Dispatch: A Cleric's Removal and Iran's Growing Confidence

3 MINS READMar 8, 2011 | 20:17 GMT
Analyst Reva Bhalla discusses why the removal of a prominent rival to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from a top position is not a sign of serious regime instability.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

It was announced on Tuesday that Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had lost his position as chairman of Assembly of Experts. Contrary to popular perception, this is not a sign of a debilitating power-struggle that could constrain Iran overall. Rather, this appears to be an illustration of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad firming up his position as Iran finds itself in a very confident position in pursuing its foreign policy goals abroad. Rafsanjani has long been one of the most powerful figures in Iran. The Assembly of Experts, which he chaired until now, is a highly influential institution in Iran that has the power to elect, oversee and remove the supreme leader. Now Rafsanjani still has an immense amount of personal wealth in addition to his position as chairman of the Expediency Council, which the highest arbitration body in the country. What's important to bear in mind is that Rafsanjani, and his clan, is the arch-nemesis of Ahmadinejad. In fact, throughout Ahmadinejad's 2009 presidential election campaign, Ahmadinejad rallied against the clerical elite represented by Rafsanjani, claiming that clerics like Rafsanjani used the spoils of the 1979 revolution to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. This had a notable effect on the poor, more rural segments of the Iranian population, and since 2009, Rafsanjani has been put on the defensive by Ahmadinejad. Many in the clerical elite would in turn charge Ahmadinejad with grossly mismanaging not only the economy, but the country's foreign affairs, particularly in relation to the United States and Iraq. A lot of people — particularly in the West — tend to interpret these reshuffles in the Iranian elite as signs of intensifying power struggle threatening to break the regime under pressures from sanctions and everything else. STRATFOR has a very different view, one in which Ahmadinejad actually appears to be very much in control of the situation and appears to have the backing of the supreme leader. Now the Iranian economy is weak and sanctions do make day-to-day business in Iran difficult, but it's not at a break point, and in the foreign policy sphere Iran is more confident than ever. Just look at the current situation in the Persian Gulf region, where the United States is facing an overwhelming strategic need to militarily extricate itself from Iraq, leaving in place a vacuum that Iran is just waiting to fill. Meanwhile the North African unrest provides Iran with an ideal cover for a potential destabilization campaign in its Arab neighbors. This is a large part of the reason why we see unrest among the Shia opposition in Bahrain continue to simmer, and why we are meticulously watching for signs of an Iranian-backed destabilization campaign to spread significantly into countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that have oil resources, that house significant U.S. military installations, and that have significant Shia minority populations. The U.S. and its Arab allies simply do not have a whole lot of good options on countering Iran at this point, and that is something that Tehran understands very well, even as Ahmadinejad proceeds with some internal housecleaning.

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