“This year will be a difficult year. Fasten your seatbelt and put on your iron-clad boots. Soon commotions will be heard.”
According to the Tehran-based Javan Online – a publication close to the Revolutionary Guards – this statement was made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s senior adviser and confidant, Esfandiyar Rahim Meshai, days before the forced resignation of Iran’s intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, on 17 April.
Moslehi resigned after a major dispute with Meshai and Ahmadinejad over who should head the intelligence ministry’s bureau of planning and budget.
Until now, there is nothing extraordinary about this story, because when it comes to firing ministers, no president can beat Ahmadinejad’s record in post-revolution Iran. Ministers have been fired before, such as former intelligence minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei. Others, such as the former foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, were not only fired but humiliated by being dismissed while visiting a foreign country. In fact, Mottaki heard the news of his dismissal from his Senegalese hosts who were informed before he was.
When it comes to saying “You’re fired”, Ahmadinejad would make Donald Trump and Alan Sugar, the hosts of The Apprentice, look like novices.
But what sets the dismissal of the current intelligence minister apart is the reaction of Iran’s most powerful man, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. Much to the shock and surprise of many Iran observers, and quite possibly the president himself, after staying quiet for seven years and not mentioning a word about Ahmadinejad’s dismissals in public, Khamenei has suddenly and publicly put his foot down, like never before.
He did this not only by reinstating Moslehi to his job but by coming out and chastising Ahmadinejad’s decision because he felt “expediency is being ignored”. Even more surprisingly, Khamenei also stated that: “I won’t allow, as long as I’m alive, an iota of deviation of this massive movement of the nation.”
But why now? Where has Khamenei been all these years? What is so special about Moslehi that has brought him to utter such a strong condemnation? How come he didn’t say anything when Ali Larijani was forced to resign in November 2007? Larijani is infinitely closer to Khamenei than Moslehi.
“Loose lips sink ships” was the famous British slogan during the second world war. UK citizens were told to be careful about what they said, because the enemy might be listening.
Ayatollah Khamenei has the same concern. He did not reinstate Moslehi only because he was becoming concerned about his and Ahmadinejad’s growing power – which, as far as some people in Iran’s leadership are concerned, is getting out of hand.
What seems to have concerned Iran’s leader is the manipulation of intelligence material by Meshai and Ahmadinejad and his rivals for their own political benefit. Although this has probably happened before, Khamenei seems to have realised that it is going too far.
And he has a point. There is much political scoring going on in Iran with the use of what different sides claim to be intelligence-related material. One recent example is when a text message was sent to thousands of recipients from the treasury. According to the government, this happened because the system was hacked.
However, according to the Persian-language Rooz online publication, which is based in Belgium, the text message stated that Meshai had installed listening devices in the office of the supreme leader. It also had stated that Meshai had travelled to Dubai the previous month as part of a trade delegation, where he met US officials. These are serious allegations.
It is not only those who are against Ahmadinejad and Meshai who have used such methods in their favour. Ahmadinejad has done the same. During the 2009 presidential debates with Mir Hossein Mousavi, live on air, and in front of millions of Iranians, he threatened to show evidence against him. These were believed to be photos taken secretly of Mousavi’s wife without her hijab. This infuriated Mousavi. In fact it is believed to be one of the reasons why he has dug in his heels against Ahmadinejad ever since.
By reinstating Moslehi, the Iranian supreme leader has now declared that the ministry of intelligence is out of bounds, both for the president and those who oppose him. This sounds logical, especially because Ahmadinejad is such a controversial figure and has many enemies inside the regime.
Ahmadinejad has taken the reprimand very badly. On Wednesday he cancelled a trip to the city of Qom. He also refused to attend a government meeting where the newly reinstated Moslehi was present.
In my opinion, for the first time since becoming president, the prospect of Ahmadinejad’s resignation must be considered. Although at this point it’s a small possibility, nevertheless it is one that never existed until now, and cannot be ignored.
The reason is related to Ahmadinejad’s own personality. He is not good at taking “no” for an answer. He is now sulking, and according to reports has set three conditions for his return: the removal of Moslehi, the removal of Saeed Jalili as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the reinstatement of Meshai as Ahmadinejad’s first deputy.
The Iranian president has sulked before. But this time it is very serious. If he doesn’t get his way he will either be left with no option but to resign, or to continue with the knowledge that this affair will have put an end to Meshai’s chances of running for president.
And without Meshai, once Ahmadinejad leaves office, if he lasts that long, it will be the end of his political career. Ahmadinejad will only have himself to blame because of his constant attacks, which have made him many enemies. Loose lips sink ships, in more ways than one.
This article was published in The Guardian and is reprinted with the author’s permission