08 June 2009

Iran election watch: alliance emerging against Ahmadinejad

Print and radio journalist Borzou Daragahi, a Pullitzer Prize finalist who is a Middle East correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, has reported that powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran’s political elite have joined forces in a behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Ahmadinejad. This alliance is driven by concern that Mr Ahmadinejad is driving the country to the brink of ruin with populist economic policies and a confrontationist stance toward the West.

These forces have reportedly put their efforts behind leading reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Some of them are outright supporters of Mousavi, others dislike Ahmadinejad to the point where they are prepared to align themselves with the best chance of getting rid of him.

Some of the commentary is fascinating, particularly when one recalls George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech which offended Iranians of every stripe. Daragahi quotes Saeed Laylaz, a newspaper editor and analyst with contacts among the political elite, as saying "We can't run Iran like North Korea. A group of militarists cannot stuff this civilization into a can and put it away. Iran cannot make up for its lack of economic might with nuclear technology, missiles and proxy threats in Lebanon and Palestine and elsewhere."

The brains behind this effort is reported to be former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of both the powerful Expediency Council, which mediates disputes between other government bodies, and Assembly of Experts, which oversees the office of the supreme leader. Insiders in the Rafsanjani camp say that he brokered a deal with Supeme Leader Ali Khamene’i months ago in which he undertook to encourage former President Mohammad Khatami to drop out of the race, in return for a promise from Khamene’i that he would not tilt the table too far in Ahmadinejad’s favour during the election campaign.

One person who will be dismayed by this development is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Israel needs “existential threats” in order to distract the United States from peacemaking in Palestine. There are not too many to choose from any more, particularly in the light of Israeli insistence that Hezbollah and Hamas are simply Iranian proxies. A Mousavi-led Iran will be much more difficult to construct as an existential threat than an Ahmadinejad-led one. If peace starts to break out between the United States and Iran, as well it might, that fact, combined with the positions on settlements already staked out by President Obama, will put great pressure on the shaky coalition which Mr Netanyahu leads. Israel needs Mr Ahmadinejad much more than Iran does.

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