Pressuring the Islamic Republic of Iran

Ahmadinejad at an anti-U.S. and Israel conference last year. Click image to view.

External pressure is creating political discord inside Iran

The recent campaign by the United States and its allies in the Gulf to increase the political, economic and military pressure on the government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is beginning to show some results. Internal Iranian opposition by rival political factions are threatening Ahmadinejad’s hold on power, as they fear of economic collapse, confrontation with the West and the very existence of the Islamic Republic may be the results of his reckless policy of confrontation with the West.

The U.S. began ratcheting up the pressure on Iran last fall by finally confronting the Iranians over its involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, al Qaeda and with the Shia militias. Iranian agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force were detained in raids in Baghdad and Irbil in late December and early January. In the Baghdad raid, the third in command of the Qods Force was detained, and in both raids, evidence linking the Iranians to al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sunnah, as well as the Sunni insurgency and Shia militias was confiscated. al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunnah have been responsible for murdering numerous Shia in mass suicide bombings.

To counter the Iranian threat in Iraq and internationally, the United States has issued orders to kill or capture Iranian agents working in Iraq, according to The Washington Post. “The White House has authorized a widening of what is known inside the intelligence community as the “Blue Game Matrix” — a list of approved operations that can be carried out against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon,” reports The Washington Post. “And U.S. officials are preparing international sanctions against Tehran for holding several dozen al Qaeda fighters who fled across the Afghan border in late 2001. They plan more aggressive moves to disrupt Tehran’s funding of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and to undermine Iranian interests among Shiites in western Afghanistan.”

Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan has recently become the focus of news reports. AFP noted Iran’s interference in Afghanistan and efforts to incite violence between Sunni and Shia factions in the western city of Herat. The New York Post noted “at least two pro-Taliban warlords, Mullah Jalaleddin and Haji Akbar, have visited the Iranian city of Mashhad to coordinate future tactics against NATO forces with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.”

Internationally, the pressure on Iran has increased. The United Nations Security Council, after months of deliberating, finally placed sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, ordering “all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs,” as well as freezing assets. The United States Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Bank Sepah, Iran’s fifth largest state run bank, as a “facilitator” in Iran’s nuclear program. The United States has also been working to convince countries to stop investing in Iran’s oil and other critical industries.

Saudi Arabia’s actions with respect to Iran have been particularly of interest, as their influence on the price of oil has a direct impact on Iranian cash flow. “The Saudi oil minister has steadfastly refused calls for a special meeting of OPEC and announced that the nation is going to increase its production, which will send the price down even farther,” reported NBC News. The belief is the Saudis have fired the first salvo in an oil price war with Iran.

The Saudis have directly warned the Iranians to keep out of “Arab’s affairs.” “We speak with Iranian about Arab’s affairs,” said Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud al Faysal. “We think that it is dangerous to interfere into our affairs. Therefore, we express to Iranians our concerns about their influence in the Arab world. It is logical. But when other countries speak to them about our problems, that confer legitimacy to the Iranian interferences in the Arab world. This is why we are not favorable. We hope that Iran will be a good neighbor, that the Iranians will be a part of the solution and not the problem. It is what we repeat to them: you do not interfere with our affairs.”

Internal political pressure against Ahmadinejad have risen since his party lost important elections for the Assembly of Experts and in the municipal councils. There is a real fear Ahmadinejad’s policies are leading to economic collapse and open confrontation with the West. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, snubbed Ahmadinejad by declining a meeting just one week after his newspaper criticized Ahmadinejad’s aggressive posture on the Iranian nuclear program.

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the one-time successor to Ayatollah Khomenei, the founder of the Islamic Republic, criticized Ahmadinejad’s policies. “It is necessary to act with reason with the enemy and not provoke it. Extremism does not do people any good,” said Montazeri. Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who lost to Ahmadinejad in 2005, “believes Iran may have to yield to western demands to suspend uranium enrichment to save the country’s Islamic system from collapse.” Rafsanjani is also the head of a political block seeking to impeach four of Ahmadinejad’s ministers, and possibly Ahmadinejad himself.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Captain America says:

    As long as the mad mullahs (i.e., the so-called “spiritual guide”, etc.) and AhMad are aligned in their pursuit of the secret 12th emam, the rest doesn’t really matter.
    Unlike normal civilization, they want the end of times.

  • Evan says:

    This is exactly the type of pressure that is long overdue. Now, we need to kick it up a notch and start identifying the movement leaders in Iran. Providing funding and communications gear and start running sabatouers and assassins. We don’t need large military actions everywhere, just some good ‘ol espionage and SF directed airstrikes when the time comes.

