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IRAN FILE

• "Defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi aggressively retorted to Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei’s comments saying he will “butcher the republican aspect of the system” That's just one quote from Hezbollah's television station, Al-Manar, the day after ayatollah Khamenei's fire and brimstone speech against the opposition. If Manar had been wavering before the second intervention of Khamenei, afterward it clearly toes the line. "The defeated candidate also threatened to take riots on the streets to the next level. "If the people's trust is not matched by protecting their votes or if they are not able to defend their rights in a civil peaceful reaction, there will be dangerous ways ahead," said Mousavi." Never mind that Mousavi's quote conveys no threat. But the wors bit of 'reporting' focuses on alleged protester violence while ignoring the role of the polcie and the basij: "Mousavi's supporters also set on fire a building in southern Tehran used by backers of Ahmadinejad, a witness said. Also on Saturday afternoon a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Tehran mausoleum of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing himself and wounding three visitors, the official IRNA news agency reported. Some protesters set fire to security forces and Basij members' motorcycles." Poor Basij...

Real letter from Iranian protester, really genuine, no kidding:

Dear Friends
Please pass these lines to those who are not here, can’t open their eyes and especially for those parachute reporters who should be more thorough while coming to Iran and making reports.

“ I can’t remember having found any hard evidence and proof while the world was deciding sanctions against Iran on the eventual non-peaceful Nuclear program, so how come that this time all analysts and reporters still seek for a hard proof to finally believe that there was a fraud in the elections?” My Grandma

Aren’t these evidences enough?
1 – Many are justifying the rallies as a bad-loser manner of the urban Iranian and believe that as Ahmadinejad is well supported from the country-side of Iran he probably got the majority of the votes. Such analysts should study more to see that only 30% of the whole nation are living in the country side . So among the 46 million Iranians qualified to participate in the elections, there are only 13.8 million country-side voters. If all of them did really vote for Ahmadinejad (which is of course unlikely) there is still a 10 million gap to reach the 24 million counted votes for Ahmadinejad.
2 – The whole protests aren’t just limited to Tehran and cities such as Shiraz, Mashad, Isfahan, Tabriz, Ahwaz… are also among the protesting regions. Sure is that small cities are definitely unable to contribute on the same scale as controlling and of course confronting it is much easier for the police and militia.
3 – Only 1.5 hours after closing the polls, 5 million votes were already counted and within 4 hours almost 65% of the whole 39 million votes were settled. The polling system in Iran is manual.
4 – About an hour after closing the polls, state news agencies congratulated Ahmadinejad’s win with a dominant majority.
5 – According to the Interior Ministry’s own statement (2 days before the election day), about 12 million extra ballots were printed for backup, so how come that dozens of voting stations were lacking of ballots and people were unable to vote?
6 – Voting Stations supposed to welcome voters till midnight but dozens of them closed at 22h00.
7 – Why did the election staff, stop the monitors (observers) of the 3 candidates entering the polling stations.
8 – Why did the Interior Ministry avoided the candidate’s representatives enter the Vote-Collecting-Room at the ministry (although legally they were allowed to have representatives)
9 – Each candidate was allowed to have at least one Monitor (Observer) in each voting station. Considering the 46,000 voting stations, each of them hired more than 65,000 volunteers or contributors distributed throughout the country to control the health of the elections and also help their campaign. If those along with their family members (3 heads) should vote for their candidate, a minimum of 200,000 ballots should be filled for each candidate. How come that that Mehdi Karoubi only got 330,000 votes? (despite that fact that the party supporting Karoubi has 2 million members and many other organizations and social movements officially supported him!)
8 – If the elections were clean and healthy, why did the government block all communications immediately after the elections on Friday night? (sms service are still down, mobile networks are working ill, more than 100 political figures got arrested immediately after the election, raids to University dormitories took place by the militia, all websites got blocked, Internet speed got reduced extremely, newspapers got blocked…)
9 – Ahmadinejad received only 5 millions votes on the previous elections (first round of 2005)
10- If the elections were clean, why opening fire on silent-protesters and killing at least 15 Iranians till now?

