Iran pundits know that serious undertakings by the regime require specific authorization from the supreme leader, Obama’s pen pal Ali Khamenei. An excellent Iranian source, with an excellent track record on such matters, informs me that the supreme leader issued a fatwa on April 14th to two of Iran’s most powerful killers, Generals Mohammad — Ali Jafari (head of the Revolutionary Guards), and Qassem Suleimani (head of the Quds Force), authorizing them to take any and all actions to destroy the Saudi royal family and its regime.
It’s a big deal. According to this account, Khamenei authorized Jafari and Suleimani to work with non-Shi’a forces in the kingdom (most Iranian subversion to date has focused on the oil-rich eastern provinces, which are heavily Shi’a), and, as in the case of supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, there are no restrictions on budget or tactics. Khamenei has been quite outspoken of late on the Saudis, and you can hear echoes of the fatwa in a recent speech (barely a week afterwards).
I think you can also see its effect in the recent Iranian moves against ships in the Persian Gulf, which is a direct threat to the kingdom’s lifeline to its customers in the West.
Khamenei’s move against the royal family is quite audacious, and could bespeak several very different convictions. He might believe that the strategic tide is running in his favor, and hence the moment favors a dramatic push against the Sunni king. Contrariwise, Khamenei might be concerned that things are going badly, and thus that he needs some spectacular victory to rally his own people and the turbulent jihadis in the region.
The biggest sign that things are going swimmingly comes from Washington, where the Obama willingness to favor, or at least tolerate, most any Iranian advance or demand has long since transcended shame and transmogrified into parody. When Pentagon lawyers coughed up the outrageous view that our defense pact with the Marshall Islands doesn’t require us to do a thing for their captured ship and hostage sailors (except maybe pay off the mullahs, I suppose), it removed all doubt that we were the pulling guard for Iran’s end-run around law and order when and where they wish.
Having confirmed that Washington is still on his side, Khamenei dispatched Foreign Minister Zarif to New York, where he unburdened himself of a series of insults and peremptory barks at the United States. As Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon rightly stresses, most leading American commentators were enchanted by Zarif’s outrage, but we’re not. It’s a very bad sign, illustrating Tehran’s recognition that the regime has won the battle for Washington, and our feckless elite’s rushing to the winning side.
They shouldn’t be so confident. Certainly Khamenei has plenty of bad news. I discuss the domestic disaster here, and that’s only the beginning of the dark cloud over the supreme leader’s downtown palace. The seemingly relentless march of the Iranian hegemon across the Middle East and big chunks of Africa is stalled, blocked, or actually losing. Unexpectedly, some would say. All of a sudden we hear that “Assad may fall,” and the attendant rumors that Iran is considering alternatives in Syria (disinformation, as I see it, since Khamenei has long since told Jafari and Suleimani to go all in for Assad, whatever the cost in Iranian treasure [much of it Khamenei’s own money] and flesh). Hezbollah was sent on to the Syrian battlefield, and it hasn’t been fun. Indeed, things are so bad that the regime has been trying to conceal the body count:
Thus far there are no official numbers for Hezbollah fatalities in Syria. In the progression from the secret burial of fighters who died carrying out their jihadist duties, to the announcement of fighting alongside the Syrian regime and open declaration of fatalities, and finally to the holding of public funerals for them, Hezbollah has kept the number of its losses secret. There has been no clear and honest explanation for the silence on these numbers. Logic leads us to two possible explanations: the party either does not want to reveal the magnitude of the losses it has incurred defending the Syrian regime, or it does not want to reveal the enormity of the figures compared to the number of fighters killed in the open conflict with the Israeli enemy. Perhaps both explanations are true.
Whatever explanation you favor, it’s obvious that the regime doesn’t want the Iranian people to look at the story, right? Otherwise they wouldn’t spike it. Nor would they order Iranian family relatives to hold burials in the middle of the night, nor tell Lebanese religious authorities to conceal the casualty figures, both of which are in effect.
So the war in the near abroad is going badly. As is, all of a sudden, the campaign in Nigeria, where Iran has long furthered the efforts of Boko Haram, is losing ground to the army, and hundreds of hostages — some with hashtags, some without — have been rescued.
As for Yemen, the Iranian flotilla headed there thought better of it when it encountered real American warships. The Iranians turned around and headed for safer waters back home, where there is some congestion in the major ports. I know of a cargo ship sitting in Bandar Abbas with more than 65,000 tons of corn, for example. It’s not unloading, because there’s no money on hand to pay for it. Yes, we’re paying them hundreds of millions of dollars a month, and you’ll read a lot about the current improvement of the national economy, but please raise an eyebrow. Corn sitting in port, and strikes/protests/demonstrations by teachers, students, and workers tell a different story. Things are tough.
Thus, the fatwa. It comes alongside Iran’s deals — apparently real ones, not the comic versions from the overanalyzed nuke talks and arrangements — with Russia. The Russian antiaircraft missiles are due to start arriving in late August, shipped from the north in components, not assembled. The Russians have also promised submarines and torpedoes so that, one fine day, the sight of American ships won’t automatically yield an Iranian retreat. And Moscow has also folded the newly radicalized Greek government into the strategic envelope. Athens will work closely with Moscow and Tehran on energy, weapons shipments, and, for Putin, ongoing access to the Med.
Judge for yourself if Khamenei is acting out of fear or arrogance, you can read it either way. My bottom line: if there were any real Western leaders, we could easily and non-militarily cause the evil would-be empire in Tehran a lot of pain. Maybe even bring it down.
Obama has no wish to do any such thing, so I’m just saying…for some friends.