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    Middle East
     Oct 28, 2005
Iran on course for a showdown
By Safa Haeri

PARIS - The call by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday for Israel to be "wiped off the map" has drawn instant and bitter condemnation, with Israel urging Iran's expulsion from the United Nations, and other countries saying that Tehran should now definitely be hauled before the UN Security Council over its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad's outburst, however, also signifies deep rifts within the country between his administration and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his small clique that ultimately controls the levers of power.

Populist Ahmadinejad, a veteran of Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards, took office in August after scoring an unexpected

landslide win in June's presidential elections, in which he was backed by Khamenei at the expense of the more moderate former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani.

However, contrary to most predictions, the victory of Ahmadinejad, following the rout of reformists in February's legislative elections, has not led to a "homogenization" of power in the country.

This is evidenced by Iran's stance with the international community over its nuclear program, with its position swinging wildly from reconciliation to confrontation. Most recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to declare Iran in "non-compliance" with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and next month will decide whether or not to send it to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.

Ahmadinejad's performance on Wednesday puts Iran firmly on the path of confrontation.

"The danger of such a radical statesman [Ahmadinejad] is that by knotting religious beliefs with the nuclear issue, it makes for an explosive issue that will explode in the face of all Iranians," an Iranian analyst told Asia Times Online, adding that Ahmadinejad's statement would certainly strengthen the international consensus against Iran.

"It is exactly for this reason that Khamenei, realizing his mistake in promoting Ahmadinejad, placed the pragmatic and experienced Hashemi Rafsanjani above him in order to repair the damage the new, inexperienced but zealot Muslim might cause to the regime," the analyst said.

The analyst was referring to the recent decision by Khamenei to transfer some of his immense and unlimited power to the Assembly of Discerning the Interests of the State (ADIS, or Expediency Council), which is headed by Rafsanjani.

According to a new regulation, the ADIS will have the power to supervise the regime's macro-policies and long-term plans and projects, a power that had belonged to the Supreme Leader. This means that all the theocratic regime's three powers - legislative, judicial and executive - must submit their planning and policies to the 32-member, leader-controlled ADIS for approval before implementation.

Until this change, ADIS's main role was to mediate between the Council of the Guardians (CG) and the majlis, or parliament, as the 12-member, leader-controlled CG is in charge of both vetting all candidates in all elections and making sure that laws passed by the majlis are in conformity with Sharia law.

The increased powers given to ADIS were interpreted as a clear warning to Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards who provided him with millions of votes, against trying to wrest any powers from the clerical establishment.

The warning appears to have fallen on deaf ears, as Ahmadinejad, a former mayor of Tehran, would have been perfectly aware of the reaction - and consequences - of his verbal assault on Israel: if the US needed any further reason to put screws on Iran, Ahmadinejad has provided it.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Ahmadinejad's opinion "just reconfirms what we have been saying about the regime in Iran. It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear operations".

Playing to the gallery
Addressing a conference in Tehran on Wednesday, entitled "The World Without Zionism", Ahmadinejad said, "To those who doubt, to those who ask is it possible, or those who do not believe, I say accomplishment of a world without America and Israel is both possible and feasible."

To a cheering audience that at several points erupted with chants of "death to Israel, death to America, death to England", Ahmadinejad continued, "Once, his eminency Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini - leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution], stated that the illegal regime of the Pahlavis must go, and it happened. Then he said the Soviet empire would disappear, and it happened. He also said that this evil man Saddam [Hussein] must be punished, and we see that he is under trial in his country. His eminency also said that the occupation regime of Qods [Jerusalem, or Israel] must be wiped off from the map of the world, and with the help of the Almighty, we shall soon experience a world without America and Zionism, notwithstanding those who doubt."

Israel views Iran as its main security threat. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has said that Tehran could be capable of developing a nuclear weapon within months, and that there was a need for urgent action to prevent this from happening.

According to Iranian news agencies, including both the official Iranian news agency IRNA and the semi-independent Students News Agency, ISNA, "thousands of members of Islamic associations of schoolchildren, but also representatives of Palestinian combatant groups like Hamas and the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad of Palestine, the Lebanese Hezbollah, members of the Association for the Defense of Palestinian People, senior clerics and officials attended the meeting".

Speaking before Ahmadinejad, Ali Akbari, a personal representative of the Supreme Leader at the Association of Islamic Schoolchildren, and who is also an assistant to the president, stated that "young Iranians are being readied to be the flagbearers of wiping off Israel from the world map".

As he was speaking, the Islamic Jihad of Palestine took responsibility for a suicide attack in the Israeli town of Hadera in which at least five people were killed.

Ahmadinejad has clearly raised the stakes, not only with the international community, but also - and perhaps potentially even more critically - within his own country.

Safa Haeri is a Paris-based Iranian journalist covering the Middle East and Central Asia.

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The return of Rafsanjani (Oct 20, '05)

The IAEA's new clout (Oct 13, '05)


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