Nutgraph: Two elections in the Middle East in the past two weeks - Lebanon and Iran - hum, they must have something in common. Let's compare them and make clever deductions about what it means. That's how the, ahem, journalistic mind seems to work in the ever more pressing pursuit of content. But the only thing they have in common is that they were not real elections at all

Iran untwittered

Sorry, desk-chair revolutionary twitterers across the globe and a heartfelt excuse to the many Iranians out in the street for tramping on their dreams but I fear that this is just not going to end well. Iran's conservative revolutionary-religious establishment with president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei as two of its most obvious exponents, will just not allow the 'moderates' to gain power again. Both a senior member of Mr Ahmedinejad’s party and a senior reformist cleric indicated just prior to the elections what was about to happen. They both predicted, one confidently and the other anxiously, that the conservatives would not willingly relinquish their hold on power.

It looks as if an actual conservative decision to that effect was taken all the way back during Mohammed Khatami’s presidency, maybe only after his reformist block won the parliamentary elections in 2000. Even now it is unclear how fair the election was of Mr Ahmadinejad in 2005. Mehdi Karoubi, supported by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, complained about interference but this was never taken up officially.

In 2006, less than a year after president Ahmedinejad came to power, reformists were signalling a huge purge of state and parastatal institutions in which all their sympathisers were being sidelined or fired. This was not limited to senior civil servants but was implemented throughout the system, including state corporations, foundations and anything else that had any remote connection to the levers of power. One prominent reformist at the time said, “the conservatives are determined that whatever happens, the reformists will never again be able to regain power.”

Fast forward to almost the present day: huge numbers of people who were either reformist or more likely fed up with the whole idea of the Islamic Republic wavered about bothering to vote in the presidential elections. In Tehran at least, out of several dozen people interviewed, the overwhelming majority was pro-Mousavi, but then there were many people too who said that they were afraid that their vote would be wasted because of fraud and that participation would be used by the conservatives as a way of legitimising the system.

That feeling of impotence among reformists was the original bet of the conservatives, pre-green movement. The idea was to make many reformist minded voters stay at home again as happened in 2005. Just weeks before the elections a senior member of the pro-Ahmedinejad faction in parliament dismissed the reformists’ ardour. “These people are weak. They’d rather stay at home and be comfortable,” said Hamidreza Taraghi. Apart from showing a huge lack of understanding of what was going on in his own country, it also revealed the enormous arrogance of the ruling faction.

But it was arrogance backed by steel: “It does not matter who wins the vote. In the end it is only the Supreme Leader who matters, so we are not worried,” Taraghi said. Granted, at the time that could have meant that the presidency was merely a sinecure in the Islamic Republic. But seeing what happened over the last couple of days, it can also be interpreted as meaning that the conservatives would not give up power, no matter what, and that they knew that they were being backed by ayatollah Khamenei.

Around the same time in Qom, senior reformist grand ayatollah Yousef Sane’i was blunt about the need for many people to come and vote. “They are trying through propaganda to make people stay away from the polls. But it is imperative this time that the people turn up and carry out their duty to vote.” He was mostly echoing the official reformist theme in the run-up to the elections that sought a large turnout as a way of ensuring at least a second round and as a precautions against fraud. Because surely if overwhelming numbers voted against Mr Ahmedinejad, then it would be impossible to fake it.

But the grand ayatollah went further, sounding a dire and prophetic warning of what could happen in case that the conservatives somehow managed to hang on and Mr Ahmedinejad was allowed to continue. “If this continues, our foreign policy will be confronted with severe difficulties, the economy of the country will be devastated and the people may become alienated from the Islamic Republic.” He repeated this one more time when pressed on it: “if the same policies are continued it could widen the gap between the people and the Islamic Republic.”

That last concern of grand ayatollah Sane’i cuts to the core of another big problem in Iran’s Islamic system. The clergy know that they rule to a degree by the grace of the people’s consent. What seems to separate many reformist clerics from the conservatives is merely that they worry more about this and are less willing to use aggressive means to enforce this consent if necessary. Ayatollah Sane’i voiced the fears of a large part of the establishment that the people would in the end opt to abandon the whole Islamic system rather than be content with piecemeal and stuttering reforms.

The conservatives have the same concerns but have come to a very different conclusion. Their revolution, just as the one in Soviet Russia, can only be guaranteed by the use of force and state intimidation. Even though Mir-Hossein Mousavi is a loyal follower of the revolution of 1979, many in the movement that has gathered around him would rather do away with the whole Islamic Republic. And that will just not be allowed to happen.

