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Iran Report: July 7, 1999

7 July 1999, Volume 2, Number 27

SPIES CASE BEING EXPLOITED. The case of the alleged Israeli espionage ring and the arrests of 13 Jews has received little attention in the Iranian press in the last week, having been crowded out by other domestic issues. Relatively moderate sources about the espionage case reject linkages with Said Emami and the murders of dissident politicians and intellectuals (see below: "Fallahian In From The Cold"), while hardline sources take the opposite approach. The Iranian government, meanwhile, continues to reject international concern over the Jews' fate as a form of foreign interference.

Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai, addressing a memorial service for Mustafa Chamran in Susangerd (southwest Iran), said: "The Zionists have raised a hue and cry about the arrest of the 13 spies in order to cover up their own involvement in the recent murders and to mislead public opinion." He went on to say, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency on 25 June, that this is all part of an Israeli plot to destroy Iran's improved relationship with Europe. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Araqi, who heads the Islamic Propagation Office, also said there was a connection between the arrests and Said Emami's suicide, "Keyhan" reported on 26 June.

The English-language daily "Iran News" editorialized on 28 June that Israel is using the issue to create tension in Iran. In fact, the editorial said, Israel is frightened by Iran's improved relations with its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia. Also, Israel has blown the case "out of all proportion" in order to divert the world's attention from its "savage attacks in southern Lebanon."

U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley rejected the charges as "unfounded and unacceptable," AP reported on 2 July, while Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), chairman of the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee, said "The arrest of these Iranian citizens is a specious act and an indication that Iran is going backward." Laurent Fabius, president of the French National Assembly, warned Tehran that if the 13 Jews are executed, Western governments could break diplomatic relations with Iran, Reuters reported on 2 July.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi addressed the issue in messages to several of his counterparts, the secretaries-general of the U.N. and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the speaker of the European Union, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (which is odd, considering Tehran prevents U.N. human rights investigators from visiting Iran). The message, state radio reported on 28 June, said they had been charged but not convicted. Release requests, furthermore, were unacceptable and insulting to Iran's sovereignty. According to Interfax on 1 July, the message from Kharrazi to his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, said: "certain groups assume that Iran's new image hinders their interests and they try to create a global atmosphere of suspicion around it." All statements by the Iranian government have pointed out that Muslims as well as Jews have been arrested.

Amongst all this comes a story from the 28 June issue of the weekly "U.S. News & World Report" that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office has linked the release of the 13 Jews to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's proposed trip to Bonn. The Iranians responded by saying only four of the 13 are actually spies. (Bill Samii)

FALLAHIAN IN FROM THE COLD. The alleged suicide of former Ministry of Intelligence and Security official Said Emami (also known as Islami) in mid-June is having a significant impact on the Iranian domestic scene. While some may have hoped that his death would close the file on the murders of Iranian dissident politicians and intellectuals, others are still demanding answers. Amidst these demands for information, cracks are appearing within the hardline establishment.

Last week Abbas Abdi, in an interview with "Khordad" newspaper, said former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian-Khuzestani should be questioned about Emami's suicide and the murders. This suggestion was repeated a few days later in "Salam," the newspaper Abdi edits. Editorials in "Salam" and "Khordad" repeated this demand during the following days.

An unattributed commentary in "Neshat" on 24 June said those who appointed Emami as the official in charge of MOIS internal security "should answer public opinion." Asked if Emami's death eliminated the "main clue" to the murders, Ezzatollah Sahabi, managing-editor of "Iran-i Farda" monthly, said Emami was not the main clue; rather, Fallahian's "role remains suspicious," "Neshat" reported on 27 June. The Office of Strengthening Unity, an Islamist student group, issued a statement demanding that Fallahian answer questions about his tenure at the MOIS. Parliamentarian Zabihollah Safai, "Hamshahri" reported on 30 June, said Fallahian is the "main culprit" because he was responsible for appointing Emami. Such statements from relatively moderate publications, commentators, and organizations are not surprising.

More interesting are the comments from Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri, regarded by some as the MOIS's "eminence grise." He claimed, according to a 27 June "Khordad" editorial, that he had always opposed the appointment of Emami to the MOIS. Despite this advice, Fallahian went ahead and appointed him.

To learn more about Emami, one can examine who attended memorial ceremonies in his honor. Of the 200-400 (estimates vary) mourners, the most significant name is Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian. While a guest on the television talk show "Cheraq" last winter, Husseinian said the spate of murders were the work of President Mohammad Khatami's supporters (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 January 1999). Husseinian explained his presence at the ceremony in a letter published in "Neshat" on 28 June: "Offering one's condolences to the relatives of a dead person is an important humanitarian and Islamic principle."

