Politics & Policy

Iranian Fission

Time to take down the terror masters in Tehran.

One of my favorite reporters called late last week, saying he had learned that Coalition forces in Iraq had captured an Iranian vehicle entering Iraq with large quantities of shaped explosives, obviously headed for the terrorists. “So what?” was my reply. It happens most every day. But he was baffled. Why would the Iranians be supporting terrorist actions against Shiites? After all, didn’t they want the Shiites to prevail in Iraq, so that there could be an Islamic republic there?

His question–and he’s a good reporter–shows once again how totally false stereotypes distort our ability to see what is in front of our noses, and the presumed unavoidable conflict between Sunnis and Shiites is one of the worst. After all, the courageous dissident Akbar Ganji and scores of other Shiites are under torture in Iranian prisons and hospitals, and thousands of Iranian Shiites have been murdered by their very own Islamic republic in recent years. The mullahs and their prize thugs love to smash and kill Shiites. Last week in Basra, according to the brave blogger “Iraq the Model,” (Shiite) students at the major universities were badly beaten, two of them killed, by “Sadrists and Mahdi Army militiamen” (that is to say, radical Shiites). Their crime was to hold a picnic for both boys and girls.

On the other side of the presumed great religious divide, Sunni terrorists–above all, those who work with the Iranians–love to kill their fellow Sunnis. Just a few days ago “al Qaeda in Iraq,” which is commanded by the (Jordanian) Sunni Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, murdered two Algerian (Sunni) diplomats in Iraq, calling them “apostates and allies of Jews and Christians.” (Please notice that the terrorists did not refer to “allies of America and other crusaders.” It was “Jews and Christians”). So Zarqawi unhesitatingly slaughters Sunnis when the opportunity arises.

One grows tired of learned disquisitions about the inner workings of various Muslim subgroups, as one tires of the false generalizations–”Islam is a religion of peace” or “Islam is a religion of war.” (Both are true)–rather than seeing the region plain. The (Shiite) Iranians, in league with the (Sunni) Saudis and Syrians employ thousands of terrorists, suicide and other, from all over the Middle East, of various religious “conviction.” It all has a religious/ideological overlay–as did fascism and Communism–but this is an old-fashioned war (spare me from “struggles against extremism”). The terror masters and their foot soldiers are trying to kill us and our allies, in order to remove us from the region, thereby extending the lifespan of their tyrannical regimes. The Koran, whatever the particular exegesis employed, is no obstacle to tactical alliances, any more than Mein Kampf prevented the Fuhrer from surrounding himself with a variety of distinctly non-Aryan thugs (not many blue-eyed blondes in the bunker), or Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin from changing strategy, or even making alliances with their presumed mortal enemies (remember the Nazi-Soviet pact?), when circumstances warranted.

Just as the fascist leaders fought vicious battles against their own people and even against their own comrades-in-arms, so Iran today is in the grip of a very nasty struggle for power within the theocratic elite and against the broader society. Neither is well noted in the popular press, or, alas, among the policymakers in Western capitals.

The surest sign of internal tension is the purge, and as the new Iranian President Ahmadi Nejad is sworn in on Thursday, the military and the security services are in the midst of a major shakeup. The current commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ (Pasdaran) ground forces, Aziz Jafari, is taking over the Guards’ political command and strategic planning. One of the most extremist of the Guards’ elite, Hejazi, will head the Armed Forces’ joint command. Indeed, among the top Pasdaran officials, only Yahya Rahim Safavi–the commander in chief–will retain his post. These changes clearly reflect Supreme Leader Khamenei’s concerns about insufficient loyalty by the previous officials, and also the mounting influence of Ahmadi Nejad, who was enraged by a split within the top ranks of the Guards following his “electoral” victory.

There is even a crackdown on the Rafsanjani family. Last Wednesday, the Islamic judiciary announced the arrest of several of the executives of the Oriental Kish Oil Company, which belongs to Rafsanjani’s children and relatives. Rafsanjani himself has responded by accusing the regime of illegal “monopolistic” business practices, which is rather like the madame complaining about perverted sexual practices in her bordello.

The purge within the regime has been accompanied by a ratcheting up of anti-American rhetoric, and by increased public recruitment of suicide terrorism against Americans. Anyone who believes that Iran is seeking some sort of rapprochement with the West should read a recent speech by Safavi, in which he confirmed that the Pasdaran are acting both inside and outside Iran, and that they are preparing to confront Americans on a global scale. At the same time, Safavi announced a huge increase in the ranks of the Basij, the dreaded volunteer force of religious fanatics that specializes in brutalizing democratic-minded common citizens, and women who don’t cover every last strand of hair. He proclaimed that the Basijis would grow from 10-15 million (nine million men, six million women). And one of the country’s most radical mullahs–Muhammed Yazdi, said to be Ahmadi Nezhad’s spiritual guru–publicly called for volunteers for a wave of suicide terrorism, with America and Israel the preferred targets, along with the Iranian people themselves; it is widely believed that some of the suicide terrorists could be deployed against Iranian demonstrators.

The Democracy Bomb

The Iranian people understand that they are facing the likelihood of a massive crackdown on their few tolerated pockets of freedom. Robert Tait, the Guardian correspondent in Tehran, led his July 24 report “With bone-cracking brutality, the waves of baton-wielding police seemed to confirm…the dawn of a new era of political repression.” Twelve days earlier, demonstrators in Tehran, calling for the release of political prisoners, were brutalized in the usual way, with no distinction made between the elderly, the children, the men and the women. Mohammed Torang, the head of the intelligence forces, amused himself with a bon mot: “This is just a small caress.”

