The ideology underpinning the Iranian-led axis of resistance in the Middle East has evolved, according to Harvard analysts Payam Mohseni and Hussein Kalout. From a primarily state-centered enterprise, it has transformed into a transnational project supported by an organic network of popular armed movements from across the region, they write for Foreign Affairs:
Despite the diversity of beliefs and motives among the armed groups, the Iranian influence over them is clear. They are modeled after the Basij (below), the Iranian paramilitary that mobilized millions of people during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. …The pluralization of military and security forces, trained and organized by Iran, has revitalized and localized institution building and patronage from the bottom up, giving way to new elites with mass support from across Iraq and Syria, and even more recently, from Yemen.
In a world in which a rising and aggressive China seeks to extend its domination of Asia, jihadi movements promise generations of bloodshed, dangerous states like Russia, North Korea and Iran seek to overturn regional order in their favor, and the ungoverned space and great commons of humanity like space and cyberspace are at risk, the United States needs, more than ever, to lead, argues Johns Hopkins University’s Eliot A. Cohen.
In the domestic arena, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is losing some public support ahead of a May election, according to a new opinion poll, potentially signaling a shift toward his hard-line opponents within the ruling clerical establishment following the country’s historic nuclear deal, The Wall Street Journal reports (HT:FPI).
Furthermore, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s death is not likely to change the longstanding fundamentals of power in Tehran that he helped shape, says analyst Karim Sadjadpour. The Rafsanjani-Khamenei friendship-cum-rivalry resembles a Shiite Shakespearean drama, he writes for The Atlantic:
Both men spent years in and out of prison in the 1960s and 1970s, Rafsanjani for his alleged role in the assassination of Iranian Prime Minister Hassan Ali Mansur in 1965. While Khamenei used his time in prison to translate the works of Egyptian militant Islamist Sayed Qutb, Rafsanjani wrote a book about a 19th-century nationalist prime minister named Amir Kabir, who had been assassinated. Fellow prisoner Abbas Milani, now a scholar at Stanford University, recalled that Rafsanjani was also an “enthusiastic but clumsy volleyballer.”
The death of Rafsanjani, one of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s founding fathers, represents a political blow to the fortunes of reformists and moderates in Iran for three main reasons, notes analyst Jason M. Brodsky: Rafsanjani’s revolutionary street cred; his absence from the Assembly of Experts—the body that selects the next Supreme Leader; and his promotion of republicanism within Iran.
When Rafsanjani was president in the 1990s, “Iran’s foreign assassination teams ran rampant in Europe, eliminating anti-regime artists, human rights activists, and political dissidents,” writes Benham Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Under his watch, Iran established itself in Latin America, working with Hezbollah to bomb the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992 and a Jewish cultural center in that country’s capital in 1994, which together killed over 100 people.”
The assassinations included Shahpour Bakhtiar, the former Prime Minister of Iran, and Abdorrahman Boroumand (left), a prominent lawyer and political activist, who both struggled to promote democracy in Iran, notes Professor Akbar E. Torbat, who teaches economics at California State University.
Rafsanjani was one of several leading officials, including Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, liable to arrest under international law for complicity in the murder of thousands of political prisoners at the end of the Iran/Iraq War, according to a 145-page report by Geoffrey Robertson, QC. He urged the Security Council to set up a special court, along the lines of the International Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to try these men “for one of the worst single human rights atrocities since the Second World War”. Robertson’s inquiry was conducted for the Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, an NGO supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.
Paul Bucala and Caitlin Shayda Pendleton discuss how Rafsanjani’s death will upend Iran’s political landscape in “What Rafsanjani’s death means for the Supreme Leader’s succession.” The Critical Threats Project team explains the significance of Iran’s upcoming 2017 presidential election and tracks important electoral developments in “Iran Presidential Election Tracker: Updates and Analysis.”
The impact of Rafsanjani’s death on Iranian politics will be better understood in the coming months, Sadjadpour adds:
President Hassan Rouhani, a Rafsanjani protege, is up for reelection in May 2017. Whatever the outcome, however, Rafsanjani’s death is not likely to change the longstanding fundamentals of power in Tehran that Rafsanjani helped shape. Though he was called Machiavellian in numerous obituaries, he was vanquished by the man whom he appointed, Ali Khamenei, whose careful cultivation of Iran’s security forces made clear he understood the most important Machiavellian rule of all. For authoritarian leaders it is preferable to have people’s fears rather than their affections. Rafsanjani had neither.