Iran: The War Within and Without
A week ago, something went seriously wrong in the underground tunnels beneath the Iranian nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz. I don't know if it was an explosion, on-site sabotage, an accident, or a cyber attack, but eight people were killed, and several others are being treated for irradiation. The tunnel leading to the damaged sector has been walled off. And another disaster, several days earlier, took place at the heavy-water facility at Arak, whose existence has been public knowledge since the mid-nineties.
Along with the explosion in a gas line leading to a new, secret, nuclear facility in a mountain near Fordow, this makes three setbacks to the Iranian regime's nuclear program. Maybe their feng chui has gone negative in anticipation of the oft-dreaded Year of the Serpent, but whatever the explanation--no doubt the supreme leader sees the omnipresent satanic activity of the Jews hard at work--things are not going swimmingly for the terror masters in Tehran.
And that's not counting the ongoing crash of the currency, the inflation, the many strikes throughout the country, the Hobbesian war of all against all among the ruling class, dramatic signs of technical incompetence such as a new oil rig that sank unceremoniously beneath the waters of the Persian Gulf, and the mounting death toll of Iranian killers on the Syrian battlefields.
Take President Ahmadinejad, for example. As he flew off to Cairo for what he hoped would be a triumphant performance in the Egyptian capital, his close ally Saeed Mortazavi, the former chief prosecutor responsible for thousands of brutal arrests, torture, and executions, was arrested and thrown into Evin prison in Tehran. That this was a slap at Ahmadinejad rather than a serious move against Mortazavi was demonstrated by his release within 48 hours. Many of the adepts who analyze Iranian runes and tea leaves saw this in the context of the public screaming match between the president and the Larijani brothers who currently head Parliament, the Judiciary and the "human rights" bureaucracy, which is true in part, but there are many warring factions within the thin veneer of the fabulously wealthy, powerful and corrupt ruling elite. These include the Revolutionary Guards Corps, with their military, intelligence and economic domains, the Khamenei mafia--notably the supreme leader's son Mojtaba and their chief henchman Ali Akbar Velayati--and their allies, the "hard liners," mostly in the clergy, who want an even more violent crackdown on what's left of public opposition to the excesses of the regime, and the bazaaris, suffering mightily under the combination of Western sanctions and the RG's iron grip on valuable foreign trade in everything from medicine to food.
Ahmadinejad is on his way out (presidential elections are slated for June, and he can't run again), and knows that his enemies will not be kind and gentle once he leaves office, so he's using his final months to damage as many of them as he can. He can't attack Khamenei directly (capital punishment awaits even a president for such blasphemy), so he goes after the leader's factotums, such as the Larijanis, whom Ahmadinejad publicly accused of corruption in recent days. Hence the suspicion that the Mortazavi arrest was ordered by one of them. Meanwhile, the Cairo trip was highlighted by a tongue lashing from the top Egyptian cleric, and two thwarted physical attacks, apparently enraged by Iranian support for the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Just a couple of years ago, Ahmadinejad was lionized by islamists throughout the Middle East; now he is at least equally an object of scorn. Some Egyptian even launched a shoe at the Iranian president shortly after his arrival.
You will not hear many of the country's leaders admit the gravity of their current situation, but in private Khamenei has stressed the urgency of "winning" the war in Syria. If Assad falls, according to the supreme leader, Hezbollah is likely doomed, both in Syria and Lebanon. For many years, Nasrullah and his minions played a double-track game in Lebanon, serving as both a powerful army and a wealthy network of social services. But now, with thousands of them killing fellow Arabs in Syria, they are increasingly seen as an alien force, the long arm of Shi'ite Iran in the suffering body of the Sunnis. If they are defeated in Syria, their Lebanese enemies will turn on them.
To pull our geopolitical telescope one notch back, the same grim future awaits the Iranian regime. Khamenei knows that most of his people hate him, and he fears that an Iranian defeat in Syria will encourage those Iranians to turn on him and his failed regime.
Which brings us to the sad subject of the humiliating behavior of President Obama, who, according to Defense Secretary Panetta, vetoed a proposal to support the saner elements of the Syrian opposition--which might have brought down Assad and set in motion a crisis in Iran--and sent his buffoonish vice president abroad to beg the Iranians to talk to us. Leading with his behind, as is his wont, Obama received a swift public kick from the supreme leader. And yes, Khamenei's reported dismissal of the very idea of talking to the Americans was a deception (as you know, having read it here first, there have been secret negotiations with the Obama crowd even before the 2008 elections), but it was both predictable and richly deserved.
His back against the wall, Khamenei is going all out to increase Iranian power where he can, and that means Iraq, Africa and Yemen, and of course Egypt. Were you surprised to read that the French found Islamists in Mali training Nigerian terrorists? Are you wondering why Egyptians don't need visas to visit Iran? Clue: some of them will get special training.
And what is Obama doing about all this? He's retreating. We're down to one carrier group in the Gulf.
As I keep asking, if you wanted to design a policy to favor the success of our enemies and the despair of our friends (not just in the Middle East), how would your policy differ from what we've got now?
The war is on, and we are in full retreat. And the tandem of Kerry, Hagel and Brennan love it.