‘Caught between a rock and a hard place’
March 19, 2008
LONDON — British intelligence analysts are expressing doubts about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s long-term future, after his inevitable victory in last week’s election left him in what one analyst calls: “The classic position of a leader caught between a rock and a hard place.”
His hardline supporters, who effectively control the 200 seats in the Majlis, the country’s parliament, are themselves increasingly divided over how he should implement their power both domestically and internationally, according to British intelligence reports.
They believe Iran should break off all talks with the West and go ahead with the country’s controversial nuclear program.
“America will not attack us in their election year. Europe will stop Israel doing so. Britain prefers a diplomatic solution,” an MI6 report sums up the hardliners’ position.
Certainly a group known as the “Pragmatic Conservatives” favor a less belligerent approach to the West. Its 53 Majlis members believe that an accommodation with the West would end the deepening economic blight that grips Iran.
“Unless the president can find a way to balance both sides, he may well find himself ousted in next year’s presidential elections,” predicts a report prepared for Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Despite the Iranian president’s current high profile, all vital decisions in foreign and domestic policy are made by Ayatollah al Khamenei, the nation’s Supreme Leader. From his office in Tehran, he presides over what the MI6 report calls: “A web of control which amounts to a state within a state.
“Effectively the Supreme Leader holds the president’s future in his hands. If Iran’s increasingly stagnant economy fails to improve — and this seems very likely — the Supreme Leader could lay the blame on the president and stop him from seeking re-election next year.”
In theory, Iran’s government departments are run by ministers chosen by the president. The reality is that the Supreme Leader has his own representatives in each ministry who answer directly to him. Effectively this means he has the ultimate say in decision-making. In the present situation, the Supreme Leader will maximize his own authority by arbitrating between the hardliners and the “Pragmatic Conservatives” who want a more moderate position towards the West.
The Supreme Leader, in the complex structure of Iranian politics, holds his high office for life. In theory he has to have his decisions approved by the 86-member body, the Assembly of Experts. The body meets once a year and has never yet countermanded a decision by the Supreme Leader.
While President Ahmadinejad remains the truculent public face of Iranian politics to the West, in reality the driving force is the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
The Guards number hundreds of thousands and amount to a parallel defense force to the regular army. Born out of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Guards have their own army, navy and air force.
Key to their power is the Guards close relationship with Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. He was a former commander of the Guards air force and is now the mayor of Tehran.
During the election campaign he emerged as an opponent to the President.
“There is a possibility that the Supreme Leader may favor Mr. Qalibaf for the presidency next year. This could have as sudden and as dramatic an effect as the original Islamic Revolution,” concluded the MI6 report.
Gordon Thomas is the author of the newly published Secrets and Lies: A History of CIA Mind Control and Germ Warfare (Octavo Editions, USA) and the forthcoming Inside British Intelligence (JR Books, UK).