Back With a Vengeance

A hard-line crackdown on reformists in Iran gives a glimpse into the country’s future.
From the March 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

Iran’s conservative religious leader, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, was one of the first to congratulate the country’s new president, Mohammad Khatami, after his landslide victory in May of 1997. “A shining turning point has appeared in our history,” the Ayatollah gushed.

By some measures, it looked like an era of more moderation for the country. Running on promises of increased personal freedoms, human rights and democracy, Khatami had won nearly 70 percent of the vote. He proved particularly popular among youth and women—a great part of the electorate (70 percent of Iran’s population is under age 30). Many people, including the reformers, believed that all that was needed to really change Iran was to vote a reformist majority into the legislature.

But just after they won a huge 70 percent victory in the February 2000 parliamentary elections, a close presidential aid and chief strategist for the reformers, Saeed Hajarian, was shot, in what was widely considered a political assassination. Shortly afterward, conservatives shut down over 20 reformist publications and journals, and imprisoned many of its journalists and reformist clerics. In August, just as the new parliament (called the Majlis) was prepared to amend a law restricting the press, Khamenei stunned the country when, at the last minute, he had a letter read before the Majlis ordering the measure to be killed.

“The hard-liners have come back with a vengeance,” said Patrick Clawson, research director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on January 16.

Iran is a theocratic republic. That means the religious leaders hold ultimate power. Under Iranian law, the Ayatollah can override the president on any action he wishes to. Any bill ratified by the Majlis can be overturned by the 12-member clerical Guardian Council if it deems the bill to be in violation of religious law. Last year the council scrapped 40 percent of the parliament’s decisions (one of the latest of which, as an example, would have freed Iranian women to travel abroad for study without permission from their fathers or husbands).

The judicial branch of the government is also mostly controlled by conservatives intent on punishing any behavior they consider un-Islamic. In addition to Islamic leaders heading the revolutionary court, the Tehran Justice Department and the special court for the clergy, the most hard-line of conservatives make up the greater part of Khamenei’s inner circle of advisers.

As Seyed Mohammadreza Khatami, the president’s brother and secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, said, “Even though the conservatives have lost 80 percent of the elective seats of the government, they still control 80 percent of the levers of power.”

As we will see, given Iran’s objectives within the Middle East, there is every reason to be alarmed by this conservative backlash.

The Ganji Incident

One recent incident illustrates the firm grip the conservative establishment has on Iranian politics.

A major slap at the reform movement came in January when the revolutionary court jailed at least seven leading reformists and ordered another to be executed for participating in a conference on Iran’s political liberalization in Berlin last April. Among the dissidents was Akbar Ganji, a prominent investigative journalist who had exposed death-squad killings of other journalists and critics. He was handed a ten-year sentence.

When a reporter for the International Herald Tribune, Geneive Abdo, smuggled questions to him in prison and published the answers, she too was threatened with severe punishment. She quickly fled the country with her husband, Jonathan Lyons, Reuters’ Iran bureau chief. Reuters permanently withdrew Mr. Lyons from Iran, saying, “The safety and security of our correspondents is a prime concern, and we did not feel we had the guarantees we needed of Lyons’s continued well-being in Tehran.”

Reporting on the situation, Ms. Abdo explained that it was not the conservatives, but Khatami’s government that was most critical of her story, wherein Mr. Ganji expressed some radical sentiments. Because the story exposed the whole reform movement to censure from the conservative establishment, and because Ganji was already a confirmed reformist hero, allies of President Khatami chose instead to discredit the reporter responsible for releasing the information. “In other words,” Ms. Abdo wrote, “a reform movement built on a platform of free expression and overseen by a philosopher-president would prefer to jail accredited Western journalists than to surrender any control over the political process. The reformist slogans of ‘pluralism’ and ‘civil society’ are little more than weapons to be turned against one’s rivals” (International Herald Tribune, Feb. 5).

Ms. Abdo concluded, “Mr. Khatami’s landslide election nearly four years ago ushered in a climate of promise and hope…. Instead, Mr. Khatami has done more to preserve the system established by the Islamic Revolution than any conservative politician could have hoped to do” (ibid.).

A shining turning point in Iran’s history, indeed.

Uniting Enemies

When Mr. Khatami was elected, the Trumpet wrote this:”Is it possible that Khatami could end up relegated to a mere figurehead in Iranian politics? Khatami’s victory could give Khamenei, the radical religious head, even more power than before” (July 1997, p. 28). Time is proving that analysis correct.

Mr. Khatami is being pressured by the conservatives and opponents of the current reformist agenda to withdraw from the upcoming May election. They say the reformers have reached a dead end. If Khatami does withdraw, an Islamic conservative is sure to assume his office. It would essentially render impotent most of what the reformists have worked to achieve over the past several years. Certainly the religious backbone of Iran is stiffening.

The U.S. in particular is disturbed by these developments. Dialogue between the two countries has been strained since the 1979 Islamic revolution ousted the pro-American Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, and formal ties were broken during the 1980 Iran hostage crisis. For years the U.S. has accused Iran of sponsoring international terrorism and has tried to isolate Iran diplomatically and economically.

