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Iran May Face Attack As Its Theocrats Keep Misreading The Messages From UNSC Powers.

*** Marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day On Oct. 5, Hizbullah Chief Nasrallah Said Israel Was Behind All The Assassinations Of Lebanese VIPs Since The Hariri Murder; His Opponents Later Said He Was Not Only Defending The Syrian Regime But Was Also Trying To Undermine The UN Court Which Is To Try The Killers; Bush, Receiving Sa'd Hariri, Oct. 4 Urged The UN Court To Speed Up Its Work And Warned Syria To Stop Trying To Derail Beirut's Democratic March And Let Its People Freely Elect A New President - The Whole Region From The Caspian To The Med Is Boiling, As Bashar Al-Assad Warned In 2006

*** France's Pushing The EU To Punish Iran Financially

TEHRAN - The Shi'ite theocracy here, which its critics say follows a militia-based system, is structured in such a way that many of its powers seem incapable of reading the mood in the West and a US-led Arab alliance worried a military attack could be just as damaging to the region as to Iran. The pragmatic wing of the theocracy seems to better understand the Western mood and the various messages coming out of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The pragmatists, led by former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, are worried the theocracy's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is more prone to acquiesce in the hard line which the supremacists of the regime uphold than being capable of taking a moderate position in the nuclear stand-off with the West.

APS sources close to Rafsanjani, chairman of the Assembly of Experts (AoE) whose collective authority is above that of the Supreme Leader as it can depose him (see news13-IranUnderPressrSep24-07), say Khamenei is particularly concerned that the supremacists are far more dangerous than the pragmatic camp. If Khamenei confronts them, they will rebel and thus the theocracy will be split beyond repair.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad ElBarade'i, has warned Tehran it must fully answer key questions about its uranium enrichment before end-2007 if it is to avoid UNSC action. The US is trying to get new UNSC sanctions passed before end-2007.

The US Senate has recently approved the branding of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a "terrorist organisation". But the IRGC is not only the backbone of the theocracy. It is by far the most powerful segment of Iranian society.

On Sept. 28 six world powers agreed to delay a vote on tougher UNSC sanctions on Iran until late November, awaiting reports from the IAEA and EU negotiator Javier Solana. The West accuses Iran of seeking atomic weapons under a civil nuclear plan. Iran denies this, saying it wants to produce power and save more of its oil and gas for export - though in reality this plan is controlled by the IRGC.

Tehran is interested in the 2008 US presidential race, in view of persistent speculation about a US or US-Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites. On Oct. 1 the Iranian daily Kayhan, close to Khamenei, urged US Democrats in Congress to do more to compel President Bush to order a withdrawal from Iraq, saying: "The majority of [Americans] would like to see the Iraq war end... But Bush continues to implement his own wishes and completely ignores Congress".

Iran officially dismisses the likelihood of a "mad" attack on its territory. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Oct. 4 told the UN: "The US is not in a position to impose another war in our region". This is the firm belief of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad who, compared to Khamenei, is a toothless figure but with a loud mouth. Ahmadi-Nejad is a figurehead for the IRGC and his Qom-based patron, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, is the leader of the supremacists who believe the Shi'ite theocracy is a super-power which can, eventually, defeat the US in the Middle East.

Henry Kissinger, in a recent op-ed column in the Washington Post, stressed that control over oil was the key issue that should determine whether the US undertakes military action against Iran.

With Washington ratcheting up pressure to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organisation in recent weeks, officials throughout the theocracy sprang to its defence. In a sermon, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati (a supremacist) said: The IRGC "is not separate from the people... Are you introducing the 70m people living in this country as terrorists?"

Apart from Iran's nuclear programme, the IRGC runs many things in the country. It has a hand in killing US soldiers in Iraq, in Hizbullah's activities in Lebanon and among Shi'ite communities elsewhere in the Arab world. It plays a key role in Iranian politics. It has its commercial ports, runs the Imam Khomeini International Airport for one example, and has over 100 companies spanning almost all sectors. Apart from its officially estimated armed force of 125,000, the IRGC's total work force is said to exceed 1m.

