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AEI’s Michael Rubin analyzes the latest from Iran

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HH: Joined now from Washington, D.C. by American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Rubin, expert on Iran. Mr. Rubin, welcome back to the program. It’s early, early in the morning on June 23rd in Tehran. Where do you think things stand at this moment in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

MR: Well, we’re coming up to the tipping point right now. The big question is whether the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps is going to crush the dissenters, or whether there are going to be some sort of fracturing within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps. Some dissident ayatollahs, for example, Hussein Ali Montazeri, a grand ayatollah who once served as Ayatollah Khomeini’s deputy, has called on the Revolutionary Guard not to carry out any orders which could be used against them on Judgment Day. That said, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps are a crack force. They have their own internal mechanisms to determine loyalty. And it looks like they’re going to take a very rough line towards the demonstrators.

HH: If the protests do not continue in the size and number that we saw on Saturday, Michael Rubin, do you think it will have fizzled, and that the regime will have survived?

MR: That is what the regime is counting on. The key to survival is simply whether the Revolutionary Guard defects or not. Iran has been rocked by huge protests before. And ultimately, the regime in Iran is one that enforces its will through the point of a gun. It doesn’t matter what 90% of the Iranian people think. The Revolutionary Guard exist to impose the supreme leader’s will. So if the protests do peter out, that’s not a good sign. What we are going to see over the next couple of days, however, is the Iranians who have been monitoring the internet, unfortunately with some technology gained from Western companies in trade, who have used Chinese security consultants to learn how to take photos of people, what the Iranian Security Service is now going to do is start to roll up these people, to disappear these people in the middle of the night when they’re alone, and in situations where there won’t be huge crowds surrounding them. So what we are going to have are a great number of disappearances in coming days.

HH: Is the best defense for the protestors, Michael Rubin, to continue the offense of the protests?

MR: Indeed it is. We’ve seen from the past that when the protestors give up, the regime simply does not reform. I was in Tehran back in 1999 when almost ten years ago, basically ten years ago next week, or in two weeks, Iran erupted in similar protests. And I remember sitting in my hotel room in Tehran watching the forced confessions start on television. And basically, when Mohammad Khatami refused to stand up for the students, that was the end. And it doesn’t seem like any serious policy maker is going to be willing to push Supreme Leader Khamenei too much longer.

HH: What do you think about the Rafsanjani situation?

MR: Well, Rafsanjani, you have to understand isn’t universally popular. What basically has happened is that the regime has arrested and released Rafsanjani’s daughter. Throughout the campaign, however, Ahmadinejad seemed more often to be running against Rafsanjani, and the Rafsanjani family, than he was against this other opponent, former prime minister Mir-Hussein Mousavi. The reason why Rafsanjani isn’t popular is he’s the wealthiest man in Iran, quite possibly the wealthiest man in the Middle East. He was getting wealthy when Ahmadinejad and the poor and the dispossessed were fighting the Iran-Iraq war. 90% of the pistachio trade in Iran is controlled by Rafsanjani. Now that said, it seems that the supreme leader has said basically, enough of you elites. Enough of you people who are willing to compromise ideology to make money. And therefore, Rafsanjani really does appear going down the path towards marginalization. So much for the alleged pragmatist.

HH: So what is your feel, Michael Rubin, for what’s going to unfold the rest of this week?

MR: My feel is look, I’m conducting analysis instead of advocacy. I hope to God that the protestors win. I do think we need to recognize that the protestors are no longer protesting for Mousavi, and are instead protesting against the Islamic Revolution. That’s what the chants of Death To The Dictator have been about. That said, I’m afraid that the Revolutionary Guard is going to stay cohesive, and crush the dissent. As from a policy perspective, what we need to figure out how to do is crack the Revolutionary Guard. Enough of this discussion about what Obama should say or shouldn’t say. What we need to be doing is figuring out how to take advantage of factionalization within the IRGC, or how to somehow neutralize them.

HH: In terms of that, what kind of ideas are on the table for trying to splinter the IRG?

MR: Well, what Obama, what the Obama administration seems to be doing, and what it seems the intelligence community has been tasked with, is trying to figure out who is organizing the protests right now. That, I think, is wrong-headed. What we should be doing is not trying to figure out, have our multi-billion dollar intelligence agencies try to figure out what happened over the last couple of days, but instead think about how to create a template upon which this can continue. What we should be doing is using our independent media to be broadcasting in Shia scholars who are saying basically what Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has said, that you don’t want to shoot on your fellow citizens, that you will be held to account on Judgment Day should you carry out any of these illegal orders. We should also be broadcasting news into Iran to make national stories out of what’s coming out on Twitter. We should not let the Iranian government close the media outlets. I do remember, again, like I said back in 1999, sitting in my hotel room in Tehran, watching the forced confessions and not hearing any response from, at the time, President Clinton. This is where President Obama and other politicians need to stand up and say not that we’re for Mousavi, but that we stand for free elections, we stand for liberty, and the Iranian people deserve so much better.

HH: Earlier today on the program, Michael Rubin, Steve Schippert from joined me to report that there were indications that the Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq had spoken into the Iranian crisis, maybe obliquely, but nevertheless intending to be heard by Iranian Shiites. Have you heard anything about that?

MR: I have not heard that exact report, but that would be a very positive sign. It’s actually quite interesting that every time Iran has had a revolution, in 1906 when they got their first constitution, in 1979 with Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution, there’s been a component of activism from the ayatollahs in Nejef – the first time by telegraph, the second time by smuggled in audio tapes, and if Iraq is free enough that Grand Ayatollah Sistani can speak, so much the better.

HH: Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute, thanks for updating us. He’s one of the go-to guys about whom we’ve got to check every single day as this Iran revolution unfolds.

End of interview.


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