Deaths, deals and demonstrations
There are growing mass protests, but very little, if anything, in the way of conscious organisation. Under these contradictory circumstances the left must avoid the temptation of giving up on basic anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist principles, insists Yassamine Mather
The suspicious death of a senior Iranian engineer, Ayoob Entezari, who allegedly specialised in development of drones and missiles in Iran, is the latest in a series of ‘accidents’ taking the lives of Iranian officials. Entezari had a PhD in aerospace engineering from the prestigious Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. He took part in several projects at the Institute of Technology in Yazd, and was considered one of the top scientists in his field.
His death came a day after the assassination of another Iranian official, colonel Ali Esmailzadeh, who, according to news agencies, died during an “incident in his residence” in the city of Karaj, about 35 kilometres north-west of the capital. News agencies associated with Saudi Arabia claimed Esmailzadeh was killed over suspicions that he provided information to Iran’s enemies that was used in an alleged Mossad operation in Iran.
In late May, the Iranian news agency, Tasnim, reported that a senior member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force was assassinated by two motorcyclists in Tehran. He was named as colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei and the Israeli media claimed he had been responsible for a plan to kill Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi in Cyprus, as well as a number of other similar attempts.
Khodaei was killed while sitting in front of his house in a quiet suburb of the capital in his car and the assailants reportedly shot him five times. After his funeral general Hossein Salami, the commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guards, told reporters: “We will make the enemy regret this and none of the enemy’s evil actions will go unanswered.” Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, a member of Iran’s National Security Council claimed the killing was “definitely the work of Israel”.1
The New York Times also reported the killing of an Iranian engineer, Ehsun Ghadbeigi, in a drone attack on a military base near Tehran, although Iran’s ministry of defence maintained that the event at the Parchin complex was an “accident”. Despite denials by the Israeli government, we know that Israeli intelligence officials bragged about the assassinations and claimed “Israel had informed American officials that it was behind the killing”.
If all this was not proof of Mossad infiltration into Iran’s security services, on May 31 the Israeli government published seized papers, claiming they show that Iran spied on the United Nations nuclear agency in order to find out what it was hoping to discover regarding the country’s nuclear programme, and then created cover stories to hide the evidence, in order to evade the agency’s probes. Prime minister Naftali Bennett claimed the documents were taken from Iran, which was attempting to cover up its rogue nuclear activities.
All this, of course, happened in the midst of the jubilee celebrations in the UK, along with wall-to-wall news about the war in Ukraine. However, imagine if Iran’s Islamic Republic had boldly claimed it was involved in assassinations of another country’s nationals within its borders. There would have been no end to condemnations. The UN would have by now passed a few resolutions condemning Iran and indignant western leaders would have appeared on the media telling us about reckless behaviour of a terrorist state. New sanctions would have been imposed …
Yet in the case of the Israeli state there seems to be endless tolerance of its terrorist activities. I am in favour of the overthrow of Iran’s Islamic Republic - by its own people. Iranians do not like their own leaders, blaming them for incompetence, corruption and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. However, US, Israeli and Saudi operations to facilitate such an overthrow will only strengthen the Islamic Republic. As far as I can see, the only criticism of the Israeli Mossad operations is a Ha’aretz editorial of June 6, under the title, ‘Israel’s targeted killings of Iranian experts are pointless’. The writer states:
Iran has managed to develop a sophisticated, advanced programme with the help of a broad infrastructure that includes scientists, technicians, stolen or acquired knowledge, unlimited funding and assistance from supportive states, such as North Korea, Pakistan, China and Russia, as well as private companies in European countries. Anyone who believes that the ‘surgical’ murder of a scientist will deter Iran is peddling a lie and saying, in effect, that the Iranian nuclear threat is a giant balloon that can be deflated with a single pinprick, or a bomb attached to a scientist’s car.
If Israel’s goal is to show intelligence supremacy that enables it to find and assassinate a target in the heart of Tehran, this policy is puzzling … At the same time, US administration officials have made it clear that the killings are pointless and will not dissuade them from trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. In this regard, one can only laugh at the notion that these assassinations could encourage, much less bring about, regime change in Iran.2
Of course, none of this is good news for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, who are supposed to be the guardians of the Islamic revolution and its state. They are clearly infiltrated by foreign (or at least Israeli) agents. No-one else would have had access to such secret documents; no-one else would have known the home address and detailed schedule of those assassinated in recent days.
Rather than throwing accusations around, left, right and centre, the Islamic Republic should take a hard look at its own ranks and its most trusted security services. And it is not only that. From what I read on social media, a large chunk of the supporters of the ‘reformist’ factions within the Islamic Republic regime have now become supporters of regime change from above. A number of sons and daughters of senior ayatollahs, plus close associates of senior ayatollahs and their civilian allies, are now the main spokespersons for pro-US regime change. The fundamental problem remains with the nature of the religious state, its empty rhetoric against the west was never more than just slogans, No wonder its own supporters are so cynical, when it comes to pro-US, pro-Israeli or pro-Saudi forces.