Created shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution - as the loyalty of the conventional armed forces was in doubt - the IRGC then was made responsible for protecting "the revolution and its achievements", according to Iran's constitution, whereas the conventional military was tasked with protecting the country's independence and territorial integrity. But things changed drastically in late 1980 as Saddam's Iraq began an eight-year war. The IRGC then grew rapidly and took the lead in counter-attacks which culminated in its invasion of Iraq's Faw Peninsula in 1986. By then, the IRGC had created its own air force, navy, air defence force and other military services. More important, it had taken over all of Iran's main military industries and defence projects.

Now, the IRGC is a huge empire combining defence, security, intelligence, social (including health, education, sports, etc), infrastructure (roads, ports, airports, power plants, etc) and economic sectors. What has changed about the IRGC, mainly since the June 2005 election of Ahmadi-Nejad, is its political role. It now has the characteristics of what political scientists call a praetorian force, wherein higher-ranking officers participate in politics, sometimes at the behest of civil authorities. Praetorians also reveal a mistrust of civilian leaders.

The early IRGC cadres earned public respect with their courage and enthusiasm and the theocracy glorified their actions even more. Now the IRGC has a large reserve of young volunteers called the Basij, and its leaders boast about observing US military tactics in Afghanistan and Iraq and being ready to counter these with asymmetric warfare. It was the IRGC's naval branch which captured British sailors in March 2007.

The IRGC's unconventional warfare function is performed by the Quds Force - its external arm. Quds is involved with the insurgency in Iraq, and in 2002 the US accused it of fighting in Afghanistan. The IRGC was instrumental in the creation of Hizbullah in Lebanon in the 1980s, and its personnel were in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Aziz-Ja'fari, head of the IRGC since Sept. 1, is close to the Rafsanjani camp. He shifted to this camp in 2006 after a split within the IRGC command as he was opposed to Ahmadi-Nejad's fiery pronouncements which he said were too provocative against the West. It is said Khamenei elevated Ja'fari to the top post as part of efforts to counter Ahmadi-Nejad's attempts to appear as if he was the man calling the shots in Iran.

Previously, Ja'fari used to be among IRGC's hardliners. In 1999, as Iranian students staged mass demonstrations, Ja'fari was one of 24 IRGC commanders who, in an open letter to then President Mohammad Khatami, warned they would take matters into their own hands if he did not act. In 2002 he said: "The IRGC is not just a military organisation. It is a politico-military organisation. The IRGC is different from the military". He explained why the IRGC was speaking out on a wider range of issues than before, saying: "Today, America is issuing threats and, unfortunately, there are people who are prepared to sacrifice the main goals and principles of the revolution in pursuit of their own political aims. That is why the IRGC has expressed its views".

At the time, Ja'fari was even opposed to Khamenei on certain matters. In 2002 he suggested Khamenei did not have the charisma of the late Imam Khomeini, necessitating greater activism by the IRGC. But his 2006 shift to the Rafsanjani camp encouraged Khamenei to promote him. Several of Ja'fari's pragmatic allies in the IRGC command were promoted weeks before Khamenei made him the top commander.

Recent personnel moves also suggest that both the Rafsanjani camp and the IRGC are being prepared to play a key role in parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2008. In August, IRGC officer Alireza Afshar was made the Interior Ministry man in charge of elections. Afshar replaced a close ally of Ahmadi-Nejad and joined former deputy IRGC commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, who until recently used to be an ally of Ahmadi-Nejad.

IRGC's engineering arm Khatam ol-Anbiyeh employs 40,000 people, and in one month it won three contracts worth some $7 bn. KoA now is among the main contracting combines in Iran, heavily involved in petroleum projects including phases of the offshore South Pars gas field development and in other sectors.

IRGC industries in the defence sector include huge factories producing various types of war-planes, helicopters, war-ships, missiles, a wide range of bombs and ammunitions, chemical and biological weapons, etc. Its nuclear programme is spread throughout Iran and in deep underground facilities. IRGC's considerable financial resources, banking included, are on the rise as many of its diversified businesses are making large profits. IRGC's social and health-care programmes feature highly specialised colleges, hospitals, etc. In short, the IRGC is a state within the state.

