UPDATED: This is an important week in the history of modern Iran. Indeed, it could prove a turning point in Iran’s nuclear weapons program and the region’s march towards a major war.
On Friday, millions of Iranians will turn out to vote in national elections, hoping to choose their country’s next President. Actually, the whole exercise will once again be a sham. It might look like democracy on television. But behind the scenes, the forces of the Ayatollah Khamenei will be stuffing the ballot boxes to make sure the Supreme Leader’s personal choice is “elected.” That’s how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was first “elected” in 2005. That’s how Ahmadinejad was “re-elected” in 2009. That’s how all “elections” are done in Iran. It’s all for show. The only vote that counts is Khamenei’s. The question this week isn’t whether the will of the suffering Iranian people will prevail. (It won’t.)
The question is simply this: Who does Khamenei want to be the face of the regime?
Consider this useful factoid — of the 686 Iranian candidates who filled out applications to run for president, only eight were permitted by the regime to actually run, and two of those have dropped out in the last few days.
[For updated news stories and analysis, scroll down to the bottom]
Ahmadinejad is stepping down after eight years in office. He is legally barred from serving more than two four-year terms. He was Khamenei’s choice in the past because the two share a deep and passionate belief that the Islamic “messiah” known as the Mahdi or the Twelfth Imam is coming at any moment. Together, they made it their mission to prepare the way for the Twelfth Imam’s arrival and for their jihadist “War of Annihilation” to wipe Israel and the Jewish people “off the map.” Unfortunately for Khamenei, Ahmadinejad was not simply a zealous true believer in the End of Days. He was also a nut who repeatedly embarrassed the Supreme Leader inside Iran and the global stage.
I am, therefore, curious to see who Khamenei will choose. My operating theory is that he will pick someone deeply loyal to him personally, intensely loyal to his regime and its nuclear weapons program, yet not an overt religious fanatic. I tend to believe he will pick someone who will be a tough, firm, hard line defender of the Iranian government, but also one who is more savvy on the international diplomatic front and won’t embarrass Khamenei.
After all, I believe Khamenei’s main goal now is to keep Israel, the U.S. and the rest of the world from doing anything decisive to stop Iran from getting The Bomb. That likely means someone who will keep negotiations going, offering a bone here and a bone there, but all the while simply buying time until Iran has an operational arsenal of nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them against the Jewish state and her allies.
Here are the leading eight “candidates”:
- Saeed Jalili, Iran’s long-time lead nuclear negotiator, close advisor to Khamenei, hardline opponent of the West, and staunch advocate of Iran’s nuclear program
- Ali-Akbar Velayati, Iran’s former Foreign Minister for sixteen years, a senior advisor to Khamenei on all foreign policy matters, and recently endorsed by a prominent group of mullahs in the religious city of Qom
- Hassan Rohani, (also spelled “Rouhani”) director of the Strategic Research Center of the Expediency Council who is focusing primarily on improving Iran’s economy
- Mohammad Reza Araf, former Iranian vice president, who is trying to claim the mantle of the reformers [UPDATE: quit the race this week]
- Mohammad Gharazi, former telecommunications minister
- Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, the current Mayor of Tehran, whom a recent (and rare) poll suggests is extremely popular (though some analyst speculate this could harm his chances of being tapped because Khamenei does not like strong, popular leaders around him)
- Moshen Rezaei, former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps
- Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, an Iranian parliament member [UPDATE: quit the race on June 10th.]
Several other major Iranian political leaders were barred from running, including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Ahmadinejad’s protégé, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie.
No one is watching Iran this week closer that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. Netanyahu and Yaalon believe Iran is dangerously close — or at — the “red line” Netanyahu laid out at the U.N. last fall. That is, they believe Iran is at or near the point that they could build not just one nuclear warhead but several, and thus very close to the point Israel may have to launch a preemptive military strike since the international community has not take decisive action to keep Iran from crossing the red line.
That said, the Israelis do hold out the possibility, however slim, that Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei might use the occasion of Iran’s so-called “elections” this Friday to signal a significant backing away from his current bid for The Bomb. But they are not holding their breath.
Sure, if Khamenei dies this week, and is miraculously replaced by someone who does not want to usher in the coming of the Twelfth Imam, and export the Islamic Revolution, and keep Iran the leading sponsor of terrorism, and wipe Israel off the map, and bring down the so-called “Great Satan” of America, then it will be a positive week indeed and a reason for hope.
Short of that, we can have no doubt that Khamenei will keep pressing forward for nuclear weapons on his operating assumption that world leaders are not going to stop him, and that Israel will flinch and do nothing decisive to stop him either.
Once Israel and the world sees who Khamenei has chosen to be the face of the regime, we’ll have a better sense of how the drama will play out throughout the year. War could be close. We must continue praying for the peace of Jerusalem and for all the people of the regime.
- Interesting analysis of Iranian elections by Meir Javedanfar, Iranian-born Jew who now lives in Israel and is an expert on Iranian political affairs
- Iran elections 2013: After Ahmadinejad, who will be the next president? [Analysis of Iranian elections posted on former CIA agent Reza Kahlili’s blog]
- Nuclear negotiator Jalili edges ahead in Iranian election race (Reuters)
- Khamenei’s diplomatic adviser Velayati eyes Iran’s presidency (Reuters)
- The fear factor: Iran’s Saeed Jalili plays on tension with West (Al Arabiya)
- Iranian Supreme Leader’s Brother Supports Moderate Candidate (RFE/RL)
- Is Jalili The Iranian Establishment’s Candidate Of Choice? (RFE/RL)
- Virtual Election Gives Iranians Chance To Vote For Unofficial Candidates (RFE/RL)
- Iran’s former president: Khamenei erasing elections (Reuters)
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