 

Israel's Iranoia

Even though Israel won MadEast’s threat-off hands down, the idea of an immediate or imminent existential threat always seemed remote. The country also shoots itself in the foot through constant fear-mongering at every level of society, from the authorities, to the political parties, to the media. So it’s no easy thing to assess the real sense of the threat posed by Iran’s presumably imminent nuclear power status and what, if anything, Israel will do to prevent it from acquiring the bomb.

One indication of how seriously the Israelis want the issue to be taken is the upcoming civil defence exercise, the largest in the country’s history. As with previous ones, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement rather hysteriously claimed that the May 31-June 2 exercise was a cover to attack the movement. In Israel many more people speculate that it might be the moment that the country finally deals militarily with Iran’s nuclear programme. That does not preclude a parallel attack on Hebzollah, although the generals would probably prefer to keep that front quiet if they think that Hezbollah will not retaliate in the name of Iran.

An Israeli attack on Iran would be disastrous for the region, far beyond the rather optimistic idea of “throwing all the cards up in the air and see where they land,” as one rather centrist businessman in Tel-Aviv put it. The fall-out, political, diplomatic, terrorist and violence-related would be far beyond anything seen so far. It would ruin any possibility of normalisation of ties between the Muslim world and the west. Even the Arab countries that oppose Iran would be compelled to join in the anti-Israel and anti-US wave that is sure to follow. They are likely to be much more in Iran’s orbit after such an attack than if Iran is allowed to build the bomb. So, an military strike against Iran should really be the weapon of absolute last resort.

Even if an attack seems unlikely, the Israeli civil defence exercise will send a signal that the country is prepared to weigh all options to stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. How far Israel is actually willing to go, remains a cause for speculation but clearly if it is to put pressure on the international community, the threat of military action needs to remain credible. In that context comments by Defence minister Ehud Barak in the daily Haaretz newspaper on the occasion of the country’s 61st birthday could be chilling. He seems be tamping down expectations of a military strike and calls an Iranian nuclear bomb not an existential threat, exactly the kind of talk that we might expect in case that Israel is actually planning an attack.

The real indication of Israeli leadership thinking on the subject may come from the country’s new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has sounded a lot more ominous than his predecessors. Bibi has always had more of a propagandist and shrill streak in him than almost any of the other senior politicians in the country. But the Israeli media themselves are now wondering whether Netanyahu will not be hung by his own rhetoric – after making such a big deal of Iran’s presumptive nuclear programme he may be compelled to act just to preserve his own credibility.

The conversation with the businessman in Tel Aviv reveals how many Israelis view the stark choices that they are faced with, and he was even moderate in his views compared to others. First of all Iran’s ambition to develop the bomb, despite its denial, was taken as a given, which it probably is. From there the spectre of a nuclear holocaust almost automatically followed. “They say that they’ll do it, so they will do it”, was the logic. The fact that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, denies ever having said that Iran itself will “wipe Israel off the map” did not carry weight. “They can just give the bomb to Hezbollah”.

But the degree of the reality of the threat did not even matter much in the conversation, even the remote possibility of an Iranian nuclear strike justified Israeli military action. “It’s better to deal with it now than to have a nuclear war between Israel and Iran.” The rationale was that if Israel attacked Iran now, the international community would have to step in to prevent Tehran form ever acquiring the bomb in the future. In this way the question of the efficacy of such an Israeli pre-emptive strike was neatly sidestepped.

A few years ago the whole question of an Iranian nuclear weapon, despite the hostile feelings between the two countries, would have been less of an issue in Israel. The country would not like any of its enemies in the wider Middle East to have the bomb but Iran was not regarded as an immediate threat. Hezbollah’s ability to resist the Israeli onslaught in 2006 coupled with the increasingly belligerent rhetoric from Ahmedinejad, seemingly sanctioned by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has  shifted this perception. Too often in the past have leaders in the region followed up seemingly empty rhetoric with foolhardy actions. The announced kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in 2006 being one of the examples.

Ahmedinajed is a double liability for Iran in this case. He makes an Israeli attack more likely because of the sense of threat that he instils in the country and he also serves as Israel’s excuse in case it decides to attack.  “We are very lucky to have Amedinejad,” said the businessman.

• Also see Madeast's threat off