In recent months, Iranian officials have scrambled over numerous crises such as sanctions, economic dilemmas, international isolation, and the coronavirus outbreak. Following the death of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was the father of Iran’s nuclear bomb-making projects, confusion has engulfed the entire regime. In other words, Fakhrizadeh’s loss has rubbed salt into the officials’ wounds, intensifying political rivalries.
Confused Reactions to Fakhrizadeh’s Death
Confusing reactions to the death of the top nuclear scientist began from the first hours after the event. The Spokesperson of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Behrouz Kamalvandi immediately rejected Fakhrizadeh’s death. “All nuclear scientists are healthy,” he claimed.
However, the Armed Forces Staff later confirmed the scientist’s death. Afterward, intelligence and security agents provided different scenarios about the operation. Their contradictory and bizarre tales even prompted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s mouthpiece Ali Akbar Raefipour to criticize the state-run television.
“Now, two days after the incident, the people still do not know if there was firstly an exchange of fire, then an explosion, or vice versa? Everyone tells a separate story. Until when must we lose the first narrate? When we see the TV Channels, Channel One shows nonsense. Channel Two shows worse nonsense. The same goes for Channel Three … The News Channel, as its name shows, just sets subtitles on videos and broadcasts… There is no coordination, and you are not ever ready,” Khabar Four website quoted Raefipour as saying on December 1.
The mayhem that Raefipour mentioned is seen in other state-run media reports and officials’ remarks. For instance, in its November 28 edition, Keyhan daily affiliated to the Supreme Leader’s Office demanded a direct response to Israel. This is while the Israeli government neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the operation.
On November 29, Keyhan editorial chief Hossein Shariatmadari, who directly echoes Khamenei’s opinions, went further and called for a missile attack on Haifa port and civilians’ massacre.
“Really, we [should] attack the important coastal city of Haifa as strong as our attack, accompanied with severe human casualties in addition to the destruction of facilities, until we reach the assurance point of our deterrence power,” Keyhan wrote in its editorial.
On the other hand, dailies run by so-called moderate factions beat the drum of patience, silence, and restraint. They express their concerns over jeopardizing nuclear negotiations in the case of a missile response. Other media outlets also reiterated these positions due to their proximity to ‘moderates’ or ‘conservatives.’
Amplification of Political Rivalries Due to Fakhrizadeh’s Death
The regime’s cyber army also trended harsh revenge on social media apps. They not only slammed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani for their role in negotiations but also blamed commanders of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and even its commander-in-chief Hossein Salami, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and other iconic figures. Several cyber agents also suggested assaults on Saudi Arabia and Tirana—the capital of Albania where members of the regime’s sworn enemy, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI), reside.
Also, Iranian citizens mocked Khamenei’s baseless claims, questioning, “Mr. Islamic Republic! What happened to ‘harsh revenge,’ and the claims of ‘authority’ or ‘they will be hit ten times if they strike?’”
Moreover, the Parliament (Majlis) revolted against Khamenei’s recommendations, and furious MPs passed a double-urgent plan to terminate the 2015 Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Meanwhile, MPs recognized defending the JCPOA as a crime, approving 25-year imprisonment as a sentence for the deal’s defenders, according to Khabar Fouri.
Notably, Khamenei previously recommended that MPs cease tensions with the Rouhani administration while several MPs raised a plan for impeaching the President. At the time, the chair of the Foreign Policy and National Security Commission Mojtaba Zonnour threatened Rouhani with the death penalty. “You [Rouhani] deserve to be executed 1,000 times for what you have done,” he said in a Majlis public session.
In response, Zarif revealed that several MPs linked to Khamenei’s faction secretly sent a signal to US Presidential incumbent Joe Biden’s team. They stated that although they consider defending the JCPOA as a crime, “some are giving coordinates to the U.S., saying, ‘You can work with us better!’” ILNA news agency cited Zarif as saying on November 29.
Outside the Majlis, Khamenei’s loyalists say that “Rouhani’s allies gave Fakhrizadeh’s address to the U.S. and Israel.” However, they have yet to know or agree on who had killed the IRGC scientist. Khamenei’s faction also described ‘moderates’ as ‘traders of assassination’ or ‘traders of sanctions.’
Tehran’s Stalemate Over Scientist’s Death
These facts show a stalemate and Iranian officials’ weakness in dealing with it. In fact, if the regime pulls out of the JCPOA, it would pave the path for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to designate Iran under Article 7. The article permits the UNSC to impose economic pressures and even consider a military attack to curb Iran’s nuclear weapon projects.
Simply, this scenario would blow up the regime’s vision of renegotiating with the U.S. incoming administration in the hopes of ceasing economic pressures. Furthermore, it would push the remaining JCPOA signatories to pressure the regime, holding it accountable for its international obligations.
On the other hand, if the regime does nothing, it would pave the path for giving more concessions, particularly over its ballistic missile program, regional expansionism, and human rights violations. In summary, all political rivalries are rooted in this inherent truth that the regime’s strategic reserves are depleted, and it has no option but to acquiesce to the international community’s demands. This is synonymous with more social objections and protests at home.