The week after the UN nuclear watchdog voted to refer Iran’s nuclear case to the UN Security Council, Washington was awash with conflicting intelligence evaluations of the impact on Tehran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the US capital report:
One faction of the intelligence community holds that the supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has no choice but to stick with the wild president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the incendiary issues of the nuclear program and the Holocaust cartoon contest declared by a Tehran daily. He cannot help himself because he is hemmed in by two inhibitors. He cannot lose the loyalty of the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, who dictate Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric on Iran’s nuclear program and his hate-filled statements on the United States and Israel. He is also constantly on guard against arousing the ire of the clerical clique behind the president, led by the powerful ayatollah Meshbash Yazdi.
If there is one thing that scares Khamenei even more than UN sanctions it is the danger of influential clerics making a public spectacle of his inadequate religious credentials for claiming the title of ayatollah. Loss of religious face in the streets of Iran would spell his downfall.
The second faction describes an elaborate new alliance struck for taking the national nuclear program away from the president and passing it to the Guardians of the Constitution Commission, which is headed by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The alliance has been formed by Rafsanjani’s followers, the reform camp led by Mahoud Khatami, brother of the ex-president, and the top brass of the regular Iranian army.
This bloc claims to be on the verge of persuading Khamenei to transfer the nuclear program to Rafsanjani from Ahmadinejad and the head of the nuclear energy commission Ali Larajani.
Rafsanjani is said by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources to have put five strong arguments to the supreme ruler:
1. The president’s irresponsible handling of the delicate nuclear issue is fraught with disaster.
2. Larijani is no better. The blunders, or rather “deceits” he is accused of perpetrating in his dealings with Russian president Vladimir Putin have cost Tehran the loss of Moscow’s support.
Not enough missiles, dilapidated air force
3. Iran has no adequate response for aerial or missile attack. However its leaders may huff and puff, they do not possess enough Shehab-3 surface missiles for a military strike. The Iranian air force is so dilapidated that the Americans could if they wished take the aircraft out on the ground.
4. In Rafsanjani’s view, if it comes to sanctions, the Americans will not seek an oil embargo against Iran to avoid a steep price rise, but will prefer a trade embargo. This would be painful as Iran’s dependence on imports for its food is total. India, Russia and China would no doubt come to Iran’s aid with food, but China and India would demand in return oil at prices far below world prices and Iran would suffer serious losses.
5. All these troubles threaten the program to modernize Iran’s oil industry and pipelines with paralysis. Rafsanjani warned Khamenei that the project is urgent. The condition of the oil fields is so poor, that production may peter out and Iran would find itself importing instead of producing oil.
The former president therefore put forward a three-point plan to stave off these calamities:
A gesture to appease the International Atomic Energy Agency, implying that Iran is not about to resume full-scale uranium enrichment as threatened by Ahmanidejad and Larajani.
Notification to Moscow that Tehran wishes to resume without delay the negotiations for the transfer of some uranium enrichment operations to Russia. This might repair some of Tehran’s broken fences with the Kremlin.
Postponement of the deadline for halting UN spot inspections and the removal of their seals.
This week, proponents of the two opposing viewpoints in Washington, as well as Vienna, Berlin, Paris and London, waited with bated breath for the key speech Ayatollah Khamenei was to deliver Wednesday, Feb. 8, to the Iranian air force ground technicians unit. Both sides hoped the spiritual ruler would throw out a clue to which way he had come down – for Ahmadinijed or for Rafsanjani.
The speech was important because of its audience: this elite unit spearheaded the Iranian army’s mutiny against the Shah in 1979.
However, when the text made the rounds in the west, the enigma remained; the speech was so ambivalent that both factions found fodder to feed their respective theories.