Iran Sinks into the Muck

It is hard to know where to begin with Iran these days. Many commentators are telling us that there is considerable “infighting” within the regime, which is certainly true. But so far I have not seen anyone point out that these conflicts are not merely political. We are witnessing, I believe, a struggle for survival, both within the regime and between the regime and the opposition. All those explosions -- big explosions -- at the natural gas pipelines running from Iran to Turkey, to Russia, and to Afghanistan cannot possibly be accidents. The latest took place last night (I haven't seen press reports yet, perhaps because Ahmadinejad has ordered oil and gas facilities to censor any news about disasters), two of them:  one at a petrochemical plant on an offshore island that destroyed a polyethylene plant and pipeline, the other against a pipeline from Bandar Abbas to Bushehr.

Moreover, there have been some open gunfights here and there, with casualties running well over 100. To round out this very ugly picture, the nastiest elements of the regime have been murdering their opponents. If you follow the reports, you will see that many people are being executed every day, and there are events far more terrible than those that have been reported.  In the past five months, some seven hundred "dissident" Revolutionary Guards and Basiji have been executed under the guise of "drug smugglers," and there is even worse than that:  in the past few days about 30 dissident RGs in the Mashhad prison were told they had been forgiven, and would be reintegrated into the ranks.  They were put on a bus and fed food and (poisoned) drinks.  When they passed out they were dumped into a mass grave and buried, more or less alive.  Astonishingly someone saw it, and reported it, and some fifty security officials are now being interrogated.

Other very obvious signs of the disintegration of regime coherence abound– such as the repeated calls from the Supreme Leader and the people around him for “unity” (a sure sign they don't have any).  Take, for example, the recent defections of Iranian diplomats based overseas. The two latest ones (one in Brussels, the other in Helsinki) were not merely disgruntled diplomats leaving their country’s foreign service; both proclaimed themselves followers of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s Green Movement, and both forecast that others would soon follow them into open opposition. We shall see.

And more:  the divisions are so intense that Parliament has been closed for fifteen days, on top of the Ramadan holiday.

As most everyone has pointed out, the Sarah Shourd affair also shows deep fissures within the regime. First, Ahmadinejad ordered her release. Most likely, he wanted to take her on his airplane to New York, where he could present her to American authorities and then go on to meet with Pres. Obama. The Iranian judiciary put a stop to that, asserted their authority over all prisoners, and insisted she would stand trial along with her traveling companions. Then came the story of bail, a fantastically high bail of half a million dollars.  In any case, it’s wonderful to see her free.

There are lots of unanswered questions, as usual in these matters. Did they compel her to sign some sort of confession? And what about the bail payment? On the face of it, any such payment would fly in the face of sanctions against Iranian banks, so one wants to know who paid it, and if there was any American complicity.

There may well be a missing link -- call it the story of the other Sarah. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal today, Sarah Levinson laments that she is soon to be married and cannot share her joy with her father, Robert, the former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran three a and a half years ago. I have been told -- although I can’t verify it -- that Robert Levinson died in an Iranian prison a few months ago, and that the American government has come to that conclusion as well.