  • crosspatch says:

    There is another perspective on the increasing domestic criticism. That is that it is deception aimed at making it look like Ahmadinejad is coming under pressure when in fact he isn’t.
    Have a look at this article from Michael Ledeen yesterday. Key grafs:

    The serious bad news begins with the crashing oil prices, which puts a dent in their terrorist and nuclear budget, and worsens-even more-the plight of Iran’s citizens. The bad news continues with the exposure of some of their activities in Iraq, which will apparently get worse for them in coming days. Ambassador Khalilzad has promised details, as I had urged several days ago on this blog. The mullahs don’t like that, they hate sunshine pouring in under their rocks, they like to operate in the shadows, not in public. So they have their problems.
    On the other hand, they excel at deception, and it is folly to take events in Tehran at their apparent face value. The attacks on Ahmadi-Nezad, about which so much has been written of late, are certainly “real,”

  • GK says:

    Can someone explain to me why on Earth we waited this long to enact such a policy?
    Iran is not a country with very deep pockets. Their GDP is only $200 billion. We could quickly outspend them and force them into a weak position.
    Killing their agents is a good start. Teaming up with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and UAE to collapse their oil revenue is another.
    I encourage all of you to look up Operation Praying Mantis on Wikipedia. It was in 1988, but most Americans don’t remember it. We fought with teh Iranian Navy. We sank half their Navy for the cost of just 2 US Sailors and no ships sunk.
    They are NOT that powerful, and it is silly for us to treat them as though they are.

  • crosspatch says:

    The Saudis have been making noise about increasing their oil production by just about the same amount that Iran exports. Interesting coincidence. So lets see … blockade Iranian ports and stop their oil exports while Saudi picks up the slack. That should bring their budget to something close to zero in a hurry. More along that line here.

  • travis b says:

    I’ve been wondering myself why it has taken so long to get tough with iran. I think strategically I have some good answers.
    1. We wouldn’t want to have to deal with iraq and iran at the same time so now perhaps the brass feel that iraq is fairly under control. (just cause bombs go off in the streets doesn’t mean you didn’t conquer it) or iran was becoming a serious threat that could no longer sit on the back burner.
    2. You would want the UN to place sanctions on them first before US does any tough stuff, because if US does the tough stuff first UN
    (Russia & China) may not feel the need to deliver another blow.
    This way u get 2 punches instead of just one.
    3. Think Bush Administration wanted to wait until after November elections.
    4. Wanted Israel to get chance to clean-up Hizbollah
    5. Want to be able to present a case of Irans actions in iraq. This takes time.
    6. Want to convince other countries like Saudia Arabia to come on board. Ex. OIL price wars
    7. Need to make sure that resistance groups are organized inside iran and ready to go.
    The question i have to ask is why hasn’t the bush administration asked iran to deliver all the al qaeda agents they have. Answer, They want iran to be seen for who they are. supporters of terror.
    We’ll know this is a well planned strategy if we start seeing bombs going off in irans oil industry.

  • CharlesC says:

    Wow, 1 quagmire isn’t enough. It looks like the right-wing is conjuring up some faulty intelligence to start a 2nd quagmire in Iran. There is no proof that Iran is helping Sunni insurgents. Iran is helping the current Shiite government because they are pro-Iran. The Baathist and Al Qaeda Sunni insurgents hate Persians and Shiites. Instead of thinking rationally about what Iran’s actual interests are, the right-wing is thinking of how to start another war to cover for George Bush’s disaster in Iraq.

  • John F Not Kerry says:

    “The Baathist and Al Qaeda Sunni insurgents hate Persians and Shiites.”
    “Iran is helping the current Shiite government because they are pro-Iran.”
    Posted by CharlesC
    How exactly does supplying the Mahdi Army with weapons help the Iraq government? Have you ever heard the expression “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”? The mullahs of Iran, Al Qaeda and Baathist “insurgents” (aka terrorists) all hate America and will do whatever it takes to kill as many as possible and thwart our objectives, even if it means killing other Muslims. Try again Charles.

  • CharlesC says:

    John F Not Kerry:
    “How exactly does arming the Mahdi army help the government?”
    Are you forgetting that Sadr’s movement and the Mahdi Army are part of the government

  • John F Not Kerry says:

    The Mahdi Army is an illegitimate militia that is being rolled up by coalition forces, and contributes only chaos by inciting sectarian violence. Maliki’s reticence to do this lessened his credibility and jeopardized the progress of the new government. If Sadr was helping the government, then he wouldn’t be a potential target of coaltion forces.

  • John F Not Kerry says:

    NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) – U.S. and Iraqi forces killed 250 gunmen in a fierce battle involving U.S. tanks and helicopters on the outskirts of the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf on Sunday, a senior Iraqi police officer said.
    The day-long battle was continuing after nightfall, Colonel Ali Nomas told Reuters, as tens of thousands of pilgrims converged on the nearby city of Kerbala for the climax of the Ashura commemorations.
    A U.S. helicopter was shot down in the fighting, Iraq security sources said. The U.S. military declined comment. A Reuters reporter saw a helicopter come down trailing smoke.
    Shi’ite political sources said the gunmen appeared to be both Sunni Arabs and Shi’ites loyal to a cleric called Ahmed Hassani.
    Imagine that Charles! Shiite and Sunni insurgents working TOGETHER! Who woulda thunk it?

  • CharlesC says:

    Nothing has changed since July. Muqtada Al Sadr is the most powerful man in Iraq right now. Maliki could not survive without him.

  • Matt M says:

    Maliki may not survive w/o that punk al-Sadr, but Iraq sure would. CC, let’s not be so narrow-minded as to think Iraq’s existence starts and ends w/ Sadr and/or Maliki.
    Secondly, if you want proof of Iran harboring Sunni terrorists (read: hundreds of AQ leaders), 3-4 years ago the Iranian government acknowledged that they are harboring AQ terrorists, but they call it “house arrest”. They are living in Qom under the guard/protection of the IRGC.


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