Ayatollah's health fails as Iran power struggle grows by Michael Ledeen Three days ago, Iran's dictator, Supreme Leader Ayatollah ali Khamenei, was rushed to the vast medical facility traditionally known as "Vanak" hospital (it now has an Arabic name that means "the 12th Imam Hospital"), a 1,200-room facility that saves half of its beds for the leadership. Khamenei is known to be suffering from cancer, and taking considerable quantities of an opium-based pain killer. He has lost more than 17 pounds in the past ten months, and was told last spring that he was unlikely to see another New Year (In the Iranian calendar, the New Year begins at the end of March).
Khamenei first complained of chills, and then broke out in a cold sweat. He lay down to rest, and began to lose feeling in his feet, at which point his aides got him to the hospital.
Amidst maximum security, and under orders that the event be kept secret at all costs, the theocrat was placed in one of the luxurious suites reserved for the country’s most important figures. Khamenei’s blood pressure and pulse were alarmingly low, and his physicians at first feared some sort of hemorrhage. But they could find no trace of internal bleeding, and concluded that he had had some sort of cardiac crisis.
Khamenei is still undergoing tests and receiving maximum attention. It is clearly a serious problem because he wanted to leave the hospital, only to be talked out of it by the doctors. The precise gravity of his condition is not known, but the argument over the wisdom of moving him to his own home suggests it may be quite serious.
My sources for this information are a very knowledgeable Iranian cleric plus another Iranian who has previously provided strikingly accurate stories from the highest levels of the regime in Tehran, suggesting that a major crisis may be underway in Iran.
The Power Struggle
The Supreme Leader has good reason to keep his condition secret, and to seek to demonstrate he retains his ability to rule the country. Khamenei knows that his regime is riven by intense conflict, some of which has been dramatically exposed in recent weeks in the run-up to the election of a new Assembly of Experts (the clerical body whose main responsibility is the selection of the Supreme Leader).
News of Khamenei’s heart problems, especially if they turn out to be life-threatening, would undoubtedly catalyze the battle at the highest levels of the regime to control the choice of his successor. Recent events document both the intensity and the violence of the power struggle.
On November 27th, a military aircraft-an Antonov 74–headed for a military site near Tabriz crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran. Nearly forty deaths were reported, including several top leaders of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s elite military organization. The dead included some of Khamenei’s closest allies and advisers, and their loss was a serious blow for him.
Most Iranians-who are in any case reluctant to believe in accidents when the mighty are killed-are convinced the plane was sabotaged, especially as this is the latest in a sequence of spectacular airplane disasters, producing high-level military casualties.
About a week earlier, a military helicopter came down, killing all six people on board. Last January, Ahmad Kazemi, the Revolutionary Guards’ ground commander, and seven other senior officers, were killed in the crash of a French-made Falcon, a small executive jet, near the Turkish border. Barely a month before, yet another military aircraft, a C-130, came down near Tehran airport, hit a ten-story building, and killed 115 people (mostly journalists).
A week ago, the Majlis (the national assembly) passed a law effectively reducing the presidential term of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad by a full year. This was universally seen as an attack in favor of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadi-Nezhad’s most visible political rival, and a candidate to succeed Khamenei.
Meanwhile, as reported in Iran Press News, the ongoing public challenge to the regime itself continues unabated.
On Wednesday, thousands of students demonstrated on the campus of Tehran University, chanting “death to despotism,” and “death to the dictator.” And in Mazandaran Province, up by the Caspian Sea, thousands of angry workers protested in front of Ahmadi-Nezhad himself, announcing they were starving and demanding the government honor its promise to improve the lot of the poor.
As yet, news of the Supreme Leader’s medical problems has remained a secret, known only to a handful of trusted aides and colleagues. But it is only a matter of time before Khamenei’s condition becomes public knowledge. With unknown ramifications to the stability of Iran and the region at large.