It’s a Bombshell — Iran’s Election Results: Political Intelligence was Poor (…Updated)

Israel’s government is trying to downplay the results of Iran’s presidential election, but the fact is that Hassan Rouhani is immensely different from the departing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  

This change — and the unforeseen nature of Rouhani’s victory — represent a political earthquake.  A bombshell in domestic and international politics.

Here is a Tweet sent out by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday evening:

PM Netanyahu: The international community must not be tempted to relax the pressure on #Iran to stop its nuclear program.  http://dld.bz/cEBK6 

Goodbye, Ahmadinejad

Yet it certainly looks like Iranians have elected a reformist. Rouhani was clearly — among the six officially approved candidates — the one least liked by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And Rouhani promised change.

Although Israeli intelligence devotes huge energy and resources to monitoring Iran — Iran’s secret nuclear project, its military, its politics, and its society — the Israeli espionage agencies did not see Rouhani’s victory on the horizon.  

They certainly did not expect that Rouhani could win an outright majority in the first round of voting, with no runoff required.

Mossad (the foreign espionage and operations agency, which our sources say has continued to run assets in and out of Iran) and Aman(the military intelligence agency that considers the capabilities and intentions of Israel’s regional enemies) both assumed that Khamenei would stop at nothing to install one of his reliable loyalists as Ahmadinejad’s successor.  The Supreme Leader had many disagreements with Ahmadinejad, partly over the talkative president’s bombastic style and inflated ego, and Khamenei was expected to avoid further headaches. If necessary, it was thought, he would rig the election — just as hard-liners were believed to have done in 2009.

Hello, Hassan Rouhani

A landslide for a candidate who told voters he would work for peace and security?  The only candidate who mentioned the sanctions that are adding to the suffering of many Iranians?  A Muslim cleric, but one who spoke in favor of press freedoms and negotiating with the West?

Experts don’t understand Iran: This win by Rouhani was wholly unexpected, and it shows that trusted and prestigious Western experts don’t understand Iran — and the complex undercurrents of an ancient culture that’s struggling with a blend of modernity and religious extremism.

Remember Rouhani’s nuclear restraint: In 2003, as an official in “reformist” President Mohammad Khatami’s administration,  it was Rouhani who directed the decision to freeze uranium enrichment.

(Israeli and U.S. officials firmly believe that Iran’s Supreme Leader feared that the U.S. might attack Iran at that time, just after the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Israel’s defense minister said this week that Iran’s uranium enrichment re-started in 2005 and is getting close to the amounts of enriched uranium needed to “break out” and build nuclear bombs.)

Might Rouhani freeze or reverse Iran’s nuclear work again, as part of a deal with the West to cancel sanctions? Would the Supreme Leader and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) let him do that? They may block any and all “reformist” ideas voiced by Rouhani.

Iran already has the materials, hardware, software, and knowledge necessary to build its first nuclear bomb — though not yet the ability to put one in a warhead atop a missile.

Rouhani’s election win signals a growing possiblity that Iran will decide to slow down its nuclear project.  That would be part of a policy of engaging with the United States (as everyone assumes that President Barack Obama would dearly like to avoid waging war against Iran).

So here is another unexpected result: that Israel will be further isolated in its severe concern over Iran’s nuclear capabilities (and continued support for Syria’s regime, for Hezbollah, and for terrorism around the world).  The gap between Israel and America, on these issues, may well be further widened.

In Washington on Friday, the Israeli defense minister Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon — a former director of the Aman agency — was asked about an interview, last year, in which he pointed out that Israel’s “red line” toward Iran was different from Obama’s “red line.”  Has that changed?

Yaalon: “In the past twelve months, we have clarified the differences between our red lines.” That was merely a hint of disagreement, and below that tip of the iceberg there’s plenty more.

[Note: Yossi Melman is co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran, which gives a lot more intelligence-based information on and analysis of Iran’s nuclear program and the country’s politics.   For more about the book: http://amzn.to/13Ru4Ou .]

June 16, 2013

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