One of the central themes of the Iran lobby has been the idea that a schism exists within Iranian politics, pitting moderates against hardline conservatives. The perception and mythology of that idea is what propelled the Iran nuclear agreement last year and has served as a rhetorical red line in the sand against taking any actions against the regime in response to provocations such as illegal ballistic missile tests or human rights crackdowns.
The Iran lobby even pointed at the results of the parliamentary elections as proof of this myth calling it a win for “moderates” without acknowledging that almost every candidate with a shred of dissenting opinion in their heads or dissenting acts in their past was disqualified from even showing up on the ballot.
In the year since the nuclear deal was reached, the Iranian regime has been given an effectively free hand to do whatever it wishes without fear of reprisal or reproach and the mullahs in Tehran are responding accordingly.
The so-called moderate wins in the parliament were swept aside with the elections of notorious hardline extremists to head the parliament, Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts. Ali Larijani was re-elected speaker of the parliament with a resounding 237 votes in the 290 seat parliament. We can only assume that the “moderate” bloc must only amount to 53 seats now that the votes are tallied.
Ahamd Jannati, a hardened religious zealot, took control of the Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for picking the successor to top mullah Ali Khamenei. It is almost assured the next leader of the Islamic state will be as hardcore and unyielding as Khamenei.
Jannati also heads the Guardian Council, which tossed out all of the perceived “moderates” (12,000 of them) running for office; keeping Iran’s government ranks ideologically pure and committed to the Islamic extremist views.
Ahmad Khatami, a firebrand cleric and member of the Assembly of Experts, celebrated Jannati’s victory in a sermon last week, saying that “arrogant, powerful media in England and America did everything they could do against Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati” but “their analysis has not come true.”
The Iran lobby made much of the so-called “List of Hope” purporting to represent moderate candidates vying for seats. Well last Sunday, in an initial vote for parliamentary speaker, 50 of the nearly 100 regime lawmakers on the “List of Hope” sided with hard-liners. So much for that hope and “moderation”.
The Iranian regime is solidly in the grip of hardliners and its every action reinforces that reality, but those same hardliners are facing an equally harsh truth which is their reign is troubled and struggling to hang onto power as it is drained by reversals abroad.
The mullahs were forced to corral Russian military support in Syria to stave off disaster there. They were forced to rig elections because they knew they would lose if there was an open and free election. They are supplying proxy forces in Iraq and Yemen in a bid to maintain their tenuous control over both of their neighbors.
Now reports are coming out questioning why Taliban chief Mullah Mansoor was in Iran and what he was up to. In a bag near his burned out taxi was his Pakistani passport (in the name of Wali Muhammad) with immigration stamps suggesting he had been in Iran for almost two months, according to The Guardian.
Mortimer B. Zuckerman, the chair and editor-in-chief of U.S. News, blasted U.S. policy towards Iran and the actions of national security staffer Ben Rhodes who spearheaded the effort alongside the Iran lobby to sell the “moderates vs. hardliners” message.
“Whatever the case for impeding Iran’s advance to nuclear status, we are letting a tiger out of the cage by releasing more than $100 billion in frozen assets without a commitment on how it will be spent. Some of this money may be spent wisely, but Iran remains a central banker for Murder Inc. Millions of dollars will go to sustain the vision of restoring a Persian empire,” he writes.
“Of course the language of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is that they seek more closeness, unity, brotherhood and better relations. Tell that to the families of more than 200,000 Syrians killed during that country’s civil war, courtesy of Iran’s lethal investment. Tell it to the nearly 5 million Syrian refugees begging for sanctuary in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. Tell it to the people of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen coping with subversion financed by Iran. Tell it to the relatives and colleagues of officials murdered in Lebanon,” he added.
Zuckerman’s point is well served considering reports of how the Iranian regime is stepping up its presence in neighboring Iraq now that the U.S. has essentially walked away creating a power vacuum the mullahs are eager to fill.
Iraq’s elite forces who are leading the fight to retake Falluja from ISIS, have been trained by U.S. advisers, but many others on the battlefield were trained or supplied by Iran. It’s the latest example of how Washington has looked the other way as Iran deepened its military involvement in Iraq over the past two years.
In recent weeks, thousands of Iraqi soldiers and Shi’ite militia members supported by Iran assembled on the outskirts of Falluja for the expected attack on the Sunni city. In the lead-up to the assault, General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, met with leaders of the Iraqi coalition of Shi’ite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
The Iranian regime has several interests in its neighbor: Iraq provides strategic depth and a buffer against Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states that are competing with Iran for dominance over the Persian Gulf.
The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan has also become caught up in the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia that is churning in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iran has recruited thousands of Afghan and Pakistani Shiites to fight alongside the Revolutionary Guard Corps and members of Hezbollah in support of the government in Syria against Saudi-backed Sunni militants. Hundreds of members of the so-called Zaynabiyun Brigade have died in the Syrian war.
The Iranian regime’s pervasive influence was uncovered in Bahrain as that nation charged 18 people with contacting the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah with the aim of stirring up unrest in the kingdom, state news agency BNA reported on Wednesday.
BNA said the prosecution had established after the investigation that the group had formed a “secret cell” to incite Bahrainis against the ruling system and to propagate information calling for changing the government by force.
Far from acting “moderately” the regime is in a struggle to stay alive amidst a world in turmoil.
By Michael Tomlinson