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Tehran's besieged fox dies   

Arab News - 12 January, 2017
Author: Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Reports that Iran is in danger following the death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the regime’s prominent figures, are not true. Tehran lost its hawk years ago, stripping him of his powers, and putting him in isolation and under observation.
Moreover, the former president’s men were excluded from government. Even his daughter Faiza was imprisoned. His son Mahdi was given reassurances that he would not be held accountable if he voluntarily returned from abroad. No sooner had he arrived in Tehran than he was arrested and jailed.
The Iranian regime has been getting rid of its own members since the beginning of the 1979 revolution. Power-seekers plotted against Iran’s first President Abolhassan Banisadr, who was a close aide of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Banisadr fled the country and found political asylum in France, but he still fears for his life. Former Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, spokesperson of the revolution, was executed.
Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi are the latest among several leaders of Iran’s revolution to be put under house arrest. Both men objected to election forgery and misuse of power. All those men were regime members, not opponents.
The Iranian opposition was suspicious about Rafsanjani’s death, because he had been practicing his activities until his last day despite his old age. Regardless of whether he died of natural causes or not, it is certain that the current leadership practically killed him years ago when it isolated him. What had Rafsanjani done to be punished? No anti-regime action or stance had been reported against him.
His differences with the leadership were about details of Iranian policy, which is by no means a cause for dispute as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the one who decides policy. They were afraid of Rafsanjani because his legitimacy came after Khamenei’s — he was wealthy and one of the regime’s oldest leaders. All this made Rafsanjani a target for his opponents in government circles.
He had not been personally accused. Instead, members of his family were accused. This was due to his popularity on the Iranian street, the many international relationships he built after taking office, and his support of the regime’s “moderate” old leaders. In addition, he contributed to bringing former President Mohammad Khatami to power.
Iran’s government system has nothing to do with individuals; it is a collective religious and security system, just like past Communist regimes. It has nothing to do with positions and hierarchy, including the president — except for the supreme leader, who has the last say.
Rafsanjani was a political fox long before taking office. He was keen to portray himself as a moderate leader, but that did not mean he was moderate by international standards. He called on his regime’s members to end the West’s embargo on Iran several years before nuclear negotiations led to the same results he was calling for. However, his rivals did not back down until economic sanctions became so harsh that they threatened the regime’s existence.
Tehran’s fox was the one who took the reconciliation initiative with the Gulf states following the war to liberate Kuwait. He was keen to go to then-Crown Prince Abdullah, who headed the Saudi delegation to the Islamic Summit in Senegal. He met with the prince and reconciled with Saudi Arabia following a dispute over Iranian pilgrims.
The Kingdom had insisted on reducing their number to 70,000 from 120,000, in line with a decision by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and after sabotage by Iran’s Haj mission in Makkah. Tehran accepted the reduction, and the Kingdom agreed that the rites of innocence take place in the area dedicated to Iran’s Haj mission, but not inside the Grand Mosque or its neighborhood.
However, Saudi-Iranian relations collapsed again when Iranian intelligence carried out the bombing of Alkhobar Towers, in which many Americans were killed and injured. Rafsanjani spent two weeks in the Kingdom and reached a reconciliation.
Relations deteriorated for a third time when it was found that Tehran had been involved in the 2004 Riyadh bombings, carried out at the direction of Al-Qaeda leaders residing in Iran. When faced with evidence, Tehran could not deny its involvement, and claimed the operation was carried out behind its back.
Since then, the Kingdom and other countries in the region have not trusted the promises of Rafsanjani or any other Iranian leaders. His death proves to the world that Tehran’s leadership has failed to make the transition from the 1979 revolution to a modern, moderate state.

• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and fomer editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.
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