On top of that, the nuclear talks are in stalemate. According to Iran, the compromise formula, written by the European Union, to give Iran assurances that future US administrations will not walk out of the proposed new deal (as Trump did), is not acceptable to the Biden administration.
On June 7, the US delegation in the Vienna talks blamed Iran’s demands that all sanctions should be lifted for the failure so far to reach an agreement and revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal: “What we need is a willing partner in Iran. In particular, Iran would need to drop demands for sanctions-lifting that clearly go beyond the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and that are now preventing us from concluding a deal.”3
In addition to external enemies, the Iranian state is now facing a series of internal protests. They started in May after the abolition of subsidies on some essential food items and have continued over the last two weeks, along with demonstrations against the authorities following the collapse of a building in Abadan (Khuzestan province). According to official figures, at least 34 people died under the rubble, while dozens remain unaccounted for. But both the funerals and the subsequent protests have been heavily suppressed by the authorities.
Demonstrators were angry, shouting “Incompetent officials must be executed”, while some videos posted on social media showed chants of “Death to Khamenei” - meaning, of course, the country’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Every time workers protest against non-payment of wages, poor working conditions, lack of job security, etc, they are accused of being agents of foreign powers. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist slogans of these protestors make quite clear.
There is a lot of controversy about the owner of the building that collapsed in Abadan. The official media initially reported that he was inside the Metropol tower and died as a result of its collapse, but later reports seem to contradict this. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported his arrest and the country’s vice-president, Mohammad Mokhber, announced that the property of the tower’s owner has been confiscated and will be used to compensate the victims. Ali Bahadori Jahromi, a spokesman for Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, claimed the administration will look into the corruption surrounding the building of the tower and subsequent safety and security measures.
Even before the Islamic republic, under the shah’s regime, there was a term for unscrupulous builders who did not pay attention to details and built unsafe tower blocks, endangering the live of their inhabitants. The term ‘bessaz, befroush’ (‘build and sell’) referred to developers who were cutting corners to save expenses and thereby risking the lives of Iranians ‘for a few extra tomans’.
Of course, in a corrupt dictatorship such as Iran’s Islamic Republic, you can only operate in this way if you have the right connections. The Metropol tower’s owner is no exception. He is Hossein Abdolbaghi, who also owns dozens of other buildings in Khouzestan province and, of course, he is related to a number of senior ayatollahs and senior revolutionary guards commanders. Son of one, son-in-law of another … he has accumulated enormous wealth, while being awarded for his ‘charitable donations’ by none other than the military commander of Khouzestan province, Heydar Abbas Zadeh, in March 2021.
IRNA reported that the lower floors of the tower, situated on one of Abadan’s busiest commercial streets, had been open for a few days, while construction work continued on the floors above. Protestors are blaming the wider authorities, accusing them of negligence and corruption and, despite attempts by the security forces to block internet access in order to reduce posting of online social media videos and images of the local anti-government demonstrations, the protests spread quickly to other towns and cities, with shouts of “Death to Khamenei!” and “Death to Raisi!” heard on videos posted on social media.
On May 29, a cleric sent by the country’s president, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was shouted down as he tried to address mourners near the site of the collapse. He was heard to whisper to a bodyguard, “What’s happening?”, before trying to calm the crowd, which responded with cries of “Shameless!”, according to the Associated Press news agency. Again the police used force against the protestors and a number of videos show fights between police and demonstrators.
These do look like spontaneous demonstrations and it is difficult to deduce much from them. Of course, the rightwing opposition is keen to claim they are organising the protests. However, there is no reason to take such claims seriously. For all the publicity given to the odd slogan shouted by a handful of protestors, “Reza Shah, rouhat shad” (‘Reza Shah, god bless your soul’), the number of protestors supporting the man who ruled Iran from 1925-41 has been considerably exaggerated by two Persian-language broadcasters in particular: one paid and organised by Israel; and the other a branch of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s publicity machine.
One can only imagine the contempt within the Islamic Republic when anyone shows nostalgia for a military man who became shah via a British coup and was eventually then forced to abdicate from the throne because of his support of Hitler and the Nazis.
It is worth quoting the words of Howard Blum in relation to his Nazi connections:
Reza Shah had proudly said, whenever he got the chance, that his people were not lowly Semites like their Jewish or Arab neighbours, but pure-blooded Aryans - same as the Germans. He made sure the world got this message, too. In 1935 he issued a proclamation to the League of Nations that “henceforth” the country of Persia would be called Iran or “Home of the Aryans”.
In quick response, Germany bestowed their seal of racial purity on the kingdom: the pernicious Nuremberg Laws that had made anti-Semitism the law of the land were amended. Iranians, the Nazis’ racial nit-pickers formally adjudicated in 1936, were to be considered as Aryan as any full-blooded German.4
Of course, Reza Shah’s fascist supporters then and now fail to realise that this racist classification as ‘Aryan’, instigated by Hitler, was an opportunist act in order to dupe Iran’s ruler into support for Germany at the start of World War II.