However, the theocracy is such a loose and pluralistic structure that, since the early 1980s, it has allowed other such autonomous states to emerge and flourish, such as the Mostaz'efan Foundation which is a diversified conglomerate including thousands of factories, hotels, farms, trading companies, banking units, petroleum-related firms, etc. There are about 200 independent ports in Iran serving such states, all running outside Iran's formal economic framework. There are thousands of independent charities running as autonomous states. Nearly all are controlled by ayatollahs and/or influential former IRGC commanders. Graduates of the Haqqani religious college in Qom, among supremacist institutions controlled by Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, include diplomats and bureaucrats who fill Ahmadi-Nejad's administration and are particularly strong in the Foreign Ministry. But the IRGC is by far the strongest among these states - an empire which keeps growing. Most of these states have their own private militias and representatives among Shi'ite communities in the Muslim world.

UNSC Resolutions 1737 and 1747 - passed in connection with Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes - identify several IRGC officers and call for restrictions on their overseas travel and assets. This affects branches of IRGC's companies and the Quds Force in various parts of the Muslim World and in the West.

Marking the annual al-Quds Day in Tehran, Ahmadi-Nejad on Oct. 5 accused Israel of using the Holocaust as a pretext for "genocide" against Palestinians. Having outraged the West in 2005 by calling Israel a "tumour" to be wiped off the map, he said the truth should be told about World War II and the Holocaust. (Six million Jews were killed in the Nazi genocide). He said: "Iran condemns fabricating such a pretext (the Holocaust) for the Zionist regime to commit genocide against the Palestinian nation and occupy Palestine. The Iranian nation and countries in the region will not rest until Palestine is free and criminals are punished".

Ahmadi-Nejad has questioned the Holocaust. But during a visit to the US last month he denied saying it never happened, only that the Palestinian issue was entirely separate. (Opposition to Israel is one of the cornerstones of the theocracy's belief. But this is from a standpoint which is at odds with the Arab world's, except for Syria which is part of the Iran-led axis.

(Tehran backs Palestinian rejectionist/Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Tehran is the sponsor of Lebanon's Shi'ite guerrilla movement Hizbullah which seeks to help the rejectionists to liberate the whole of historical Palestine - i.e., the implied destruction of the Jewish state. Hizbullah has established a branch of the theocracy in Lebanon in a way which tends to undermine the Lebanese state).

Ahmadi-Nejad repeated calls for Canada to accept the Jews who should be vacated from Palestine after the Jewish state has been abolished, saying: "Europeans cannot tolerate the Zionist regime's presence in their own region but want to impose it on the Middle East. Give them (the Jews) this vast land of Canada and Alaska to build themselves a home and resettle there".

Al-Quds Day - also marked in Lebanon on Oct. 5 by Hizbullah in a rally during which its leader Hassan Nasrallah praised Syria and denounced the rest of the Arab world for having failed to back the Palestinians - was inaugurated by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution founder Imam Khomeini. It is held on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

In Tehran, tens of thousands marched in a rally to mark the day, including soldiers of the IRGC and the regular armed forces, students and theocrats. Black-clad women with small children clutching balloons emblazoned "Death to Israel" were among those flocking the streets of central Tehran. "Death to America, Death to Israel", chanted the marchers, many carrying portraits of Khomeini and his successor Khamenei. Volunteer Basij militia, covering their faces with Palestinian headscarves, marched while roaring "Hizbullah fights, Israel trembles" - referring to the Lebanese Shi'ite group which fought Israel in a 34-war in July/August 2006.

The FT quoted "retired teacher Abdollah Hassani, 58, who joined the rally with his wife, carrying a sign reading 'Israel must be obliterated'", as saying: "We came here to show our support to the Palestinian nation and their resistance". State TV showed footage of similar marches held in cities across Iran on al-Quds Day. Demonstrators in Tehran burned flags of the US and Israel.

The US and allied Arab states accuse Iran of "interference" in Iraq and Lebanon through backing Shi'te militias, and of sponsoring what the West calls Palestinian "terrorists" including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Tehran denies the charges. Apart from the nuclear issue, with Washington accusing Tehran of working on atomic bombs, the US is countering Iran's efforts to control the Middle East through Tehran's axis of anti-American forces in the region. (The US and Iran have not had diplomatic ties since shortly after Iran's revolution).

Ahmadi-Nejad said Iran would continue its nuclear programme despite international pressure, adding: "Iran wants to remove international concerns over its atomic work through talks. But if they (the West) want to start a new game it will have no result for them but regret".
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Oct 8, 2007
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