The latest theory making the rounds in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Jerusalem is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing the end of his career at the hands of none other than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
This theory is based on new intelligence input on the Iranian nuclear issue, on the fallout from the regime's intense persecution of the opposition and their analysis. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources fill in some of the details:
The supreme leader appreciates that Ahmadinejad and his backers, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), overstepped several hallowed marks when they falsified the June 12 presidential election results, then cracked down brutally on protesters and finally began shaping a government to dispossess the clergy.
According to this new theory, Khamenei has decided to fend off the IRGC's plans to pursue power by a creeping coup and reverse president Ahmadinejad's steps for replacing the mullahs holding the key positions of power in the country with Guards officers.
The conspirators intend retaining the supreme leader in office as window dressing.
But Khamenei also realizes he must move with the utmost caution and discretion if he wants to succeed.
One of Khamenei's first moves has been to court the powerful Larijani family, which is headed by the Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani who has little sympathy for the president.
Saturday, August 15, Khamenei appointed Ali's younger brother, the cleric Sadeq Larijani, as new head of the country's judiciary. He is already a member of the Guardian Council, the powerful body that oversaw Iran's disputed presidential election.
Without Majlis confirmation, Ahmadinejad has no legitimate government
Our sources point out that this appointment comes at the very moment that the judiciary must rule on whether to bring charges against the hundreds of opposition protesters languishing in inhumane conditions in prison.
Sadeq Larijani, who has been appointed to a five-year term, takes the place of Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, a keen Ahmadinejad fan.
This public appointment was intended to divert attention from a more radical step, say Western sources.
Once the president puts together a new government and obtains Majlis endorsement, Khamenei's hands are tied. He is therefore working with the Parliament Speaker to engineer a majority of the 290 deputies to reject any cabinet lineup Ahmadinejad may present to the house for endorsement.
Monday, August 10, the president received a letter signed by 200 lawmakers warning him that approval would be withheld from his designated ministers unless he met their expectations.
Ahmadinejad read the letter but refused to meet the legislature halfway or ease the friction between them.
The letter was organized by Ali Larijani.
Khamenei is thus orchestrating a situation where, for the first time in the 30-year old Islamic revolution, Iran is ruled by a government lacking legal authority which has no chance of getting itself confirmed by the Majlis. As spiritual leader he would be bound to step into this constitutional crisis, remove the president, sack the illegitimate ministers, dissolve parliament and call an early election to the presidency and the Majlis.
According to the new theory in Washington, the supreme leader would then nominate Ali Larijani as his candidate for the presidency.
The theory does not stop there.
Speaker Larijani favored to replace Ahmadinejad
Intelligence analysts count the blessings Ayatollah Khamenei could reap from involving the legislature in his bid to delegitimize Ahmadinejad and his works:
1. He would rid himself once and for all of Ahmadinejad who brought the Iranian Islamic Republic to the brink of collapse from within.
2. Apply the brakes to the conspiracy for a Revolutionary Guards putsch.
3. Alongside the political demonstrators on trial now, he would place in the dock the cronies of Ahmadinejad who beat them up and abused them. By punishing the opposition's enemies, Khamenei would demonstrate he is fair, a reputation he would seek to boost by bringing into government a new generation of moderate leaders. These steps would bring stability to the ruling system and make it more democratic and respectful of the will of the people.
4. As president, Larijani, a former nuclear negotiator with the West, would be in charge of the nuclear program. This development would enhance the prospect of an early US-Iranian dialogue before the end of the year and ward off a potential clash with Washington.
The first sign of a breakthrough occurred Wednesday, August 19, when the defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi demanded to meet top officials including the president to present his evidence of rape committed in prisons against post-election protesters.
Washington sources say he would not have risked sending this letter unless he knew that Larijani, to whom it was addressed, would not deny his appeal to investigate the charge. This is a change from the situation last week when the Speaker dismissed the charge as “baseless.”
Assad puts backs up in Tehran
It is serious enough, said Karroubi, for this encounter to be attended by Larijani, Ahmadinejad, judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the state prosecutor.
“I ask you to organize a meeting … in which I can personally present my documents and evidence of cases of sexual abuse in some prisons,” Karoubi said in the letter. “I am waiting for your quick and rational action.”
The second development is related to the visit of Syrian president Bashar Assad in Tehran, on Wednesday August 19, to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his re-election.
Assad, say Western intelligence sources, was scheduled to visit Ahmadinejad in Tehran Sunday, August 16. But he showed he knew the Iranian president had his back to the wall by dilly-dallying on the visit on one pretext or another. He even invited Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki for a two-day visit to Damascus, for another excuse to put off his Tehran trip, aware that nothing could have been more insulting to his Iranian host than putting an Iraqi prime minister ahead of the Iranian president.
Finally, say these sources, Ahmadinejad had enough: He posted a stern message Tuesday night, saying Assad was no longer welcome in Tehran, whereupon the Syrian president dumped his Iraqi visitor and boarded a plan for the Iranian capital.
The jury is still out on the new intelligence theory circulating in Washington and the script outlined for Khamenei's plan to pull the rug from under Ahmadinejad. Will reality turn the theory into fact? For now, most of DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources are skeptical.
One such expert in the West put it this way: The theory is built on strands of Western thinking which are foreign to an Iranian and definitely not compatible with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's mindset.