The Death Spiral of the Islamic Republic II

In the middle of the night, at 1:30 in the morning of Friday, August 14th, there was a large explosion at the monster petrochemical facility of the Iranian Pars Petrochemical Company in Bandar Assaluyeh.  It is the biggest such plant in Iran, and the second largest in the whole Middle East (second only to one in Saudi Arabia).

The explosion, which took place in pipes carrying Liquid Petroleum Gas (which is mostly propane), caused fires throughout the facility.  It took at least three hours before the fires were brought under control.  At least two persons died (fortunately, at that hour personnel was at a minimum) and at least 30% of the plant was completely destroyed.   Pars was forced to shut down the entire facility.  Early estimates predicted it would remain closed for a month or two, and as of this writing it is still shut down.

The incident was almost certainly an act of sabotage by the regime’s enemies, and the whole story has been spiked.  But the effects can be seen as far away as Tehran.  Due to the chronic shortage of gasoline, many of the city’s 3500 buses and thousands of taxis had been converted to run on LPG.  They were grounded after the attack on Pars, amounting to almost all of the two thousand LPG-run buses and, at a minimum, hundreds of taxis.  Some of them are now being switched back to gasoline, but, given the country’s notorious lack of efficiency, it is a slow process.  All this not only increases the ongoing distress of Iranian commuters, but heightens the country’s vulnerability to a potential cutoff of foreign gasoline, which has been proposed by bills now on the Congressional agenda.

This event has still not hit the major media, but it is well known to the leaders of the Islamic Republic, who were already facing an internal crisis of unprecedented magnitude.  The regime's internal enemies are getting stronger and more brazen, despite the bloody crackdown of recent months.  The protests against the supreme leader, the president, and the top leaders of the regime, encompass every major city in the country.  Every night chants of “Death to the Dictator!” ring out from rooftops and from within prisons.  Whenever large numbers of people congregate, it becomes an occasion for an anti-regime demonstration, as took place in Tehran the other night during a soccer game in Azadi stadium.

Labor protests continue apace.  As the indispensable Green Brief tells us,

“Reports have emerged that there is a strong possibility of workers’ strikes in Iran. Reports suggest that over 200,000 workers have not been paid their wages in months and this could lead to strikes in the very near future. This comes as the workers in Fars province’s main automobile factory have been on strike over the issue for the past five days. Other reports suggest that unemployment in Tehran alone has risen by 3% in the past few months.”

Above all, the horrors perpetrated by the regime against the peaceful demonstrators following the fraudulent June 12th elections are by now undeniable, supported by a torrent of testimony, and, in recent days, grim photos and even videos from the central cemetary in Tehran.  It has now been established that the regime was overwhelmed by the magnitude of their own slaughter, and, faced with the problem of how to dispose of hundreds of bodies (many of which carried unmistakable marks of torture and sexual abuse), stashed them in meat lockers in and around Tehran.  Testimony from cemetery workers tells of receiving frozen bodies in the middle of the night from security forces.

Some of this evidence is circulating on the Web; other documentation–audio and video alike–is being used within the political universe as part of a vicious war of all against all–and, notably, by the dissident Green Wave Movement of Mir Hossein Mousavi--that characterizes the death spiral of the Islamic Republic.  Worse yet, according to Afshin Ellian, the highly reliable law professor at the University of Leiden in Holland, Supreme Leader Khamenei has received secret messages from Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, criticizing the bloodthirsty behavior of Khamenei’s people.  Sistani has apparently echoed the statement earlier this week from Grand Ayatollah Montazeri that the regime is neither “Islamic” nor “a Republic,” but a tyranny.  Disrespect for the regime was also publicly displayed by the family of the founding father.  In a break with protocol, Hassan Khomeini, the Ayatollah’s grandson, ostentatiously did not welcome Ahmadinejad and his administration when they visited the Imam Khomeini Shrine. Nor did he attend the swearing-in ceremony for the new government.

As Machiavelli warned his prince, the most dangerous thing for any leader is to provoke the contempt of the people.

All this pressure led the supreme leader to make a speech a few days ago that can best be described as a suicide note.  After years of blaming the widespread protests, strikes and mockery of the regime on foreign agitators (including me and other Western critics), Khamenei gainsaid it all.  "The judiciary should not base its judgment on rumors but on hard evidence. I do not accuse the leaders of recent events (read Mousavi and others) to be in the service of England or America. It is not proven that they worked for America or England."  As an Iranian friend of mine put it, Khamenei didn’t turn 180 degrees, he went the full 360.