Sunday, July 5, 2009

Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel - Be very afraid

The situation in Iran is taking some interesting turns, while at the same time the US and Israel are ratcheting up the pressure on the regime.

Mr. Moussavi and his allies have published evidence of massive fraud in the June elections, and they now have the support of a major organization of higher clerics based at the holy, prestigious seminary city of Qom. Whereas the Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the "re-elected" president Mahmud Ahmadinejad can vilify Moussavi and his allies (including the reformist former president Muhammad Khatami) to their hearts' content, they cannot treat the Qom clerical establishment that shabbily.

Since the election, the bulk of the clerical establishment in the holy city of Qum, an important religious and political center of power, has remained largely silent, leaving many to wonder when, or if, the nation’s senior religious leaders would jump into the controversy that has posed the most significant challenge to the country’s leadership since the Islamic Revolution.

With its statement Saturday, the association of clerics came down squarely on the side of the reform movement.
While the government could continue vilifying the three opposition leaders, analysts say it was highly unlikely that the leadership would use the same tactic against the clerical establishment in Qum.

There is, then, a major split in Iran's religious leadership. And the stakes are huge. If the ultra-hardliners succeed in maintaining control, it may clear the way for the imminent rise to the Leadership (given the reported illness of Khamenei) of the Ayatollah Yazdi, an ally of Ahmadinejad who would prefer to see eliminated any remaining vestige of democratic process in Iran in favor of a system in which the Leader would wield almost exclusive power.

All this at a time when the US is ramping up its threats against the regime, and US allies perhaps helping to set the stage for a military strike. Joe Biden stated today on George Stephanopoulos's ABC show that it is entirely up to Israel to decide whether it wants to launch a bombing strike against Iran's nuclear sites (and this even though Joint Chiefs chair Admiral Mullen has real concerns about the impact of such a strike). And the Saudis have apparently informed Israel that they would allow an Israeli air-force flyover of Saudi territory for such a raid, provided that the Israelis don't make a huge deal of it.

Meanwhile, US Marines in Afghanistan are finding out that their efforts against the Taliban are facing obstacles not just from the locals, but also from the Pakistani forces based along the Afghan-Pakistan border, who have no kind regard for the Afghan troops with whom the US forces are working.

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