Husseinian's presence undermines Reyshahri's efforts to exonerate himself by implicating others. Husseinian was deputy head of the Society for the Defense of Values of the Islamic Revolution, the party Reyshahri created to support his unsuccessful presidential campaign. Also, Husseinian held high positions in the MOIS and still does so in the Special Court for the Clergy, both of which Reyshahri helped create.

(Referring to Husseinian, Ayatollah Mohammad Abai-Khorasani, secretary of the Qom Association of Seminary Students and Lecturers (Majmae-yi Mudarisin va Muhaqiqin-i Howzeh-yi Elmieh-yi Qom), said, according to "Sobh-i Imruz" on 29 June: "Those who attributed the serial killings to the supporters of President Khatami and then participated in the mourning ceremony for Said Emami should repent. Those who referred to Emami as 'martyr' did not explain based on which Islamic source they call 'martyr' a person who committed suicide." Parliamentarian Seyyed Mohsen Yahyavi said, according to "Salam:" "paying tribute to anyone who has betrayed his nation and whose offense has been proven, is a counter-revolutionary and anti-Islamic act.")

These events indicate that Fallahian may end up being the fall guy for these murders. His prosecution, which seems highly unlikely, may even be served up as a sop to the German government, which issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with the Mykonos case. An extremely unlikely alternative is the implication of Hojatoleslam Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi, who has been criticized a few times for allegedly ignoring Khatami's instructions to replace Emami. The actions of Husseinian, meanwhile, indicate that those who think and possibly act as Emami did continue to hold important positions in the Iranian government. (Bill Samii)

SKEPTICISM ABOUNDS. Public receptivity towards the government's explanation of Emami's suicide and the series of murders varies, and some interesting theories have emerged. Theories blaming outsiders predominate, but generally they are met with scorn. Official treatment of the issue has increased public distrust of the government.

Rasht Parliamentarian Ahmad Ramazanpur Nargesi said: "The officials are not giving explicit and clear details of the different aspects of Emami's case maybe because such details will harm national security," "Tehran Times" reported on 26 June. Apparently few people believe that theory.

Jafar Dameerchi, political editor of the conservative daily "Resalat", said the real mastermind behind the killings is Mustafa Kazemi (aka Musavi), "Tehran Times" reported on 27 June. Others continue to suspect foreign involvement. Habibollah Asgharoladi of the Islamic Coalition Association said the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was behind at least one of the deaths, "Manateq-i Azad" reported on 27 June.

After pointing out that Emami dealt with internal security for the MOIS, "Neshat" asked on 24 June: "if we imagine that Said Emami was an Israeli pawn and that all the issues of the case were related to sources outside the country, what is the guarantee that Israel might not be able to place more elements in these positions?"

Ezzatollah Sahabi, managing-editor of "Iran-i Farda" monthly, said the authorities are "mocking" the public by telling them nothing about the case for seven months, "Neshat" reported on 27 June. Sahabi ridiculed allegations that Emami was an agent of foreigners: "Some people think they can exonerate themselves in this way. They do not know that they are undermining their own credibility by their actions."

"Hamshahri" asked on 26 June why so many people (up to 400) attended the memorial ceremonies (at Hojat Bin al-Hassan Mosque, Behesht-i Zahra, and Jame'eh Mosque) for Emami, when he died with such a bad reputation. When asked why the memorials were not disrupted by ultra-conservative thugs, hardline daily "Jebheh" director Massoud Dehnamaki said it was understandable that they did not disrupt Emami's memorial ceremony, although they disrupted ceremonies for nationalist figures like Mehdi Bazargan and Ali Shariati. He explained it by saying that at the latter two events, people chanted slogans against theocracy and waved flags bearing the Lion and Sun of the previous monarchy.

There are even suggestions that Said Emami is not really dead. "Manateq-i Azad" reported on 29 June that its reporter found no trace of Said Emami on the computer records at Behesht-i Zahra cemetery, and his efforts to follow up on the issue were stopped by a cemetery official citing "security reasons."

The overwhelming public reaction to the alleged suicide was summarized by former prosecutor Ayatollah Musavi-Tabrizi. He told "Hamshahri" on 27 June: "the people do not believe that Emami was the chief culprit. Nor do they believe that he committed suicide." (Bill Samii)

CHANGES IN THE JUDICIARY. After a great deal of speculation, on 22 June Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Yazdi, who is due to retire in late-July after ten years, identified his replacement. Yazdi said Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi will succeed him, although "nothing has been put on paper yet," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. On 29 June, however, "Neshat" said the appointment may not go through because Hashemi wants to replace some senior officials who are associated with the ultra-conservative Islamic Coalition Association.