Khatami’s election cast a ray of hope on improved relations. It is becoming ever clearer that those hopes were naïve. As much as the U.S. wants a better relationship with Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly said that such ties would be like forcing a friendship between the wolf and the sheep. The U.S. is brazenly considered by the conservative element within Iran to be “the Great Satan.”

Not a good basis for a friendship.

The Bible identifies an end-time Middle Eastern power as “the king of the south” (Dan. 11:40)—likely an international coalition of nations dominated by one in particular. It is true that Middle Easterners are not known for their unity. But the one thing that can bind these peoples together in purpose, if only briefly, as they fulfill their fated role in the unfolding of prophetic events, is the glue of religion—specifically, radical Islam!

The fact that the Islamic conservatives in Iran are strengthening their grip on the country at this time is not coincidental.

The Middle East is seething right now, particularly with the war over rights to the land of Israel making headlines. At the heart of this dispute is religion. The Palestinians have the support—to this point, substantially vocal—of all the surrounding countries except Turkey. Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein has gone so far as to pay out $10,000 to the family of any Palestinian “martyred” by Israelis in the conflict. He has called upon the surrounding nations to unite against foreign influence and to “liberate” Palestinian land from “the Jordan River to the sea.”

Although they have been sworn enemies in recent times, Iran and Iraq share the goal of Islamic peoples taking control of Israel and conquering Jerusalem. Religiously, they are actually more akin to one another than they are to virtually anyone else in the region. While most of the Arab nations are dominated by Sunni Muslims, the majority in Iraq are Shiite—the same branch of Islam that makes up almost 90 percent of Iran’s populace. With the Israel situation fomenting, their common enemy is driving these countries together.

Prophecy strongly indicates that Iraq will unite with Iran. Iran will emerge as the premier power of the two. Our free booklet The King of the South explains this likelihood in detail.

Such an explosive event would fall right into place with Iran’s enduring aim for command of the Mideast.

Premier Power

Iran’s long-held objective, stretching back to even before the 1979 revolution, is to become the undisputed leader in the region. Many Iranians are convinced of their country’s natural dominance—even over their strong, oil-rich neighbors Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

A major reason for this attitude could be race. A majority of Iranians are Persian, not Arab, which is the predominant race in most other Mideast countries. In the minds of many Persians, and even Arabs, there is a native superiority in the Persian race; it is perceived as being a more honorable, noble, even aristocratic, bloodline. Call a Persian Iranian an Arab, and you are sure to be sternly corrected.

But whatever its reasons, Iran seeks to exert its supremacy—largely through aggressive and ambitious military development. Regionally speaking, it trails only Egypt in the size of its army (10.5 million soldiers, with over 800,000 more reaching military age annually), but it outranks Egypt in military expenditures, which are climbing toward $6 billion a year.

Iran’s weapons program is of enormous concern to the U.S.—particularly the long-standing reports of its procurement and development of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

As early as 1992, a top-secret report from Russia’s intelligence agency sent to the cia revealed that Iran had acquired missing nuclear warheads from a closed Kazakhstani base. But it wasn’t only former Soviet weapons and weapons-usable nuclear material that Iran was getting its hands on—they were also actively recruiting former Soviet atomic scientists. China has also supplied the Iranians with nuclear technology.

It is clear Iran wants its own production capability. Under the guise of creating a civilian energy program, it is pushing to bring home whole facilities, like uranium-conversion facilities—spending far more annually on nuclear hardware than would be required for mere domestic energy production.

Iran also has several thousand tons of chemical agents stockpiled, including blister, blood and choking agents. According to testimony by Leonard Spector before the House International Relations Committee in 1996, it is capable of producing an additional thousand tons of these agents every year. And, in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention it signed, Iran has had a biological warfare program for almost two decades, beginning back during the Iran-Iraq war.

For delivery of these deadly materials, Iran has artillery mortars, rockets, aerial bombs and Scud warheads—many also delivered from former Soviet countries, China and North Korea. Iran is now working hard to become self-sufficient in its missile production. July 15, 2000, Iran announced a successful test of its own Shahab-3 missile, which has a range of over 800 miles. The defense minister has publicly mentioned plans for an even longer-range missile.

In September 2000, Robert Walpole, a National Intelligence Council official, told the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on proliferation that “The probability that a missile with a weapon of mass destruction would be used against U.S. forces or interests is higher today than during most of the cold war, and will continue to grow.”

In other words, in the hands of a country like Iran, this terrifying arsenal won’t sit idle for long.

Iran’s Future

What does it mean that these weapons of mass destruction are at the disposal of Iran’s radical Islamic establishment? In the short term, it portends disaster for the little nation of Israel. It will be increasingly isolated by a uniting front of Muslim-driven enemies. Iran will push its way to the forefront of this bullying effort. Its brashness and confidence as a real force in the region and worldwide will continue to grow.

What happens next will shock everyone who witnesses it! All the conflict that has shaken this bloodied land from the dawn of civilization to the present street warfare will seem tame compared to the chaotic conflagration that will soon engulf the region! And that terrible war will shortly thereafter spread worldwide—not a man, woman or child will escape it without God’s protection!

Your Bible prophesies in detail what is to happen to the Iran-led king of the south—and what the ultimate fate will be of the Middle East. You need our booklet The King of the South to educate yourself on what to watch for in the months and years ahead—and to prepare yourself for when it comes.