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by
Meir Javedanfar

Bio

March 29, 2009 - 12:00 am
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According to government regulations, the Ministry of Interior must approve every purchase and, in many cases, supply the goods as well as the funds. As president, Ahmadinejad wields power over the Ministry of Interior and other ministries that deal with Tehran Municipality. With such power, he can make life as easy and as difficult for Ghalibaf as he chooses.

Since 2005, Ahmadinejad has decided to do the latter.

Numerous projects have been delayed. A notable one was the supply of buses to the municipality for its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme, which Ghalibaf has been championing as a solution to Tehran’s traffic problems since late 2005. This notwithstanding the $600 million of approved funds approved for that purpose, which the government refused to release to the municipality.  Recently, Ghalibaf hit back, removing posters celebrating the 100th anniversary of the country’s oil industry, which showed Ahmadinejad standing in front of a refinery.

Ahmadinejad’s perception of Ghalibaf as a threat is quite accurate. There are many within the Iranian conservative movement who are concerned about the damage Ahmadinejad and his disastrous economic policies have caused their movement. They see Ghalibaf and his support for more moderate foreign and economic policies as hope for redemption.

There is also Ghalibaf’s military record as well, far more distinguished than that of Ahmadinejad. Ghalibaf was a senior commander in the Revolutionary Guards, and unlike Ahmadinejad, he has lost family (his brother) in war.

The resignation of Khatami also seems to have boosted Ghalibaf’s position. Some of Khatami’s supporters now back Mousavi (Khatami’s replacement). According to Shafaf News from Tehran, more than half of Khatami’s supporters now back Ghalibaf. One of the main reasons is thought to be because they see Ghalibaf as a good prospect, due to his good relations with the Revolutionary Guards and Khamenei himself.

Judging by Khatami’s resignation and Ghalibaf’s temporary resignation, the level of discord within the Iranian government is reaching a new level, and Ayatollah Khamenei knows this. This is why Khatami was most probably advised not to run: because the animosity which he creates between the conservatives would have created more division and infighting.

Ghalibaf’s resignation would have been another embarrassing blow, as he could have become the second senior official (after Larijani) to resign because of Ahmadinejad — hence the successful pressure on him to reverse his decision.

These developments show that President Obama’s policy of  refusing to negotiate with Iran  until after the presidential elections is on target. Once the elections are over and the dust settles, Washington will be in a much better position to deal with Tehran. Waiting until then will not be an easy decision, especially economically.  According to a recent study by the CATO Institute, oil prices are set to rise again, which could force Americans to pay $3 or $4 for their gasoline at the pump.

This will provide Iran’s political hierarchy with more leverage at the negotiations.

However, negotiating before the elections could bolster Ahmadinejad and weaken the people of Iran, as well as politicians such as Ghalibaf who oppose the president. This must be avoided.

Hopefully, the political divisions and the internal enemies Ahmadinejad has created may do a much better job of bringing him down than the U.S. or Israel ever could.

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