Such comments may be unexpected, because on paper, Hashemi seems a likely candidate. He currently serves on the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, Council for Discernment of Expediency, and is a member of the Qom Theological Lecturers Association. While such a background indicates Hashemi's conservatism, it does not necessarily indicate a politically hardline inclination.

More significant are Hashemi's Iraqi origins (born in Najaf in 1948) and his many years of study in Najaf under Grand Ayatollah Khoi. Forced out of Iraq by the Baathist regime, Hashemi served as the Supreme Leader's representative to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. It is possible that Khamenei is appointing individuals with Iraqi backgrounds to such important positions because he is losing support in the Iranian religious community. This may explain Ayatollah Yusef Sanei's disapproval of Hashemi, which "Arya" reported on 22 June. It also is possible Hashemi was chosen because, as an Iraqi, he will not have an independent base of support and will be dependent on Khamenei.

The rumors of Yazdi's pending retirement initiated commentary on ways to improve the judiciary, which currently is viewed as a hardline bastion. Attorney Ahmad Bashiri said the judiciary requires a reorganization which will remove individuals "not familiar with the intricacies involved in this field." He said the replacements should be those who "have sufficient familiarity with intricacies of judicial work," "Khordad" reported on 23 May. Bashiri also urged a review and revision of the existing legal code.

A 17 June "Salam" editorial said the Judiciary's main weakness is the obvious political inclination of its chief, Yazdi. Rather than easing tensions, Yazdi's statements cause greater societal unrest. The editorial complained that Yazdi is against a free press, and that he failed to act on the U.N. human rights report. An article in "Neshat" on 19 June said Yazdi had appointed many conservatives who had lost their previous government posts. He tried to unify all the country's courts so only one individual conducts the initial investigation and then passes the final judgment, thereby "extending the influence of the clergy over the Judicial body."

The 19 June "Neshat" article also said that since the defeat of conservative candidate Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq Nuri in the 1997 presidential campaign, Yazdi has become Khatami's chief political rival. But in this rivalry, a student group complained in an open letter, Khatami has not protected them from the Judiciary. The Islamic Society of Students of Semnan said "The Judiciary has clearly been ignoring the laws for some times. ... [creating] the impression ... that the Judiciary is involved in political work." The students told Khatami: "The people want to see for themselves that you support some of your own programs, in a transparent and explicit manner, otherwise they -- because of aged-old habit -- would become pessimistic soon." (Bill Samii)

WAITING FOR MONTAZERI. Recent reports about demonstrations at his home in Qom and about renewed efforts to keep him under house arrest indicate the continuing political relevance of Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, once designated as successor to Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

On 27 June, a memorial honoring the 18th anniversary of the death of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Montazeri, the son of Ayatollah Montazeri, was held in Qom. Mohammad Montazeri and 72 other important regime members were killed in a bombing of the Islamic Republic Party headquarters (it is not known how many actually died, but 72 was chosen because that is how many of Imam Hussein's followers were killed at Karbala). "Neshat" and "Arya" reported on 26 June that a number of religious figures, including Hojatoleslams Mohammad Taqi Fazel-Meybodi, Ghulam Hussein Nadi, and Abulfazl Musavian, sent a letter of condolence to Ayatollah Montazeri. These three were detained previously on the orders of the Special Court for the Clergy because of their closeness to Ayatollah Montazeri.

An article in the conservative "Abrar" newspaper denounced attendance at the memorial, saying the Montazeris were close to Mehdi Hashemi, who was executed in the late-1980s for plotting against the government. Ahmad Montazeri, the son and spokesman for Ayatollah Montazeri, rejected such claims in a 30 June interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service, pointing out that the regime frequently pins such labels on those it fears.

On one hand, a 29 June report in "Arya" claimed that 100 people attended the ceremony and a violent demonstration followed, while "Khordad" reported the same day that 4000 people attended and a short demonstration followed. On the other hand, Ahmad Montazeri told RFE/RL that the event was peaceful. Only about 30 people attended and security officials were present the whole time.

Several months ago reports appeared that the Supreme National Security Council had asked the Supreme Leader's office to end the house arrest of Ayatollah Montazeri (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 February 1999). "Sobh-i Imruz" newspaper reported on 29 June that the Special Court for the Clergy urged revocation of the Supreme National Security Council's request.

