khamenei as supreme leader of Iran is looking disaster in the face.
He erred by tying his fate to a rigged election and overdependence on the controversial Ahmadinejad. But recanting is unthinkable. It would be an admission that the infallible spiritual leader endowed with divine wisdom for leading his flock in the Islamic Republic was wrong and his judgment flawed.
Because Iran's supreme authority has run out of viable options, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iran experts contest Israeli and American intelligence predictions that the unrest will die down within days.
Running out of control
The atmosphere in the country is too highly charged, fraught with eve-of-cataclysmic electricity. The situation could run out control at any moment. It really does compare with the mood in Tehran in the last days of the shah's reign in 1979, as the authority of the powers-that-be drain away.
For instance, one of the losing presidential candidates, Mehdi Karroubi, took the unheard-of step of calling on his followers to demonstrate in Tehran on June 19, at the same hour as Ayatollah Khamenei's Friday sermon, which is normally treated as the final word to the nation in all matters.
In another example, 50 members of the Majlis (Parliament) signed a petition on Tuesday, June 16, demanding that the minister of the interior present himself and explain why security forces killed so many student protesters.
In a rare sign of revolt, they are challenging the authorities' claim that no students were killed.
In another, thousands of leaflets calling for Khamenei's ouster appeared in Tehran. Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, 87, who was deposed in 1989 as heir apparent to the revolution's founder Ayatollah Khomenei, was named as the preferred spiritual leader.
The leaflets, signed by Iranian student organizations, also say Ahmadinejad should be sacked and new elections held.
Without ruthless steps, the Islamic regime goes down
According to our sources, certain dissident groups have gone underground ready to pick up the struggle should the opposition leaders be arrested. Against this second-strike movement, security forces have imposed tight restrictions on traffic moving on intercity roads, blocked opposition websites and jammed cell phones to keep suspect groups incommunicado. Foreign journalists are prevented from reporting from the street.
Mousavi has instructed his followers to carefully avoid violence and refrain from carrying weapons.
Ayatollah Khamenei and Ahmadinejad can only regain control, our sources estimate, by declaring a state of emergency throughout Iran, mobilize the armed forces, disconnect the country from the outer world and impose curfews in all major cities, including Tehran.
Only by martial law can the regime crush the growing uprising. It cannot afford to hesitate much longer.
The coming weekend will be decisive for the ayatollahs' rule of Iran. Without ruthless action in the coming days, the regime will start falling apart.