The Supreme Ruler Keeps the Combatants on a Tight Leash
In Tehran, the clash of swords rings loud. Vital energy has swirled from the street protests all the way up to the top of the regime after sowing the seeds of a civil war. Locked in a covert power struggle are president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his sworn foe, ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Council of Experts which elects and deposes the supreme leader, and the high command of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Head and shoulders above the three elite contestants stands supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
When the struggle reaches a decisive point, they will release their supporters on the streets and bring the country closer to civil war – unless Khamenei can enforce equilibrium.
Rafsanji, a crafty survivor of Iran's revolutionary regime, has kept well out of sight since the June 12 election results sparked bloody street protests. While quietly backing the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, he has made no public appearances, given no speeches and issued no statements.
Only a few close associates in Tehran know where he is. The rumors that he had taken refuge in the senior clerics' seat of Qom to plot Khamenei's ouster were not borne out.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources disclose that Rafsanjani has set himself two tasks: One is to preserve the Islamic Revolutionary regime's integrity; the other is to keep his family safe.
He did indeed spend time in Qom but his consultations with leading ayatollahs centered on means of quelling the crisis besetting the nation, averting civil strife and saving the regime.
Spies of the Revolutionary Guards and Iran's undercover agencies watched his every move and eavesdropped on his conversations in Qom.
Rafsanjani in single combat with Ahmadinejad
Rafsanjani was experienced enough in the ways of the regime to which he belongs to be perfectly aware of the eyes and ears trained on him. He was careful to watch his step and stay clear of words which Khamenei might interpret as seditious. Therefore, DEBKA-Net-Weekly Iran sources do not credit the claims circulating this week that Rafsanjani was conspiring in Qom to form a new “Leadership Council” for deposing Khamenei and assuming his powers.
He would have not lived long had this been true.
It is just as important for him to look after his family and extensive property.
They are his Achilles heel, susceptible to Ahmadinejad's long-held ambition to remove him from power by discrediting him. He knows that nothing would be easier than proving that the Rafsanjani clan enriched itself by robbing the national treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars and corrupt business transactions.
The president also accuses him of funding the campaigns of all three of his electoral challengers, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsein Rezai, to thwart his reelection for a second term.
For Ahmadinejad, this is an unforgivable sin.
But for Ahmadinejad, getting rid of Rafsanjani is not just a personal vendetta but a step toward his ambition to remove the ayatollahs from government by a coup that would bring the Revolutionary Guards to power. This has been the dream of the IRGC since the death of the revolution's founder Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 and to this end they encompassed the election of one of their officers, Ahmadinejad, as president.
Khamenei intervenes to save Rafsjani
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iran sources, Rafsanjani in Qom tried to convince the most influential clerics that Ahmadinejad's removal from the presidency was the key to ending the dangerous confrontation against the regime, whose incipient stages have already claimed dozens of lives and left hundreds wounded.
The president fought back by trying to have to Rafsanjani arrested on charges of financial corruption. Khamenei stepped in to thwart him.
Ahmadinejad only got as far as having Fazeh Rafsanjani, Hashemi's daughter detained. She is a modern liberal woman who gave speeches demanding a recount of the ballots at several anti-Ahmadinejad election rallies and in pro-Mousavi demonstrations. She was arrested with her brother Mehdi, director of several family business concerns, and three more kinsmen. They were held for 36 hours before Khamenei ordered them released.
The supreme leader also intervened to foil another Ahmadinejad scheme.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources in Tehran report that the charge Rafsanjani had gone to Qom to establish “A Council of Wise Men” to supplant Khamenei as supreme leader – which won wide international exposure last week in most western and Arab media – first appeared on an Internet site called Rouye, which is secretly administered in Qom by Ahmadinejad's agents.
Wide international exposure of this incriminating story was intended to frame Rafsanjani as a traitor and pave the way for his removal. But again he ran up against an immovable wall.
Ayatollah Khamenei was put wise to the hand behind this false report by the private intelligence apparatus he employs to spy on every clerical figure and organization in the country.
Rafsanjani may be chairman of the Council of Experts, which is technically empowered to appoint and remove the supreme leader. However, he knows that most of the “Experts” are loyal to Khamenei and would never be rash enough to defy them by intriguing against Khamenei.
Which way will the Revolutionary Guards march?
Far more deviously, Rafsanjani had his staff upload on YouTube a clip taken from a secret meeting of the Council of Experts which elected a new supreme leader on the night Khomeini died. That clip shows Rafsanjani passionately endorsing Ali Khameini's candidacy and exhorting the Experts to vote for him.
This release had a double message: I don’t need to prove my loyalty to you – is one; and Don't forget you owe me is the second.
According to our sources, Rafsanjani went to work not only among the powerful clerics of Qom but also behind enemy lines in the Revolutionary Guards high command to forge cracks in Ahmadinejad's wall-to-wall support.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly military and intelligence sources report he found a pretty murky situation. It was not entirely clear which way the wind was blowing.
He picked up a report that a senior officer, one Ali Fazil, had been arrested or had disappeared in mysterious circumstances.
Monday, June 22, Haj Said Ghassemi, former commander of the 27th “Muhammad Rasoul-Allah” Army met with16 retired IRGC commanders. They expressed dismay at the state of the country and fears that a civil war was brewing up.
Our sources have not established which way the IRGC command is headed. Do they still solidly support president Ahmadinejad? Does their loyalty lie with supreme leader Ali Khamenei? Or has Rafsanjani managed to plant the first shoots of sympathy to himself among the Guards?
And are they still united? Or will divisions in this elite force end up in factional street battles?
It is too early to predict how Iran's fierce power struggle will turn out. But one thing has clearly emerged from the stormy aftermath of the presidential election: The pugnacious Ahmadinejad has emerged much diminished. His overweening self-confidence has taken a severe beating. Like a wounded beast, he is prepared to tear to pieces anyone in his path, especially the detested Rafsanjani.
The supreme leader is intent on keeping the president on a tight rein, to which end he must cement the Revolutionary Guards' personal loyalty first and foremost to himself.