Tehran is sticking to its guns: The deprivations of rising unemployment, inflation and penury caused by Western sanctions are worth suffering for the sake of becoming a nuclear power.
In the last two weeks, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s close advisers have prevented a report with facts and figures on the dire consequences of sanctions from reaching his desk, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Tehran sources disclose.
The report’s concluding finding was disastrous: “The internal situation in Iran, the escalation of international sanctions and the situation in Syria are posing serious dangers for the Islamic regime in Iran and quick action is needed to arrest the deterioration.”
The rosy pictures of the domestic economy Khamenei ordered state-controlled media to present are no comfort for the Iranian family which sees chicken meat disappearing from its table – either unavailable in the store or quadrupling in six months to a record price of 7,750 tomans per kilo – roughly six dollars.
The average Iranian wage is just 200 dollars per month and food and jobs are becoming scarcer all the time.
Khamenei’s advisers kept the report away from him on the pretext that it was drawn up by a team led by the opposition leader, former two-time president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who heads the powerful Expediency Council.
It was therefore untrustworthy, they claimed, even though the team’s secret deliberations were attended by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad along with the ministers of finance and trade and the governor of the central bank.
Khamenei too feels a chill draught
Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad have been arch-rivals since the former was beaten to the presidency by Ahmadinejad in the allegedly rigged presidential election of 2009. After long boycotting the Expediency Council, the president was persuaded by the fast declining state of the economy to join with the council head in standing up to Khamenei and his policies.
A great many Iranians can no longer afford to buy even the most basic foods. This is no secret to Iran’s neighbors – as Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council for National Security and senior nuclear negotiator, discovered when he visited Beirut Monday, Aug. 6.
After the Iranian visitor called for Lebanon and Syria to lead the front “standing up to the Zionist entity,” Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt put in sarcastically: “You’d be better off fighting poverty and giving your people chicken to eat than providing arms for Arabs to kill each other.”
Although the supreme leader strikes a posture of supreme confidence for battling all the difficulties in Iran’s path, and interprets the state constitution as placing him above criticism or accountability, Khamenei has nonetheless felt threatened enough for a PR campaign for domestic consumption.
He has deigned to let various groups of people come and hear him make speeches explaining the situation in the country.
His leitmotif is that Iran’s tribulations and setbacks are all down to “international Zionism” and Western enmity. But, he promises them, Iran will prevail over them all.
Grumbling over support for Assad
Syria is not mentioned because more and more voices in Iran, some inside the ruling clique, are grumbling about the evolving situation in Syria and Iran’s unconditional support for its ruler.
The Baztab-Emrouz web site belonging to Mohsen Rezai, ex-commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) wrote week: “The analyses and assessments shown in our country do not represent Assad’s true situation. This is greatly damaging to Iran’s national interest.”
Sadeq Kharrazi, former deputy foreign minister, had this to say: “Iran has missed many opportunities to press Assad to carry out reforms and avert the inevitable (Syrian) collapse.”
Desperate to turn attention away from these complaints and other troubles, Iran’s rulers tried mounting a media campaign to get Iranians excited about the “widespread slaughter of our Muslim brothers in the former Burma, Myanmar”– with little or no effect.
Khamenei’s henchmen are also reported by our sources to be out and about among ruling institutions trying to pin Iran’s economic tribulations and waning international repute on President Ahmadinejad. They are pressing for him to be put on trial at the end of his term in early 2013 for bringing the Islamic Republic into disrepute by provocative remarks about its nuclear program, threatening to wipe Israel off the map and denying the Nazi Holocaust. It is therefore his fault that Iran’s name is mud and it is exposed to escalating sanctions and severe economic hardship, Khamenei’s followers are saying.
No popular blame attached to the nuclear program
This week the dollar rate soared to a record 2,230 toman, three times the rate four months ago. Iran’s foreign currency reserves are shrinking fast after sanctions cut its oil exports by a third.
While Ahmadinejad is being made the scapegoat, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources report his archrival Rafsanjani is making hay.
After years in the political wilderness – and even facing an assassination threat a few months ago – Rafsanjani looks like becoming reinstated as a power in the land. Khamenei may even restore him to the rotating list of Tehran Friday prayer leaders, an honor snatched from him when he backed the protest accusing Ahmadinejad of falsifying the 2009 presidential election.
Rafsanjani himself ventured to say this week: “The economic crisis and worsening situation in the country calls for its management to be put in the hands of talented and honest people.”
Still, international condemnation and widespread penury don’t appear to be placing the Islamic regime in immediate peril or bringing the national nuclear program into public consciousness as the cause of the hardships spread wide across the country. Other factors are blamed by the manipulative regime heads – the West, the Zionists, faulty management of government – never the nuclear program, which, it may be recalled was also embraced by Rafsanjani when he was president.
Efforts to weaken the regime from within have run aground on the solid foundations of the hard-line regime and its astute manipulations of public opinion.
Several secret meetings have taken place lately in a bid to forge a coalition on the Syrian model for combined steps to stimulate democratic processes in Iran. Americans, Saudis, Gulf nations, Israelis and some West Europeans attended these get-togethers and discussed plans, but nothing practical emerged – mostly because they took place in the shadow of a looming military strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear program.
(See a separate item focusing on the Saudi on war alert.)