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Viewing cable 10RPODUBAI15, IRAN DOMESTIC POLITICS: 'FROM CRISIS TO STALEMATE' (2/3)

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10RPODUBAI15 2010-01-13 13:01 2010-11-28 18:06 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Iran RPO Dubai
VZCZCXRO6831
OO RUEHBC RUEHKUK
DE RUEHDIR #0015/01 0131312
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 131312Z JAN 10
FM IRAN RPO DUBAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0044
INFO IRAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI IMMEDIATE
RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 RPO DUBAI 000015 
 
SIPDIS 
NOFORN 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/01/13 
TAGS: PGOV IR PREL
SUBJECT: IRAN DOMESTIC POLITICS: 'FROM CRISIS TO STALEMATE' (2/3) 
 
CLASSIFIED BY: Alan Eyre, Director, DOS, IRPO; REASON: 1.4(B), (D) 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  At this point the Green Path Opposition (GPO) is 
more of a persistent problem for the regime than an existential 
threat, and it is unrealistic to assume that the GPO will be able 
to effect any 'regime change' in the short-term.  Iran's ruling 
regime is likely to continue seeing increased violence and 
suppression as its most effective tool, including in the build-up 
to mid- February anniversary of the Revolution and the opposition's 
next planned protests.   However it is unlikely be able to 
eliminate the GPO, which will continue trying to co-opt public 
holidays to stage anti-regime protests and also try to increase 
divisions among regime elite.  Although subsets of the GPO are 
radicalizing, there is no reason to assume that GPO elements 
seeking to fundamentally change the system represent most Iranians. 
The GPO does not mirror the widespread an varied opposition that 
overturned the Shah thirty years ago, and the standoff now is 
increasingly becoming a stalemate that (inter alia) imperils the 
IRIG's ability to engage with the West.  Until a new homeostasis is 
reached in Iran's political ruling class, progress on issues of 
bilateral importance will be even more difficult than usual.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
 
 
2.  (U) NOTE: This is the second in a series of cables examining 
the Iranian opposition since the June 12 Presidential election, 
what might happen in the short-term, and what the most effective 
levers of US policy have been so far and what combination may have 
the most impact in the coming months. 
 
 
 
ON THIS SIDE: REGIME 
 
----------------------------- 
 
 
 
3. (C) Iran's current leadership sees the GPO with its periodic 
street demonstrations more as a persistent problem than as an 
existential threat. Ideology and personal experience have taught 
regime hard-liners to equate compromise under pressure with 
weakness. Supreme Leader Khamenei (SLK) himself is said to believe 
that the Shah's fatal mistake, and the reason the Revolution 
succeeded, was because the Shah 'retreated,' in addition to 
believing that the USSR's fall was due to the same reasons. As 
such, the regime can be expected to remain committed to using force 
and repression against the GPO as necessary to both incapacitate 
its first- and second-tier leadership (primarily through detention) 
and its rank and file (through detention and violence, to include 
deadly force). 
 
 
 
4. (C) Opposition activists have told IRPO that at least part of 
the regime strategy is a pre-emptive 'rolling round-up' of not just 
active GPO elements but also sympathizers. Thus in addition to 
those it identifies as participating in GPO activities, the regime 
goes after reformist reporters, feminists, human rights advocates, 
labor organizers, ageing 'National Front' sympathizers, 'Second of 
Khordad' Khatami-era reformists who are not active in the GPO 
movement. According to some foreign-based GPO leaders, informed 
estimates indicate approximately 2,000 people have been thus far 
detained. 
 
 
 
5. (C) Indications are that the regime is laying the groundwork for 
using even more violence, to include the broader use of lethal 
force at the popular level if necessary. This could include 
executions of those found guilty of 'warring against God,' a term 
which the regime is prone to define somewhat expansively. And while 
there is certainly a limit to the regime's willingness to use 
violence against its own people, there are no indications that it 
is anywhere near it. One former IRGC officer told an Iranwatcher 
that the IRGC wants to avoid killing more than a 'few dozen' 
protestors in any one location on any one day, partially to avoid 
associations with 'Black Friday' -September 8, 1978 - when mass 
fatalities in a demonstration turned many against the Shah).  The 
Ashura-day murder of Mousavi's nephew, in addition to the January 7 
incident where security officials seemed to have coordinated shots 
being fired at a car carrying Karrubi indicate a regime intent to 
 
DUBAI 00000015  002 OF 006 
 
 
calibrate its level of violence to intimidate the opposition and 
its leadership. 
 
