Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A military coup coming in Iran?

Early this month Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad promised "a telling blow against global arrogance," on Feb. 11, tomorrow, which is the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. What did he mean?

The Western rumor mill runs amok. It is fueled by the report that,

[Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali ] Khamenei, whose public statements should be taken seriously, is promising some sort of devastating “punch” against the West on Thursday the 11th, the same day as the Green Movement is calling for a monster protest against his regime.

One possibility is some sort of blow against Israel, the "Little Satan" of the Islamic Republic's dementia. (The "Great Satan" is the United States.) After all, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened Israel with destruction.

An attack by Iran against Israel tomorrow seems highly unlikely. By now the preparations would have to be a very late stages and would such a threat seem real, I would think Israel would have already taken countermeasures. A strike against Israel by Iran's proxies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are much more probable but not necessarily likely. Hamas needs no motivation but its recovery from Israel's December 2008 offensive against it. As for Hezbollah I have no new insights but my gut is that they aren't prepared for an another offensive, either.

So what is up for tomorrow? The most likely event is a crushing domestic attack against Iranian demonstrators. As noted, there has long been planned for tomorrow massive street demonstrations against the regime. These would coincide with the traditional public-square celebratory events of the Revolution. Amir Teheri notes that Atyatollah Khamenei is being kept away from the official demos and that,

Today Iran is in a decidedly insurrectionary mood. With hundreds of figures from past governments, including two former presidents and one former prime minister, having joined the opposition, along with scores of former lawmakers, there is every possibility that even supposedly loyal crowds could switch sides on the spur of the moment.

So what is a diabolic, power-mad, tyrannical regime to do?

The Khomeinist establishment, or at least what is left of it, has been debating strategy for the anniversary for weeks. The more radical faction — led by Gen. Mohammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and backed by Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — has been urging a mass crackdown against the opposition. According to sources in Tehran, Jaafari has presented a plan code-named “Tanzih” (Eradication), which envisages the arrest of some 3,000 opposition activists, including former president Mohammad Khatami and former prime minister Mir-Hussein Mussavi. The plan would also authorize the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij (Mobilization) street fighters to crush any mass demonstration by force, even if that means producing a bloodbath.

General Jaafari is said to favor a “Chinese-style” crackdown to silence the growing pro-democracy movement. During the past six weeks he has been shipping units into Tehran and its environs and positioning Basij fighters, often in civilian clothes, at sensitive points. By Thursday he will have over 100,000 men in the capital.

The "Khomeinists" simply means the inheritors of the central figure of 1979s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 1902-1989.

But what is Gen. Jaafari really up to with 10,000 Revolutionary Guards in the capital? Clearly, the regime long ago lost legitimacy among the people and is held in power only by pure power, the foundation of which is the Guards. But what if the Guards are sick of the regime, too?

Jaafari is still fairly young as strongmen go in Iran, being only 52. He is not even relatively liberal in Iran, having been a signatory of a letter in 1999 to then-President Mohammad Khatami, warning him that Khatami's liberalizing policies were threatening to undermine the government. It was understood as a thinly-veiled threat of coup. Today, Khatami is a leading figure of the opposition and could loom large in Jaafari's crosshairs.

It cannot be expected that Jaafari secretly is sympathetic with the opposition and its anti-government demonstrators. Yet his record for the last 10 years at least also shows that his great fear is not the fall of Khomeinist regime as presently constituted, but that civil unrest mutate into civil war.

Amir Taheri wrote on Feb. 5,

The anti-regime movement started as a protest against the alleged rigging of the June election that produced a landslide victory and a second four-year mandate for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The crowds' initial slogan was "Where Is My Vote?" The movement's accidental leaders, including former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Mousavi, who insists that he, and not Ahmadinejad, won the election, tried hard to keep the protest confined to limited demands such as a recount of the votes and, ultimately, a run-off in accordance with the Election Law.

Over the past eight months, however, the movement has developed beyond those objectives. The initial slogans that focused on vote rigging have all but disappeared. Their place has been taken by unambiguously anti-regime slogans such as "Death to the Dictator", "Freedom Now", and "Iranian Republic, Not Islamic Republic!"

So will Jaafari move tomorrow to implement a "Chinese Solution" to the opposition? That has to be the most probable course of events.

But not the only possible one.

Jaafari is no dullard. He is well educated and experienced. It might have occurred to him by now that the regime is the problem. By accounts, it was Jaafari's idea to use the IGRC to crush the opposition tomorrow. A substantial number of Guards would have been deployed in the capital to protect the Islamic parades and demonstrations, anyway, so Ahmadinejad et. al. were probably receptive to raising the number to 10K to end the opposition once and for all.

But Jaafari may read tea leaves better than Ahmadinejad and company. Leading figures of Iran, including former members of the Khomeinist regime, have increasingly distanced themselves from the present government. Some have openly criticized it, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani being one. Furthermore, Jaafari has said that the political role of Turkey's generals has some appeal to him. (More than once Turkey's generals have taken over the government to prevent civil war. They have always returned it to civilian rule.)

Clearly, at least to observers, Iran's status quo is not sustainable. Ahmadinejad and Khamenei may not realize it but I am betting that Jaafari does. So which way will the cookie crumble on Feb. 11?

Don't be surprised if the Chinese Solution is implemented against the opposition followed by an announcement that that the IGRC has taken Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and other figures to a secret, secure site "for their own safety" until the situation is stable. In the meantime, Jaafari will be in charge while 10,000 of his Guards patrol the streets of Tehran.

Endnote: the "Chinese Solution" refers to the Chinese government's brutal suppression of demonstrators at Peking's Tiananmen Square in April 1989.

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