There is, however, a growing reactionary rightwing movement in Iran, which, in opposition to the Islamic regime, has become anti-Arab, anti-Semite and pro-Aryan. True, it is disheartening to see sections of the opposition moving so far to the right. However, if you are governed by a state that over the last 43 years keeps telling you the world’s saviour is the 12th Shia Imam, who died hundreds of years ago but will come back on a white horse to save the world, you might resort to looking for other silly saviours yourself. So the blame for this slogan lies squarely with the Islamic Republic.
This bit of fake news led to Reza Pahlavi, the ex-shah’s son, making a live TV appearance, duly broadcast by a number of pro-western stations, ironically repeating almost word for word a speech given by Khomeini in the last weeks of the rule of Pahlavi’s father, when he told Iran’s security forces that the shah’s regime would not last long and they should refrain for opening fire on protestors. Of course, contrary to what the idiot, Reza Pahlavi, intimated, the situation is not quite the same as 1979. The shah’s military guards had no conviction, no ideology, while Khamenei’s Islamic guards will sacrifice their lives in the manner of previous martyrs. There is therefore a considerable difference between the end of the shah’s time and the current crisis - something our exiled playboy cannot understand.
Inevitably this stupid outburst helped ayatollah Khamenei, who repeated his false claims that protests in Iran are all “ploys by western powers”. As I have said, his comments came after weeks of demonstrations in most Iranian cities over the rising cost of basic foods, yet he keeps insisting that US sanctions are to blame for the soaring prices of basic foods in the country. There is no doubt some truth in this. However, endemic corruption and nepotism have played their parts in creating a society where the gap between the rich and poor is worse than almost every country in the Middle East and beyond. So, obviously, blaming western powers as the only cause of Iran’s economic problems is just a lie. Khamenei said in a televised address on June 4: “Today the enemy counts on popular demonstrations to strike the Islamic system.”
The enemy “hopes to turn the people against the Islamic Republic by psychological means, through the internet, money, and the mobilisation of mercenaries,” he added. “The Americans and the westerners made miscalculations in the past on various questions.” Moreover, “it’s a miscalculation that they think they can make the Iranian nation oppose the Islamic Republic.”
Of course, the supreme leader is suffering from a total delusion as always, presiding, as he does, over one of the most unequal societies on the planet, where the gap between rich and poor is extreme even by the standards of contemporary capitalism. Yet he still claims to be the Imam of the ‘poor and the disinherited’.
To the right
In all this what is obvious is the weakness of the left and the disastrous consequences of this disarray. The exiled left opposition has moved steadily to the right to such an extent that it dropped anti-imperialist slogans, allegedly because it was trying to distance itself from the regime and its opposition to the USA. This was, of course, a serious mistake, as the Islamic Republic of Iran has never been and is not anti-imperialist. Rather than sections of the left retreating from anti-imperialism, they should be exposing the regime’s empty anti-west slogans!
Now we have the bizarre situation where a radio station associated with one of the two Rahe Kargar factions is rejoicing about the reactionary slogans used by some demonstrators in Iran: “Doshman ma amrika nist - doshman hamin ja ast” (‘Our enemy is not the US - the enemy is here’). The reality is that the enemy remains global capitalism, imperialism - and, of course, the current regime. It is not a case of one or the other!
However, these days the situation is getting even worse. Sections of the so-called left seem not to want to mention anything against capitalism. It is as though it is only the Islamic Republic that is headed by a corrupt regime - as if other capitalist countries are above criticism. All this is part of a conscious (or at times unconscious) desire to join forces with anyone opposed to the Islamic Republic. In other words, they have learnt nothing from the failure of the broad fronts with Islamists at the time of the 1979 revolution. At that time they were not criticising Islam for fear of breaking the unity with the religious movement. Nowadays they are keeping quiet about the shah, capitalism, imperialism … If the first time was a tragedy, its repetition 43 years later is a comedy.
In this situation at times it is very difficult to see what can be done. What Hands Off the People of Iran has argued is that we should not exaggerate the potential of the current situation. Yes, the regime is in crisis, but the working class is very weak. Its struggles remain defensive - for unpaid wages, against job losses, etc. In the absence of a revolutionary alternative, unorganised street protests can easily be used by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc to further the possibility of reactionary regime change from above.
What we can and must do is to stick to basic principles, however unpopular this might be. We must continue explaining why Iran’s Islamic Republic was never anti-imperialist, but why anti-imperialism remains an absolutely essential part of revolutionary struggle.
We must keep emphasising the fact that the anti-working class policies of the regime stem from its absolute defence of ‘private property’ and exploitation - essential aspects of Islamic as well as non-Islamic capitalism. Moreover, another capitalist regime - be it pro-shah or supported by the loony Mujahedin-e-Khalq (the favourite alternative of Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo) or any other successor to the Islamic Republic imposed by the west - will not do any better than the current regime.
We have to keep reminding the idiotic, Islamophobic, Iranian left that the abolition of subsidies has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, not to mention the Islamic Republic’s intricate relations with these neoliberal economic institutions. In other words, we have no alternative but to adhere to basic slogans: the battle against capitalist states is inseparable from the struggle against imperialism.
Those on the Iranian left who do not want to accept such basic concepts are either opportunist, ignorant of basic facts - or both.