Late yesterday I spoke to a senior Western intelligence official, who has followed Iran a lot longer and closer than I have, and we had a little chat. Here are the salient exchanges:
Do you think Khamenei is alive or dead?
“I don’t know. We have good reports on both sides.”
Did you look at the videos purporting to show him speaking in Qom?
“Yes. We have analyzed them carefully, and they could be montages of previous appearances. They could also be genuine.”
How do you evaluate the behavior of the regime about this story?
“It seems pretty clear that Khamenei is either dead or dying, and the regime is trying to figure out how the Iranian people will or would react if his death were announced.”
And what’s it look like?
“They could care less.”
This is of a piece with dozens of conversations I have had with other Iran-watchers. Some think he’s dead, some think he’s as-good-as-dead. The last medical report I have, as of the time he left the hospital more than week ago, reported bad circulation, weak pulse, spiking blood pressure, echos in his ears, virtually no sight in one eye, and severe back pain. He apparently could not get up from a chair or from bed by himself. All this on top of the ongoing pain from cancer. Still, he defiantly told his doctors that he would not die until the Americans were driven out of Iraq, and an islamic republic was declared in Lebanon.
Either way, the mullahs are engaged in a succession struggle, and they are worried that the Iranian people might seize the moment to act against the regime.
It seems unlikely to me that the death of the tyrant–whenever it happens or has happened, and whenever it is announced–will be an occasion for a popular uprising, especially since no Western country has seen fit to actively support the pro-democracy forces in Iran. The senior official’s dry remark, “they couldn’t care less,” accurately encapsulates most Iranians’ contempt for their leaders and defines the opportunity and moral obligation to support democratic revolution, but there is still no sign that any of our leaders has the will to embrace regime change in Iran, or in Syria, the mullahs’ half-brother on the other side of Iraq.
Meanwhile, the power struggle continues apace. There is now an effort in the Iranian Parliament, the Majlis, to impeach President Ahmadi-Nezhad. They have collected 38 supporters out of the required 72. An Iranian editor, Issa Saharkhiz, said to Adnkronos “Ahmadi-Nezhad’s golden era is over.” This is a continuation of the anti-Ahmadi-Nezhad campaign within the leadership ranks that surfaced in the results of the most recent “elections,” when he and his followers were slapped down in favor of the so-called “reformists” and the pro-Rafsanjani forces.
And things are so hot in Iran right now that Iranian-made automobiles are setting themselves on fire all over the place. In the past six months, some seven hundred vehicles have spontaneously combusted in Tehran alone. Most of them seem to be local versions of the French Peugeot 405.
Hot as hell.