x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

US moving to support Iranian opposition

As the opposition Green Movement in Iran has shown unexpected resiliance over the last six months, in spite of an ongoing government crackdown, the Obama administration is now increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran's government. As a result, according to senior US officials who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, Washington is now looking for ways to support the Iranian opposition.

As the opposition Green Movement in Iran has shown unexpected resiliance over the last six months, in spite of an ongoing government crackdown, the Obama administration is now increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran's government. As a result, according to senior US officials who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, Washington is now looking for ways to support the Iranian opposition. "The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran's dissident forces, said the US officials, rather than just those involved in Iran's nuclear programme. "US Treasury Department strategists already have been focusing on Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has emerged as the economic and military power behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "In recent weeks, senior Green Movement figures-- who have been speaking at major Washington think tanks - have made up a list of IRGC-related companies they suggest targeting, which has been forwarded to the Obama administration by third parties." The Washington Post reported: "Opposition leaders say the Guard's business interests are corrupting the organisation. 'If the Guard has to calculate on its abacus every day to see how much the prices of their shares have gone up or down, it cannot defend the country and national interests,' opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi said last week in a statement posted on a website linked to him. " 'After the war, the Guard did not become a useless military machine, which would be of no use during peacetime,' said the Guard's top commander, Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari, in a September interview with the Jam-e Jam newspaper. 'Today we are active in the fields that the revolution requires.' "The Guard's construction garrison acts as a commercial company, but it is unclear what happens with its revenue. Commanders say the Guard income is transferred to the national treasury, but there are no public records that provide any amounts. Most of the group's contracts are carried out by its business divisions, which directly compete with private-sector firms. "Iranian officials say they are undaunted by the threats of new sanctions. They point to four previous rounds of UN sanctions that have not proved very effective. " 'US sanctions will have no negative effect since the Guard organisation is self-sufficient. Everything they need is here in Iran,' Kazem Jalali, a member of the parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, said in an interview. 'The Americans know that the Guard Corps is a defender of the values of the Islamic revolution. So the Americans aim to target its core.'" The New York Times noted: "Iran has always been deeply factionalised; even the ideologically grounded Revolutionary Guards is far from monolithic. That may be even more true today, since the outbreak of a political crisis following the disputed presidential election in June. Even among the most ideologically committed, there are signs that some recognise that the government's iron-fisted approach to the protests is not working, and that it indeed may be backfiring. " 'I think the purged and discontented officials are the sources of increasingly revealing leaks to the press and to the Green Movement of activities and plans by leaders of the regime,' said Abbas Milani, director of Iran studies at Stanford University and a critic of the government, referring to the opposition movement. "The leaks could be a symptom of disillusionment and, perhaps, of the supreme leader's decision to marginalise all but the most loyal. Yet, while the leaks provide evidence of divisions, they cannot answer questions about how deep the rifts go or what they say about the trajectory of the crisis or the stability of the government. "At the moment, at least, few if any experts are predicting that the government will fall. " 'There is enough commitment to the survival of the Islamic republic among an array of forces in the government and society to assure the continued use of repression and violence,' said Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii. 'But it is precisely the ineffectiveness of the methods used in controlling the crowds, combined with the unsuccessful effort on the part of some very hard-line forces to cleanse the Iranian political system of all rivals, that may persuade some leaders to change their minds.' "So far, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has shown no willingness to compromise with the opposition. He also retains the allegiance of the primary levers of power - the leadership of the Guards, the intelligence services, the Basij militia, the regular armed forces and the judiciary, Iran experts said. "But it is possible that internal pressure could, at some point, force a political compromise. " 'Since June, there has been much anecdotal evidence that suggests deep divisions between the hard-line commanders of the Guards and between the Guards and members of the regular armed forces who are dissatisfied with the election and its aftermath,' said Alireza Nader, an analyst with the Rand Corporation. 'The extent of these divisions are hard to gauge, but they have the potential to weaken Khamenei's grip at a critical juncture.'" Meanwhile, The Guardian reported: "Iranian MPs lifted a blanket of official denial on the country's post-election upheaval today by blaming a ­senior regime insider for abuses that led to the deaths of at least three prisoners in a detention centre. "In the first publicly documented ­admission that abuses occurred in the weeks after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election, the majlis, Iran's parliament, identified Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran's former chief ­prosecutor, as the main culprit in the scandal over the Kahrizak facility. "A report read out to MPs said 147 prisoners had been held in a 70-square-metre room for four days without proper ventilation, heating and food on ­Mortazavi's orders. The prisoners were sent to ­Kahrizak after being arrested at a demonstration on 9 July, less than a month after ­Ahmadinejad's victory. "The facility, which was intended only for violent criminals and drug ­traffickers, was closed on the orders of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after it emerged that three inmates had died, including the son of a distinguished ­government scientist."

pwoodward@thenational.ae