According to this version, the Iranian leaders did not want to have a second American die in their prisons, and so — just as they have been saying — the decision to release Sarah Shourd was indeed driven by serious concern about her health.
Then there is the geopolitical element: the regime leaders are very happy with President Obama and they do not wish to see him hamstrung. Ahmadinejad’s original idea was to try to help Obama (and help himself as well) by freeing the American woman, just as the leaders of the Islamic Republic did a favor for President Carter when they freed women and blacks in 1979, long before any white male was released from captivity.
In short, as an Iranian friend of mine put it, what we are witnessing is less a power struggle than a survival struggle. One other good way to see this at work is to look around the neighborhood. As Green leader Mehdi Karroubi said the other day in an interview with Al Arabiya TV, “the regime in Tehran depends on creating international and domestic crises to safeguard its existence and continuation.” And so we see explosions in Bahrain, bombs in Iraq, Kashmir and Afghanistan, and fighting in the streets of Iranian cities. Indeed, the internal conflict has reached such a point that one of Ahmadinejad’s top assistants finally came out and told the clergy to go back into their mosques. Banafsheh’s invaluable Planet-Iran was the only one to give this amazing statement the big font it deserves:
Mohammad-Ali Ramin, Deputy Minister of Islamic Guidance and Culture for Media Relations and Ahmadinejad’s adviser on the “Holocaust Commission” announced: “We call upon all clergy to abandon civic and politics issues, partisan matters, NGO’s and western-style organizations and return to the mosques where they can benefit from greater social clout, that will ultimately elevate societal and Islamic interests. We need to be able to put our clergy to proper use, as mosque attendance has thinned out.
Pay attention to that last clause. Whatever the Islamic Republic of Iran once was, it is no longer a source of enthusiasm for the Iranian people. They have had it. They know that the only thing the regime can do with any degree of efficiency is kill their own people. The latest stories revolve around the dreadful present in Mashhad, where hundreds of prisoners have been slaughtered in recent weeks. One of the sources for the story, Ahmad Ghabel, was thrown back into prison after he told the Green Movement what was going on.
The regime continues its efforts to intimidate the Greens, to no effect. Thugs attacked Karroubi’s home, shooting 30 or 40 times into the house and setting it on fire. Karroubi told them that death did not frighten him, and the outcry was so great that within two days the government announced the arrest of the guilty parties. Mousavi’s house is under siege, every visitor is interrogated by regime thugs, and yet Mrs. Mousavi comes and goes, issuing clarion calls on behalf of Iranian women, and Mousavi himself remains an outspoken opponent of the regime.
And then, in yet another surprising retreat from the policy of all out repression, the former Justice Minister has been called to stand trial for the mass murders that followed the demonstrations of last June.
How will this play out? I think there are two basic scenarios. The first is that the Revolutionary Guards somehow get a grip on the country. It’s hard to imagine, but they do have lots of guns, and if they can kill hundreds of their own, they may well be willing to kill thousands of political opponents and normal citizens. I think the country has gone beyond the point where the tens of millions of suffering Iranians will put up with that again. But you never know.
The second scenario is that the regime implodes, unable to make decisions, unable to act decisively, and, as one key leader after the next goes over to the other side, the whole ugly thing collapses into the muck. Unlikely? Perhaps, but then it seemed even more unlikely back in the days of the Soviet Empire before it sank.