The launching of the tough new US sanctions package for Iran was timed deliberately with an eye to the rough-and-tumble in Tehran at the top level of the Iranian regime.
Thursday, Oct. 26, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson jointly unveiled sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps as proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and the al Qods Brigade as sponsors of terrorists.
There is no precedent for a government meting out punishment to the armed forces of a foreign country and branding them as terrorists engaged in nuclear proliferation.
Washington had clearly decided to strike while the iron was hot.
There would be no more waiting for results from the coming drawn-out rounds of diplomacy between Iran’s newly-appointed nuclear negotiator Said Jalili and European Union executive Javier Solana, or the UN Security Council and, most of all, from the waffling international nuclear watchdog IAEA and its director Mohammed ElBaradei.
US officials hope the tough new sanctions will bring the infighting between two camps of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and its al Qods Brigade, Tehran’s primary overseas terrorist branch, to a constructive conclusion.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources report that the sanctions announcement capped a heated debate in the Pentagon, State Department and Central Intelligence Agency. One side maintained that sanctions would deepen the divisions cleaving the Iranian leadership; the other that they would only unite the quarreling factions behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose offensive for seizing absolute power in all parts of the regime is in full flight.
Toppling the Revolutionary Guards economic base
The Bush administration was galvanized into settling the argument by three events.
1. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s epic visit to Tehran on Oct. 16 ended unexpectedly in his backing off from further Russian involvement in the construction and activation of Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr.
(Putin’s flip-flop on Iran and its tie-in with the disposition of Caspian Sea resources are discussed in the next article.)
2. The sudden resignation of Ali Larijani as senior Iranian nuclear negotiator on Oct. 20. DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that experts on Iran in the West are not of one mind over whether Ahmadinejad fired the exceptionally adept diplomat, or his resignation was requested by supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his senior adviser Hashem Rafsanjani to prepare him to run for the presidency against the incumbent.
Both clearly regard Ahmadinejad is getting too big for his boots and should be stopped.
3. The rumors in Tehran from Tuesday, Oct. 23, that another prominent figure, foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki had resigned. Though denied, this was taken by the experts as a further symptom of an advancing climax in the power struggle of the top echelons of Iranian government.
When all the pros and cons were put before President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the deciding factor turned out to be the prospect of the new sanctions package toppling Iran’s economic and financial establishment. These national institutions are managed largely by the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which milk them to cover their operations and to finance Iran’s missile and nuclear programs.
Bush and Cheney calculated that, when the middle and lower IRGC ranks begin to feel the bite of the sanctions, they will rise up and the corps, Iran’s powerhouse, will split down the middle.
Dividing Revolutionary Guards ranks
One segment will follow the radical Ahmadinejad line dedicated to the relentless pursuit of a nuclear bomb; the other will opt for the less extreme, more pragmatic path led by Khameni, Rafsanjani and Larijani, which urges Iran to be content with the ability to make a bomb without going all the way. This is the way, they believe, to avoid an economic, or even military, crunch with the United States.
The White House calculated that if the second course prevailed in Tehran, Ahmadinejad would lose his power base.
It is hard for people in the West to comprehend how fired up the Iranian president is to lead the world into a Gog and Magog confrontation with America. It is even harder to understand his fanatical conviction that this conflict is inescapable because, although the slaughter will be unparalleled, it will bring about the coming of the Shiite messiah, the Mahdi or Emam-e Zaman.
All mankind will then embrace the true Islam, the Shia, and there will be no more wars.
This may seem to Western minds the ravings of a lunatic. However, Ahmadinejad is sincere in his wild beliefs and powerful enough to act on them.
He has even set aside and furbished a splendid hotel in Tehran “for the Mahdi.” Thousands of believers make the pilgrimage to the hotel every month for obeisance to a well in its grounds, where they have been told the Madhi is hiding until his time comes.
Since he was elected president in early 2006, Ahmadinejad has worked hard to make his apocalyptic vision come true. He draws inspiration from his mentor Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, who preaches tirelessly that eternal redemption is near and all of mankind will soon bow to Shiite Muslim hegemony.
Ahmadinejad is now bent on usurping Ayatollah Khamenei as supreme ruler, constantly sniping at the ayatollah and chipping away at his authority – especially since there is a fresh round of rumors of his serious illness.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, Khamenei was twice hospitalized in the past month in a private ward. The nature of his illness is not known.
Under the Islamic Republic’s constitution, only a high-ranking cleric may officiate as supreme ruler.
Ahmadenijad strips the supreme ruler of his mainstays
Ahmadinejad does not meet that job description, but since he became president he never stops sermonizing. Even his appearances at New York’s Columbia University and the UN General Assembly last month turned on religious themes.
He seems to believe that because he has the support of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, he can rise to the top job without qualifying as an accredited ayatollah.
Our Iranian sources confirm that Mottaki did indeed tender his resignation as foreign minister, although he and the president later denied it. He is paying the price for his general lack of enterprise and lackluster performance. But his head will roll because Ahmadinejad has determined that Iran must adopt an aggressive foreign posture and plans to insert his own man in the job.
In the president’s eyes, Larijani’s departure was a prime asset. It weakens Khamenei’s inner circle by removing a talented and formidable official.
He is now gunning for Khamenei’s closest ally, the former president Rafsanjani – in particular, since this week he came out in support of the students’ revolt against the president in person at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University. Rafsanjani approved of their struggle for democracy in Iran and the students’ right to freedom of speech and protest, praising them as the country’s “generation of the future.”
Rafsanjani talked to the students after two days of riotous demonstrations demanding the release of three of their number, who had been sentenced to long terms in prison
The meeting was covered by Iranian state television reporters and cameramen.
When he heard of these events, Ahmadinejad cut short his state visit to neighboring Armenia on Oct. 23 and rushed home. His first action was to order television and radio to black Rafsanjani’s meeting with the students.
On his way to the top, the president is determined to finally crush his rival. If he succeeds, there will be little to stop the creeping coup d’etat he is pursuing, egged on by the ferocious Revolutionary Guards, with grave repercussions for world peace.
This was in the mind of George Bush when he ordered the new round of sanctions.