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News | Ex-Guard Warns Khamenei; Uranium Enrichment Starts at Fordow

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

10 Jan 2012 21:34Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

HosseinAlaei80s.jpg9:30 p.m., 20 Dey/January 10 In an article in the newspaper Ettelaat, Hossein Alaei, a former high-ranking officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, made an implicit comparison between Iran during the revolutionary era of 1978-79, and what happened in the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential elections. The article appeared on the 34th anniversary of the bloody demonstrations that took place in Qom on January 9, 1978, the day after Ettelaat published an article by an unknown author with the pseudonym Ahmad Rashidi Motlagh that insulted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Alaei (seen here in an image from the 1980s) wrote that before that event and in its immediate aftermath, ordinary Iranians did not target the Shah directly, but "the continuation of the violent crackdown on the people's protests forced people to directly oppose the Shah himself.... After those events, people began addressing letters to the Shah, and he was correctly identified as the main culprit and responsible for the state of the nation. People then decided to prevent anyone from ruling over them permanently." Alaei then posed several hypothetical questions that the Shah could have asked himself:

"Would the problem have ended had I allowed the people to demonstrate peacefully and not accused them of confronting the government?"

"Would I have not gotten a better outcome had I ordered the security forces not to shoot at the people and just try to calm them down?"

"Would I have had to leave the country had I not put some of the statesmen and political activists under house arrest and not exiled others, and instead opened discussions with them?"

"Would I have had to take refuge in a foreign land had I not insulted the people's collective wisdom and not called them agents of foreign countries?"

"Would I have not lasted longer in my rule had I not accused the people of acting against the nation's national security, accepted the opposition, and even recognized their right [to oppose me]?"

Alaei concluded with a well-known Qur'anic verse: "Thus, learn your lesson you who have eyes."

Though he never mentions Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it is clear that Alaei is comparing Khamenei and his rule with the Shah and his regime.

This is a very significant article from a well-positioned figure who has always been loyal to the Islamic Republic. Alaei was one of the top Revolutionary Guard commanders during the Iran-Iraq War, and the first commander of the Guard navy when it was founded in 1985. He also served as Guard chief of staff, deputy defense minister, and head of the Defense Ministry's aerospace division. He is now on the faculty of Imam Hossein University, which is linked to the Guards, and managing editor of the monthly Sanaa-ye Havaaei (Aerospace Industries). In his 15th letter to Khamenei, journalist and documentary filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, who used to be an ardent supporter of the Supreme Leader, praised Alaei and asked him to write a letter to Khamenei. Alaei's article seems to be his response to the request.

Interestingly, commemorating the same occasion, an item in the newspaper Jomhouri-ye Eslami, whose editor-in-chief, Masih Mohajeri, is close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, discussed in detail the recent events in Egypt, before and after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak. The article ended with a declaration: "Dictators must learn the lesson from what happened to the Pharaohs."

IAEA confirms uranium enrichment underway at Fordow

"The International Atomic Energy Agency can confirm that Iran has begun enriching uranium at Fordow enrichment facility," said agency spokesman Gill Tudor. "All the nuclear materials at this facility are safeguarded and under control by the IAEA." The Fordow facility, near Qom, has been built under a mountain, presumably to protect it from bombardment and other forms of military attack.

Iran has not officially announced that it has begun enrichment activities at Fordow. Speaking at a ceremony marking the beginning of an exhibition of the progress of Iran's nuclear industry at the University of Hormozagan in southern Iran, Dr. Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, the president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said, "Wait for a few weeks for good nuclear news." He also said that the Fordow facility "will soon officially open," and will be able to produce uranium at 3.5, 4, and 20 percent enrichment. Al-Arabiya, the website that reflects the views of Saudi Arabia, was the first to report that the enrichment had already begun. Reacting to the subsequent international media coverage, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA, said that all of Iran's nuclear activities are being monitored by the agency. In a separate interview with ISNA, the Iranian Students News Agency, Soltanieh said that the international reaction to the news has been "exaggerated." He added that the IAEA was notified about Fordow more than two years ago, and the agency's inspectors are present at the facility and monitor everything "24 hours a day."

Iranian media outlets have largely silent about the issue. Aftab News, the website that is close to Rafsanjani, reported that according to Reuters, quoting Al-Arabiya, the enrichment activity had begun. Mashregh News, the website with links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also only referenced the Reuters report.

Abbasi also said that no date has yet been set for the planned visit of a team of IAEA officials and experts to Iran, that the first batch of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor produced within Iran will soon be used, and that "the enemy" is trying "to terrify our youth by assassinating our nuclear experts and scientists."

Speaking on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons someday, but is not yet building a bomb. He called for continued diplomatic and economic pressure to persuade Tehran not to take that step. He also cautioned against a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran's nuclear facilities, saying the action could trigger Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the region. "We have common cause here" with Israel, he said. "And the better approach is for us to work together."

Potential successors to Central Bank governor

As noted here, Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani has threatened to resign unless he is given much greater freedom to do his work. There is considerable speculation in the Iranian media about his possible successor, should he resign. Shafaf, the website close to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, has suggested two potential successors. One is Hamid Baghaei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vice president for executive affairs, who is despised by the hardliners and has been accused of corruption. The second is Mohammad Reza Farzin, currently deputy economic and financial affairs minister and secretary-general of the Commission for Targeted Subsidies, formed last year to manage the elimination of subsidies on basic food items and energy.