 
 
6. (C) The media press environment is also expected to become far 
more restrictive, with one prominent reformist newsman telling IRPO 
that he expects all reformist papers to be shut down in the 
short-term. The regime continues to block 'subversive' websites, 
while also stepping up it jamming of satellite broadcasts from both 
VOA and BBC. 
 
 
 
7. (C) In addition to its familiar tools of force and repression, 
the regime also occasionally feints toward reconciliation, issuing 
statements counseling moderation and offering up an occasional 
scapegoat, such as the recent Majlis report blaming former Tehran 
Prosecutor General Mortazavi for the detainee deaths at the 
Kahrizak detention center.  In the public thrust and parry over 
post-June 12 events one regime voice conspicuous by its absence has 
been that of President Ahmadinejad, who has largely kept silent. 
This strategy has drawn criticism by some fellow hard-liners, who 
fault him for his unwillingness to publicly endorse harsh measures 
against the GPO. 
 
 
 
8. (C)  According to GPO expatriate leaders and other sources, the 
ruling regime can be seen as composed of three groups, with 
Khamenei still exercising control: 
 
 
 
- relative moderates, such as Ali Larijani and Ahmad Tavakolli in 
the Majlis, and Asghar Hejazi, former Foreign Minister Velayati and 
former Majlis Speaker Nateq-Nuri all in the Supreme Leader's 
office. This group seeks to have SLK cease his active support of 
Ahmadinejad so that he can be removed by the Majlis; 
 
 
 
-hardliners, such as IRGC Intelligence Head Hossein Taeb, 
Khameneni's son Mojtaba, Basij Commander BG Mohammad Reza Naqdi, 
Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, and Ahmadinejad and his own crowd. This 
group seeks increased use of force, to include lethal force, on the 
GPO and its leaders; 
 
 
 
-  a middle way 'swing' group, composed of SLK himself, his two 
sons Mostafa and Maysam, and some intelligence officials. This 
group seeks a middle course between the two above, favoring 
imprisoning, beating but not mass killing of protestors, and house 
arrest and intimidation but not arrest and/or execution of GPO 
leaders. 
 
 
 
ON THIS SIDE: GPO 
 
------------------------- 
 
 
 
9. (C) Going forward, the GPO seems committed to using public 
holidays as a show of strength and support, with the next big GPO 
planned demonstration being the anniversary of the Revolution's 
victory on  February 11 (22 Bahman). According to at least one 
prominent GPO activist based abroad, the GPO leadership has a 
three-part strategy: 
 
 
 
- (1)  Maintaining GPO unity while also 'growing' and training its 
numbers, expanding both geographically and in its constituent 
class/demographic/ethnic elements. Public street gatherings on key 
dates are one way of showing solidarity, as are slogans from 
rooftops, work slowdowns, and other non-violent 'political 
actions.' It will also seek to expand its use of 'blitz' 
demonstrations, i.e. rapid assembly and dispersal of protestors, in 
 
DUBAI 00000015  003 OF 006 
 
 
addition to university demonstrations and other forms of protest. 
In this regard it seeks to strengthen links with Iran's labor 
force, many of whom have a tradition of striking over non-payment 
of wages.  (NOTE: The GPO's diffuse structure, and constant regime 
pressure, will make implementing better organization and training 
difficult in the short-term). 
 
 
 
- (2) Creating divisions within the ruling elite, by 'peeling off' 
the moderates around Khamenei. Mousavi's recent statement in which 
he tacitly accepted the legitimacy of the Ahmadinejad government 
was a step in this direction. Second of Khordad 'theoretician' Said 
Hajjarian used to speak of the tactic of 'pressure from below, 
negotiations from above' as the reformist strategy, and at least 
some GPO strategists hope that elite pressure from moderate 
conservatives dismayed at ongoing popular protests will seek to 
convince SLK to cease his active support of Ahmadinejad, at which 
point he will be subject to possibly politically fatal attacks from 
the Majlis due to (inter alia) his financial mismanagement.  These 
GPO strategists, who curiously also see regime compromise as a sign 
of weakness, see Supreme Leader Khamenei's 'throwing Ahmadinejad 
under the bus' as the first step to ultimately bringing down 
Supreme Leader Khamenei himself 
 
 
 
- (3) Continuing non-violent efforts to 'paralyze' the government, 
largely through boycotts of IRGC affiliated companies, through work 
slowdowns, and ultimately through strikes.  Some within the GPO see 
the December 27 Ashura demonstrations as equivalent to the 17 
Shahrivar demonstrations during the Revolution, after which the 
people slowly 'lost their fear' of the Shah's machinery of 
repression.  However, even the most optimistic GPO leaders 
acknowledge the movement needs significantly more organization and 
training before it is able to engage in larger anti-regime 
activities (NOTE: Another advantage of a non-violent strategy is 
that such non-violent protests are technically authorized by 
Article 27 of the Constitution.  As such, any move to anti-regime 
violence would represent not just an escalation in the likely 
overall level of violence, but a move from inter-Constitutional to 
extra-Constitutional opposition). 
 