As the upper compartment of the political hourglass empties, the Iranians have taken to the streets throughout the country. The Kurds in the north and the Arabs in the south have been particularly active, burning banks, protesting the murder of their children, even smashing offices belonging to the Supreme Leader. The regime, responding as always to its inner fascist, has responded by sending in the troops. In Mahabad, a northern Kurdish city, light tanks were photographed entering the town in an attempt to quell more than two weeks of demonstrations following the murder of a young activist, whose body was then further desecrated by being dragged through the streets of the city.

The demonstrations are not limited to one region or to minorities, or, as some of the more cynical journalists misreporting from Tehran would have us believe, to spoiled children of the upper middle class. Just two weeks ago there was a coordinated work stoppage across the country. The MEK, an organization I do not admire, but whose information is generally credible on such matters, claimed that more than 50,000 workers participated, from Pakdasht and Varamin near Tehran, to Golestan province in the north and Khorassan province in the east, to Qom and Yazd in the center to Bushehr and Shushahr in the south. Notice that Varamin and Bushehr are sites of Iran’s nuclear program. And notice also that, so far as I know, not a single Western trade union has seen fit to support their Iranian brothers and sisters, nor has a single “progressive” publication or blog deplored the fact that most Iranian workers are a year and more behind in receiving their wages. Indeed, many of their leading lights prefer to make libelous accusations against the few of us who have supported freedom for the Iranian people, falsely claiming that we want a military invasion of Iran.

In coming days and weeks, we will see whether the mullahs will prevail against us and against their own people. Much depends on the course of events in Iraq and Lebanon (Sheikh Nasrullah, the “political” leader of Hezbollah who is attempting to be the mediator between the Lebanese and Syrian governments, went to Tehran Sunday for meetings with his masters). If, at long last, our policymakers finally acknowledge that we know–indeed, we have known all along–the mullahs are pumping lethal support to the terrorists in Iraq who are slaughtering innocent Iraqis, along with our sons and daughters on the battlefield, then we might get the sort of vigorous support of the Iranian freedom forces who can bring down the regime that is the world’s major sponsor of terrorism.

Eventually, we will get there, for there is no escape from it. Alas, I rather expect that we will continue to dither. This administration, at least for the moment, seems unwilling to do anything that might offend the tender sensibilities of the Europeans. We are letting them play out the string, using diplomatic means to contain an aggressive enemy. Our main hope is that the Iranians will wreck the scheme. And perhaps they will.

It seems they have spat in the Europeans’ faces once again on the farcical nuclear negotiations, having announced on Sunday that they were breaking the seal on the enrichment facility in Isfahan. That tracks with claims I have received in the past few days, saying that the last technical problems have been overcome, and that, in the next month or two, Khamenei will either announce that Iran has the bomb, or one will be detonated to remove any doubt. Time will tell, as it will tell if, as the mullahs hope, atomic bombs can protect them from democratic revolution. I think not.

Ganji’s Power

The other matter concerning the mullahs these days is the open challenge to the regime from their most famous prisoner, Akbar Ganji, now more than 50 days into his celebrated hunger strike against the regime. It is a thorny problem for the mullahs, for Ganji’s willingness to sacrifice his own life on behalf of Iranian democracy has inspired people all over the world. Last week, the regime blinked, big-time. On Thursday, Tehran’s infamous hanging judge Sayeed Mortazavi, entered the hospital to which Ganji had been moved from his prison cell, threw out all the doctors and nurses, replaced them with his own medical team, and sealed off the whole wing of the hospital. Since then, Ganji has been in near-total isolation. Some believe the mullahs intend to kill him, others are convinced that they are keeping him alive, and that whenever Ganji slips into a coma, Mortazavi’s people hook him up to an IV, and bring him back, only to have him remove the tubes as soon as he recognize s what is happening.

It’s a tough situation for Khamenei, who knows–as do all Shiites–that dead men can be much more powerful than the living. A martyred Ganji could inspire a new revolution–it would not be the first time in human history–but a living Ganji would expose an unexpected weakness in the black heart of the regime. What to do? One indication that Khamenei wants a living Ganji came a couple of days ago, when a large pro-Ganji demonstration in Tehran was permitted to go forward. And Khamenei may also be alarmed at the support for Ganji from some of the country’s grand ayatollahs, most notably Montazeri (to whom Ganji directed an appeal for the impeachment of Khamenei), who, although under house arrest, remains a powerful force.

If we were determined to support freedom in Iran, we would expand our welcome support for Ganji to the other political prisoners now dying under torture in that suffering country. Indeed, one of those little pockets of freedom has given us the opportunity. A week ago, a judiciary oversight committee in Tehran issued a blistering report about the systematic violations of human rights by Iranian judges and jailers. The report cited torture and beatings, illegal wiretapping, solitary confinement in spaces as small as three square feet, detentions without charges for long periods of time, brutality against female prisoners, and so forth.

Everybody knows that the charges are true, as they were four years ago when the head of the Iranian judiciary, Judge Shahroudi, wrote

Justice in our country cannot even compare to those of other third world countries…Many good and innocent people are arrested and through torture forced to sign confessions. By the time these individuals stand before a judge, they’ve gone through hell…

Nothing happened, and nothing will happen unless the West, led by this country, says “enough!” to the Tehran regime. Anybody interested?

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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