Bahmani, who was appointed to his post in September 2008, has been under tremendous pressure by the hardliners, due to the wide fluctuations in the foreign currencies market and the lack of oversight by the Central Bank, which they believe has led to widespread corruption. He recently said, "We should run the nation in a way that we can preserve ourselves for two years. It appears that we have been trapped in Shoab abi Taleb." This is a reference to the site where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad and his supporters were surrounded for three years and grew so hungry that they beat their abdomens with rocks.

Khamenei predicts big turnout for Majles elections

In a meeting with clerics from Qom, Khamenei claimed that the turnout for the Majles elections, to be held on March 3, will be large and "will break the enemy['s back]." Speaking on Monday at a commemoration of the Qom demonstrations of 1978, he said, "Since quite some time ago, the enemy and its foot soldiers and minions, both in Iran and outside, have been trying to minimize participation in the elections." He predicted that 65 percent of those eligible will cast votes. Khamenei also rejected Bahmani's warning about the dire state of the economy, and suggested instead that the Islamic Republic is under the same conditions that Muslims were during the Prophet's era at the time of the Badr and Kheibar wars, in which Muslims were victorious.

One day earlier, Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, said that Rafsanjani has met with Khamenei to persuade him to allow the reformists to run in the Majles elections, but the Supreme Leader responded that he will not work with the reformists under any circumstances. Meanwhile, every reformist group in the country has called for a boycott of the elections; in fact, for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, there is virtually unanimous agreement in the opposition, both inside Iran and in the diaspora, about the necessity of a boycott.

On Sunday, an Intelligence Ministry official claimed, "Four people who had been organizing [social] networks and carrying out anti-security operations against the elections have been identified and arrested. The arrested people had received sophisticated instruments from the enemy for secret communications and were organizing networks to create disturbances in the country."

Arrests of journalists and political activists continue

The arrests of three well-known activists and journalists have been confirmed. Dr. Saeed Madani, member of the central committee of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition (NRC), was first arrested in March 2001, together with several other members of the NRC. After spending 12 months in prison -- five of those in solitary confinement -- he was finally released after he posted $250,000 bail. Reports indicate that his wife might have also been arrested. He had been threatened over the past several weeks by the security forces. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Dr. Madani's nephew has also been arrested in Isfahan.

Ehsan Houshmand, 43, another member of the NRC, has also been arrested. In his work Houshmand has emphasized relying on Iranians' national identity, the need to protect Iran's territorial integrity, and the problems with Iran's ethnic minorities. He was first arrested in January 2010, but was released after a while. Reports indicate that he was arrested by Iran's drug enforcement administration, but the reason for such an arrest is not clear. Read an interview with him here.

Over the past 30 months, the pressure on the nationalist-religious activists has increased dramatically. Nationalist-religious journalists Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi, Keyvan Samimi, and Dr. Alireza Rajaei have been imprisoned. Emad Bahavar, head of the youth division of the Liberation Movement of Iran, has been in jail since 2010. Mohammad Tavasoli, head of the NRC's central committee, was arrested in November 2011, as was his son-in-law Farid Taheri. Tavasoli's daughter, Leila Tavasoli, has also been in prison since early 2010. Masoud Pedram, another nationalist-religious activist, is in detention as well.

Also arrested is journalist Fatemeh Kheradmand, wife of journalist Masoud Lavasani. It has been speculated that she was arrested because of her work organizing the families of political prisoners. Lavasani was arrested in the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential election and sentenced to two years of incarceration. He was released only recently after serving his sentence.

In addition to Madani, Houshmand, and Kheradmand, Dr. Mehdi Khazali, blogger, dissident, and son of the reactionary cleric Ayatollah Abolghasem Khazali, was arrested on Monday. According to his wife he was arrested at his work. Security agents attacked him, broke a bone in his hand and his teeth, and then took him away.

Mahmoud Dardkeshan, a political activist who was close to the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, is also under arrest. He has been arrested five previous times and has spent many years in prison.

Human rights news

Distinguished journalist Isa Saharkhiz has been hospitalized for nearly a month, but his family has been under pressure not to talk publicly about his hospitalization. He suffers from blood pressure fluctuations and severe pain in his back and neck, to the point that he has been forced to use a wheelchair.

Prominent attorney and human rights advocate Abdolfattah Soltani, who has been in prison since September 10, 2011, refused to defend himself during his trial. The reason, according to his daughter Maedeh Soltani, was twofold. First, he has demanded his trial to be with a jury and open to the public, in accordance with Article 168 of the Constitution, and second, he believes that his arrest has been unlawful.

Javad Lari, a political prisoner who spent five years in jail in the 1980s for allegedly supporting the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization, has been sentenced to death again. He was arrested in September 2009 and sentenced to death by the notorious judge Abolghasem Salavati. That sentence was nullified by the Supreme Court, but Salavati has now sentenced Lari to death a second time. It has been reported that his interrogator in the 1980s has met with him in jail and has told him that he has lived "20 extra years," and that he will soon be executed. Lari is in his 60s.

Dr. Ghasem Sholeh Sadi, professor of international law at the University of Tehran and former Majles deputy, is on the verge of becoming paralyzed from waist down, due to lack of medical attention in jail. He wrote an open letter in 2002, after which it was arrested and sentenced to 30 months of imprisonment for "insulting the Supreme Leader." He was arrested last year again by the security forces in order to enforce his sentence.

Labor and university activist Meysam Nejati Aref was arrested on January 3, and it is still not clear where he is being held. He is a student at Islamic Azad University in Karaj and also works at Saipa, Iran's second largest car manufacturer.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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