 
 
10. (C) This 3-part strategy, as articulated by a GPO leader based 
abroad, in many respects depends on the willingness of the mass 
movement of the GPO for support; whether it has been embraced by 
the popular elements of the GPO opposition is unclear. 
Furthermore, the increasing radicalization of popular elements 
within the GPO potentially undermines this strategy and at the very 
least makes near-term predictions less reliable.  An opposition 
that increasingly responds to regime violence with its own violence 
gives the regime greater license to increase repression even 
further, creating an unpredictable cycle of violence coupled with 
greater disillusionment with the regime. 
 
 
 
11. (C) MEDIA AND CYBERSPACE: The regime and GPO clash not just in 
the streets but also in cyberspace, and the GPO can be expected to 
expand its efforts to create a virtual space in which it can 
disseminate information to Iranians inside Iran.  It continues to 
spend significant energies on circumventing Iranian attempts to 
monitor, control and block Internet access in Iran, and is 
exploring the possibility of providing satellite high-speed 
internet access, although funding is the main barrier.  In 
conventional media, expatriate GPO activists have told IRPO that 
while in the short-term GPO is forced to rely on satellite TV such 
as VOA and BBC to get oppositionist news into Iran, it is seeking 
to create its own news fora, to include its own satellite 
television broadcast. 
 
 
 
NO 2ND REVOLUTION 
 
----------------------------- 
 
DUBAI 00000015  004 OF 006 
 
 
12. (C)  No one knows or can know what will happen next.  While 
Iran is not North Korea, since June 12 and the subsequent crackdown 
it has become harder to follow significant events there, both at 
the popular and elite level. Foreign media presence has been 
severely curtailed and domestic media is increasingly censored. And 
Iran's hardline intelligence-security cabal's 'soft overthrow' 
fixation has reduced the number and type of Iranians willing to 
talk frankly to the press (and to Iranwatchers) about domestic 
events. 
 
 
 
13.  (C) Against that backdrop one must note the 'selective 
perception' bias that tends to over-emphasize the GPO's potency. 
Some pro-GPO bias stems from their being the (relative) 'good guys' 
in this drama, to the extent that their agenda encompasses 
principles dear to Western democracies.  Additionally, Western 
media's Iran contacts tend to be pro-reformist, with Western press 
quoting pro-GPO activists and analysts almost exclusively. Also USG 
officials' interactions with Iranians tend to be largely limited to 
Iranians willing and able to talk with us, with a disproportionate 
number of them being those seeking USG assistance in helping fight 
the regime. Finally and in many ways most importantly 'if it bleeds 
it leads,' so there are no 'Youtube' uploads on demonstration days 
of the millions of ordinary Iranians who are going about their 
business. 
 
 
 
14. (C) In this regard, many IRPO interlocutors comment that for 
most in Tehran, life is going on as normal, with no sensation of 
living in 'a police state' (except on the key dates targeted by the 
GPO, and only then for people in specific areas where clashes 
occur).   In other words, it seems that the vast majority of 
Iranians, though more critical of the government to greater or 
lesser degrees, are continuing to live their lives as normal. 
There is no reason to assume that those 'radical' GPO elements 
seeking to fundamentally change the system represent most Iranians. 
At most, it appears that many and possibly most Iranians want a 
peaceful reform of the system as opposed to another revolution with 
an uncertain outcome. 
 
 
 
15. (C) Having stipulated that no one can assert with confidence 
what will happen in Iran's domestic situation over the next year, 
it does seem that, as expatriate Iranian oppositionist Ibrahim 
Nabavi has written, Iran is moving 'from crisis to stalemate.'  The 
clash between Iran's government hardliners and the GPO is unlikely 
to end decisively to the benefit of either side within the 
short-term, and it is quite improbable  that in the short-term the 
GPO will in some decisive way 'defeat' the Khamenei regime and 
change Iran's theocracy into a secular republic. 
 
 
 
16.  (C) In terms of the significant metrics by which can judge the 
course of future events, some of the ones significant both in 
1977-79 and now include the following: 
 
 
 
- Numbers: The numbers of protestors willing to take to the streets 
now is an order of magnitude smaller than in 78-79. 
 
