Thursday February 21 2013

Iran: Towards barbarism

Corruption and war are taking their toll on the Iranian regime, Yassamine Mather reports

Regime in crisis

Given the severity of the political and economic crises threatening the very existence of the clerical state, one would have thought the Iranian regime has enough to worry about. Yet clearly intervention in Syria and Lebanon remains at the heart of the Iranian government’s foreign policy.

On Sunday February 17 the Lebanese Daily Star reported that three Hezbollah fighters and 12 Syrian rebels were killed in battles for control of three Syrian villages near the Lebanese border. The Syrian opposition claimed five Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, 12 Syrian rebels and seven Sunni civilians had been killed.

Hezbollah’s adventure in Syria has been linked to news of the death of an “elite Iranian general” in that country. It is not known whether general Hassan Shateri, a senior commander in the Islamic Guards, was killed in Syria or in Lebanon, while returning from Syria. Hezbollah and pro-Assad forces claim that Shateri, head of the Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, was shot in Lebanon, while the Syrian opposition claim he was “executed” inside Syria’s borders, where he was studying reconstruction plans. However, some reports say he was responsible for the transfer of heavy weapons from the Syrian army to Hezbollah and was actually killed in an Israeli attack on a Syrian military compound in late January. Whatever the truth, Iran is now blaming Israel for the killing of one its most senior military officials.

Syrian rebels have often accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard of giving security advice and military support to the Assad regime. Although the Iranian government officially denies such support, the following statement by Mehdi Taeb of the Ammar Strategic Base, dedicated to combat regime change and soft war against the Islamic Republic, speaks volumes: “Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] … If the enemy attacks us and wants to take either Syria or Khuzestan [south-western Iran], the priority for us is to keep Syria ... if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.”1 This undoubtedly reflects the opinions of Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and explains recent Iranian and Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Hezbollah’s close association with the Islamic Republic is no secret, but events in Syria have divided opinion within it. Some leading Hezbollahis have urged maintaining support for Tehran to strengthen the Shia regional axis, while others, including one of the party’s main leaders, Hassan Nasrallah, were of the opinion that Hezbollah might endanger its influence in the coalition government in Beirut, should it get embroiled in the Syrian civil war. If accusations of Hezbollah’s military operations in Syria are correct, it appears that the party has made up its mind in favour of the ‘regional’ strategy.

Although an imperialist attack on Iran is not currently on the agenda, the escalation of conflict in Syria and the potential involvement of a party in the Lebanese coalition government threatens to inflame the situation rapidly. It reinforces the longstanding position of the US pro-Israeli lobby: ie, Iran is the main threat and ‘should be dealt with’.

Meanwhile, according to Ramin Mehmanparast of the Iranian foreign ministry, the west is making new demands in relation to Iran’s nuclear facilities: “Western powers … have said, ‘Shut down Fordow, stop enrichment [and] we will allow gold transactions.’”2

This refers to the fact that Iran has been trying to circumvent sanctions by trading in gold, but the US government has now stepped in to plug this last loophole in the sanctions programme by threatening Turkey and India. It is alleged that they were paying in Turkish lira for the import of Iranian gas (sanctions prevent payments in dollars or euros) and Iran used the lira to buy gold bullions. The bullions were then sent to Dubai, where they were exchanged for dollars or other foreign currencies.3

There is no doubt that sanctions are hitting hard and a recent poll showed 70% of Iranians blamed the US, Israel, the European Union and the United Nations. This could be misleading, of course - perhaps Iranians are too scared of their government to express their true feelings, even when they respond to anonymous polls. But, whatever the case, the results have certainly given Khamenei a boost. In a defiant response to the latest US offer of ‘negotiations’ the supreme leader said: “The Americans point the gun at Iran and say, either negotiations or we pull the trigger! You should know that pressure and negotiations don’t go together, and the Iranian nation will not be intimidated by such things.” Borrowing a phrase from the left, Khamenei also commented on the USA’s decline as a world power.4

Of course, there are those on the left who still defend the first ‘anti-imperialist’ Islamic state and even encourage voting for similar forces in the Arab world. However, for millions of Iranians who have to suffer in the hell on earth created by Shia clerics, Islamic capitalism has nothing to commend it.

As Iranians try to get by with their valueless currency, expensive food and shortage of medicine, they are adopting desperate measures in order to survive. It is no longer just prescription drugs and kidneys that are for sale: adverts are appearing from “healthy” young Iranians offering any part of their anatomy for sale, while unscrupulous Islamist bazaaris, those staunch supporters of Islamic fundamentalism, have found new ways of making a profit - through buying and selling human organs.

According to police commander Ismael Ahmadi Moghadam, while officially the Islamic Republic has over two million drug addicts and 200,000 alcoholics, the real figure for both types of addiction is much higher. In the absence of a revolutionary alternative, the near collapse of the capitalist Islamic order is edging Iran nearer to barbarism.

Corruption

As the majority of the Iranian population gets poorer, those in power are generating huge wealth through cronyism and corruption. I have previously reported an incident in the Islamic parliament when president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the influential Larijani brothers, close allies of the supreme leader, of blatant corruption.5 Despite a video showing Fazel Larijani offering a bribe to the head of the Social Services Office, Khamenei has come out unambiguously in defence of the brothers, dubbed ‘Iran’s Kennedys’.

When it comes to mediating between factions of the regime, our supreme leader is famous for being even-handed, but on this occasion he seems to be taking sides. Speaking at a public meeting, Khamenei said: “The head of one of the branches in the government accused the head of the other two branches based on unproven evidence that hasn’t been brought up in court … This was bad and inappropriate … it was against Sharia law and morality.”6

Now, I am no fan of Ahmadinejad, and he owed his presidency and his political survival until recently to Khamenei, but here is Allah’s Shia representative on earth blaming the messenger when proof is offered of corruption amongst the supreme leader’s most loyal supporters. After 34 years of the Islamic republic, we all know that taking bribes is very much part of Islamist practice and presumably exposing it is against Sharia “morality”. But I am sure I am not the only one to wonder what is immoral or illegal about exposing widespread corruption. Of course, it could be that our supreme leader is so used to the multi-million-dollar scams that he considers the relatively paltry sums involved in this particular family affair insignificant.

Like all other Islamic contenders for power in the Middle East and north Africa, the Iranian clergy promised to clean up the country’s political and economic life, ban interest rates and end banking profits. Yet on the anniversary of the Iranian revolution, the supreme Islamic court in Iran has been dealing with a high-profile corruption case involving the former governor of the main state bank, Bank Melli. According to the indictment, he received a huge bribe from an investment company to help it secure loans worth $2.6 billion.

A recent Financial Times headline read: “Pressure builds in Iran nuclear stand-off. Diplomatic dance cannot go on for ever. Something has to give” (February 17). However, while it is difficult to imagine either Iran or the US/Israel backing down from their current positions, the bitter infighting between the factions of the Iranian regime and the volatile situation in Syria and Lebanon are likely to play a crucial role in the near future. The end of the “diplomatic dance” between the two sides is unlikely to bring any respite for the majority of Iranians.

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Notes

1. www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blogs/michael-j-totten.

2. www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=303646.

3. http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2013/02/15/266436.html.

4. Iran will not enter into talks with US on unequal footing: MP: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/02/13/288695/iran-wont-enter-unequal-talks-with-us/

5. ‘Corruption, repression, fightbackWeekly Worker February

6. www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-17/khamenei-condemns-iran-leadership-quarrels.html.

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