Ahmad Montazeri said reports of the Supreme National Security Council release request are floated every few months, but they are all untrue. The reason the Clerical Court is angry with Ayatollah Montazeri this time, Ahmad said, is his father's comments about the inappropriate role the Guardians Council has assumed in determining eligibility of candidates for elected office -- "advisory supervision". Although Ayatollah Montazeri was in the group that created the constitution and defined the Guardian Council's role, his views contradict those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Bill Samii)

IRAN CHANGES APPROACH TO LEBANON. Two events in June -- Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's visit to Lebanon and the appointment of Lebanon's Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri as deputy head of the Islamic Parliamentary Union -- may indicate a change in Iranian attitudes towards Lebanon. It is believed that Iran may decrease its support for Hizballah -- the Islamic resistance in Lebanon -- while aiding the Lebanese government itself. Events following the 24-25 June Israeli airstrikes against Lebanon, which Tel Aviv says were in retaliation for Hizballah attacks against Israel, support this view. While Iran's approach to Lebanon may be changing, furthermore, its attitude towards Israel has not.

Lebanese commentator Karim Pakradouni writes in "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 25 June that Kharrazi's trip is a public indicator of the change in relations, as is Tehran's matching support for the Beirut government as well as Hizballah. Lebanese President Emile Lahud reciprocated by sending a military delegation to a Hizballah award ceremony. This means, Pakradouni writes, that Iran "is prepared to back the Lebanese state against U.S. and Israeli pressure." He summarizes: "The visit and the election are signs that something has changed within Lebanon and Iran in the direction of dialogue and understanding, and this Lebanese-Iranian transformation is a milestone on the road of change taking place in Arab-Iranian relations."

Writing in Beirut's pro-Syrian Arab nationalist "Al-Shira" on 28 June, Nasir Shararah also believes changes are occurring. He writes that in the 1980s Tehran wanted to assassinate Berri, Amal's leader, because it was "contemplating taking total control of the Shia in Lebanon and that Berri was a hurdle in this regard!" The emergence of Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah changed Iran's attitude, Shararah writes, because he was not loyal to Qom and wanted to establish himself as a source of emulation for the Lebanese and Arab Shia.

Berri's reception in Tehran indicates "the end of an era" during which Iranian extremists rejected relations with Amal, according to the "Al-Shira" article. Some suggest this change stems from President Mohammad Khatami's blood relationship with Seyyeda Rabab al-Sadr, the sister of Seyyed Musa Sadr, the Iranian-born cleric who helped establish Amal in 1968. But Shararah believes other factors are more important, particularly Berri's relationship with Syria, Iran's strategic ally. The Iranians backed Berri to show their openness to all Lebanese parties, thereby building on the Islamic parliamentary union as a vehicle for Iranian international influence. In exchange, Berri wants more aid for Amal so the polarization between its supporters and those of Hizballah will be eliminated. Furthermore, Shararah writes, Berri wants official Iranian-Lebanese channels to be stronger than unofficial ones.

After Israeli jets bombed bridges south of Beirut, targets south of the Litani River, and a power plants supplying Beirut (on 24-25 June), in a deliberate targeting of Lebanese infrastructure, the editor of "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" Abdelbari Atwan wrote on 28 June that the relationships of Iran and Syria with Lebanon have changed. This was made clear when "the jets struck more than once without a single missile being fired at them, particularly by the Syrian forces that are supposed to defend Lebanon in such circumstances." These events indicate "a new stage in Lebanon and Syria, one in which there might be no room for the Islamic resistance or any other resistance."

The belief that Iranian policy in Lebanon is going mainstream and in closer accord with Syrian policy is borne out by events following the Israeli raids. Kharrazi flew to Damascus to discuss the situation with his counterparts. He explained: "The fate of Iran, Syria, and Lebanon -- in terms of the policies these states choose to pursue -- is intertwined. ... [Iran] will support the bold resistance of the Lebanese people against the hostile Zionist entity and its repeated attacks on Lebanon," official Syrian radio reported on 27 June. The only support he mentioned was provision of engineers from the Roads and Transport Ministry to help rebuild damaged bridges.

On the other hand, the Iranian leadership was quick to condemn Israel. Khatami, in a message to Lahud, expressed concern about "The inhuman atrocities of the Zionist regime against the innocent people and its attacks on residential areas and civilian installation of Lebanon," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 28 June. In a 30 June speech at the 26th Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Ouagadougou, Kharrazi said: "The Zionist aggression is yet another clear indication of the continuation of Israeli policy of violence and terror ... and obstruction of peace and stability in the region. The Zionist regime attempts to force its illegitimate and expansionist designs through intransigence, persistent violation of its international undertakings and imposition of new conditions on Lebanon." (Bill Samii)