Iran after Rafsanjani: A prelude to more violence

By Shahriar Kia

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and major policy-maker in Iran, died at the age of 82 on Sunday, leaving behind a legacy of domestic suppression, foreign terrorism, and political deceit. Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI),described Rafsanjani’s death as the fall of “one of the two pillars key to the equilibrium of the religious fascism ruling Iran.”

“Rafsanjani, who had always been the regime’s number two, acted as its balancing factor and played a decisive role in its preservation,” Mrs. Rajavi said. “Now, the regime will lose its internal and external equilibrium.” The exiled opposition leader concluded that the event will push the Iranian regime further toward its inevitable overthrow.

From the inception of the Islamic theocracy in 1979, Rafsanjani occupied key posts in the highest echelons of power in Iran and kept close ties with regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini, which earned him the title of parliament (Majlis) speaker until 1989 and commander of Iran’s war against Iraq in the 1980s, giving him both political and military clout.

Following Khomeini’s death in 1989, Rafsanjani used his influence to seize the mantle of the presidency, which he held until 1997, and also played a clutch role in current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s rise to power as Khomeini’s successor. Rafsanjani continued to occupy key posts until his death, including chairing the Assembly of Experts, the body that supposedly oversees the Supreme Leader’s actions and appoints his heir.

In 2005, Rafsanjani attempted another grab at the presidency but ended up losing to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who carried great favor with Khamenei. His 2013 bid for the top executive position was again spurned by the Guardian Council, which disqualified him from being too old for the post.

Rafsanjani’s implication in Iran’s foreign terrorist ventures surfaced on several occasions during the course of political life.

In 2006, Argentine investigators indicted Rafsanjani and seven other senior Iranian officials for their involvement in the 1994 suicide truck bombing of the Buenos Aires AMIA Jewish community center, leaving 85 killed and hundreds more wounded.

Rafsanjani also orchestrated terrorist attacks against exiled dissidents, including the 1992 assassination of Iranian Kurdish leader Abdulrahman Ghassemlou in Berlin’s Mykonos restaurant.

In 1996, a German court ruling named then-president Rafsanjani directly responsible for the Berlin killings. At the time the U.S. State Department announced the findings backed Iran’s designation as a terrorist state.

Rafsanjani used his network of terrorists and spies to purge other dissidents abroad, including prominent human rights activist and former UN ambassador Dr. Kazem Rajavi, shot dead in 1990 near his Geneva home.

Swiss investigators accused Tehran in this regard and authorities issued an arrest warrant for Ali Fallahian, Rafsanjani’s minister of intelligence.

Rafsanjani also supervised the assassinations of NCRI representative Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in Italy, and Zahra Rajabi, the NCRI envoy on refugee issues, in Turkey.

Despite his attempts to pose as a moderate figure, Rafsanjani never made a secret of his enmity against the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main member of the NCRI umbrella group.

“Four rulings are a must for [MEK members]: 1- Be killed. 2- Be hanged. 3- Arms and legs be amputated. 4- Be separated from society,” Rafsanjani said in 1981. He also played a significant role in the summer 1988 massacre, a brutal campaign during which saw to the execution of over 30,000 political prisoners in the span of a few months.

As the regime’s number two figure during the past four decades, Rafsanjani has been a balancing element, pursuing to preserve the entire regime based on a religious dictatorship, known as the velayat-e faqih. With his death, the Iranian regime in its entirety will be significantly weaker.

Contrary to rhetoric promoted by mainstream Western media, Rafsanjani and Khamenei were not figureheads of two factions, the so-called “reformists” and “hardliners.” They’re the flipside of the same coin, only differing in their approach to maintaining their religious and extremist dictatorship intact.

The West’s misunderstanding in respect with the nature of the fundamentalist regime ruling Iran and the undercurrents between its different factions has prodded politicians to pursue a mirage of finding “moderates” in Iran. A look back at the history of Rafsanjani, who was at the head of the supposed “reformist” and “moderate” camp, shows how misplaced that line of thought was.

For his part, Khamenei knew that despite their seemingly stark differences, he could not completely eliminate this staunch rival.

At the regime’s helm, Khamenei will be concerned over this development sparking uncontrollable disturbances across the establishment spectrum.

Taking into consideration this regime’s history, there is a high probability of the mullahs’ resorting to furthering their support for violence, exporting terrorism and extremism, and advocating Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East and beyond. All these measures will be aimed to prevent this recent crisis from evolving into an overwhelming phenomenon.

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