 
 
- Classes: the GPO as currently constituted doesn't seem to have a 
significant ethnic or labor component, and doesn't seem to have 
'broken out' of Tehran in a significant way to other major urban 
centers, though we recognize that our awareness of developments 
outside of Tehran is likely to be more limited. 
 
 
 
- Anti-Gov't Activities: Unlike 1979, there have been no paralyzing 
strikes, bazaar closings, military defections, or signs of the 
government ceasing to function. Whereas the bazaar merchants in 
1979 had the inclination and money to fund striking workers 
deprived of pay, the there seems to be no such GPO 'deep pockets.' 
Indeed both elements of the 'bazaar-mosque' alliance that were in 
 
DUBAI 00000015  005 OF 006 
 
 
many ways the backbone of the 1979 Revolution are singularly absent 
in today's opposition, as each has been largely co-opted by the 
government.  There have been no indications that Rafsanjani and the 
Servants of Construction or Qalibaf's Tehran Municipality are 
currently a significant GPO funding source.  On a far more limited 
scale, expatriate 'Second of Khordad' Reformist elements within the 
Iranian Diaspora are leading efforts to create a fund for the 
support of detainee families. 
 
 
 
- Elite Defection/Emigration: Those hardliners who constitute and 
support the regime are very likely to remain committed to the fight 
against the GPO, since they know they would have no role in any new 
order and would also have nowhere else to go.  However for the GPO, 
many reformists and oppositionists dissatisfied with Iran's plight 
would rather quit then fight, as shown by the ongoing brain drain, 
to include increased exodus of political activists.  Anecdotal 
information shows that many of larger numbers of affluent and 
educated Iranians who can be presumed to be oppose the hardliners 
are taking their families and fortunes abroad. 
 
 
 
17. (C) Although much GPO animus has transferred from Ahmadinejad 
to SLK, it can be assumed that at least part of the movement's 
support would fade were Ahmadinejad to be replaced by someone less 
controversial and better equipped to successfully govern. Although 
SLK has shown that he prefers suppression to compromise, at some 
point pressure at the elite level might persuade him to abandon or 
marginalize Ahmadinejad.  Granted, the subsequent Presidential 
election could provide another spark for future protests, but the 
point here is that at both at the popular and elite level, at least 
some oppositionist fervor is still fixated on Ahmadinejad, and 
would presumably dissipate with his dismissal. 
 
 
 
STALEMATE TO CONTINUE 
 
---------------------------------- 
 
 
 
18. (C) The IRIG's decision-making process, multi-polar and messy 
even before this turmoil, has been further strained by the battle 
between the regime and the GPO as well as by the animosity toward 
Ahmadinejad from within the regime.  For example, domestic 
political opposition torpedoed Khamenei and Ahmadinejad's ability 
to sell the IAEA's Tehran Research Reactor agreement.  Subsidy 
reform, the most important piece of domestic legislation in years, 
was passed only after a protracted political cage fight between 
Ahmadinejad and the Majlis.   Amid the IRIG-GPO stalemate and the 
accompanying factionalization in the conservative 'Principalist' 
camp, Iran will be hard pressed achieve consensus and move forward 
on issues relevant to the USG. 
 
 
 
19. (C) As one US-based IRPO contact noted, only one thing is 
certain, namely uncertainty over how the contest will play out.  It 
is clear neither regime leaders nor opposition figures are 
convinced of the path ahead and they are constantly recalibrating 
and shifting positions.  Moreover, he added, there is hesitancy on 
the part of all actors to move decisively.  He noted that this was 
visible in the regime's unwillingness to use the full force of its 
repressive capabilities to crack down on the opposition once and 
for all. 
 
 
 
20. (C) COMMENT: The GPO is not Poland's Solidarity, and Tehran 
2010 isn't Tehran 1978.  In other words, it is quite unlikely that 
the current Iranian system of government will significantly change 
in the short-term, and if there were any significant change, it is 
more likely to be towards a more authoritarian regime than to be 
towards a more democratic one.   However, having posited why the 
GPO is unlikely to effect fundamental short-term changes in Iran's 
ruling system, it is equally true to say that it is unlikely to go 
away. What makes the preceding important for the USG is the fact 
that Iran's current domestic strife is a political 'black hole' 
 
DUBAI 00000015  006 OF 006 
 
 
that swallows all other issues, both domestic and foreign, such 
that until a new homeostasis is reached in Iran's political ruling 
class, progress on issues of bilateral importance will be even more 
difficult than usual.  END COMMENT. 
EYRE