As soon as the results of the Iranian elections were announced, the world’s media proclaimed that a “moderate and reformist” cleric, Hasan Rowhani, would become the new president of Iran.
Not so. Mr. Rowhani is every bit as brutal and deceitful as the clerical regime that has murderously cracked down on its people for decades.
For 33 years, the mullahs who dominate Iran have masterfully played leaders of the West as fools over the regime’s illicit nuclear weapons program. Now with the election of Mr. Rowhani, which was preordained by the supreme leader, they are going to try it again.
The president-elect, a Shiite Islamic scholar, attended religious seminaries in the city of Qom, the hotbed of radical clerics. He has served the Islamic republic at the highest levels since
the 1979 Islamic Revolution, among them as the deputy speaker of parliament, the head of the Executive Committee of the High Council for War Support during the Iran-Iraq War, the deputy to the second-in-command of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (1988-89), a member of the Expediency Council, a member of the Assembly of Experts (the body that chooses the supreme leader), a former nuclear negotiator and, most importantly, the representative of the supreme leader to the Supreme National Security Council (1989 to present).
Mr. Rowhani, as the head of the High Council for War Support, was deeply involved with the regime’s effort to eliminate its opponents and the 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners as ordered by then-supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
In order to accurately analyze the political infrastructure of the regime in Tehran, one must look at the history of its elected officials or, more bluntly, the officials selected by the mullahs to ensure the survival of the regime.
For decades, the regime has painted a picture of a moderate faction in Iran and consistently played good cop-bad cop with its international policies to provide hope to the West that there might be an opening for dialogue to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons — all of it a sinister fraud to buy time to do just that. It also provides hope to its own people, who are suffering under the weight of a collapsing economy, that a “moderate” might be able to ease international sanctions and gain greater freedom within Iran.
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani played this early on when, as speaker of parliament and through back channels, he engaged in direct dialogue with the Reagan administration, promising better relations and resulting in the Iran-Contra affair to relieve pressure on the regime and get arms to fight Iraq. Meanwhile, the regime continued to arm the terrorist group Hezbollah, execute and assassinate hundreds of opposition figures inside and outside the country, and launch terrorist strikes against Israel and the United States, including the bombing of a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon.
This shortsightedness continued with President George H.W. Bush, who ignored the Iranian involvement in international terrorism and suppression at home in his secret negotiations with Ayatollah Rafsanjani, then the Iranian president, who had promised better relations. That effort also failed, just as President Clinton (who looked the other way at Iran’s involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia) failed in negotiating with Mohammad Khatami, the succeeding Iranian president, who also offered cooperation while secretly purchasing parts for Iran’s nuclear project.
Interestingly, Mr. Rowhani participated in the regime’s deceitful policies. He was put in charge of Iran’s nuclear team in 2003 by order of the so-called moderate president, Ayatollah Khatami, and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He succeeded in preventing further United Nations resolutions by agreeing to suspend parts of Iran’s nuclear activity, but, as the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated, Iran’s nuclear program never truly stopped.
In 2008, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, the former parliamentary speaker and secretary of the Iranian government during Ayatollah Khatami’s term, revealed that while Ayatollah Khatami was president and through Mr. Rowhani’s efforts, “we had an agreement for the suspension of enrichment, but we were importing all the necessary parts for our nuclear activity. We were conducting our policies on two fronts: one to continue negotiations openly and keep the Americans away from such negotiations, and the other to continue our nuclear activities in secret.”
In 2009, when millions of Iranians came out protesting the fraudulent presidential election and shouting slogans against the Islamic regime, Mr. Rowhani called them “thugs” and said, “If the regime had not acted, the revolutionary forces [plainclothes police] would have put the protesters in their place.” He made a similar statement about the 1999 student uprising: “These students are so despised and inferior that they could not be labeled as a movement to change the regime. If the officials had not prohibited [the students from rioting], our people would have cut them in pieces.”
The clerics this time around have found themselves under harsh international sanctions that have drastically worsened the country’s economy and raised the possibility of instability by hungry masses. Therefore, they once again needed to play the good cop by selecting Mr. Rowhani and providing the hope to the West that if more negotiations take place and sanctions are eased, then the so-called moderates can bring change from within, a lure that has worked many times before.
The West, not understanding the political infrastructure of the clerical establishment, has continuously hoped for a Mikhail Gorbachev-like figure in Iran. Now more than ever, though, it must demand action rather than a smile and a nod. The Islamic regime is on the path to becoming nuclear armed and, in the clerics’ minds, untouchable.
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and author of A Time to Betray.