Cablegate: Iran Domestic Politics: 'From Crisis to Stalemate' (2/3)

DE RUEHDIR #0015/01 0131312
O 131312Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/01/13

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

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.



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

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

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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



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

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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.



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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

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

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

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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.



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'

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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.

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