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June 28, 2012

Iran VP Rahimi’s Hard Times and Anti-Semitism

While anti-Zionist rhetoric from Tehran has become all too common, a recent speech by Iranian vice president Mohammad Reza Rahimi seems to have hit a new low.  Going far beyond traditional anti-Zionist rhetoric, Rahimi’s anti-Semitic speech actually accused the holy text of Judaism of being responsible for the spread of illicit drugs around the globe. Beyond being deplorable (see NIAC’s statement condemning it here), it’s also truly bizarre.  Which begs the question: what is the calculus, if any, behind such inflammatory rhetoric?
Mohammad Reza Rahimi became the Vice President in September 2009 after the Supreme Leader dismissed Ahmadinejad’s first choice with a rare published handwritten note. That pick, Esfandiar Mashaei, is controversial for many reasons, but it was statement that “Iranians are friends of Israelis” that created controversy amongst some of the most hard-line conservatives.
Rahimi and Mashaei—who is now Ahmadinejad’s Chief of Staff—have been under withering attack since they were accused of heading a group that embezzled about $3 billion dollars, the largest case of financial embezzlement in Iran’s history. This scandal has intensified their internal conflict with their conservative political rivals—parliament members and supporters of the supreme leader—to the extent that some hardliners have called for their execution. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad has been severely weakened since he dismissed the Iranian Intelligence chief and challenged the supreme leader’s decision for his reassignment, a battle which he ultimately lost.
Rahimi’s rhetorical bomb is in line with Ahmadinejad’s overall confrontational approach and creates a harsh international reaction, especially from Israel. The effect of this is to get the divided conservatives to close ranks, at least temporarily, with Rahimi and the Ahmadinejad administration at large.
And in that way, Rahimi’s comments are for domestic use. With political competition likely to intensify towards the end of Ahmadinejad’s term, his administration would prefer for the moment to get along with, rather than confront, the other conservative camps. And what is more helpful for this purpose than playing up rhetoric against Israel?
That said, the sheer bizarreness of the accusations Rahimi makes about “Zionists” being behind the international drug trade raises the question of where Rahimi would get such a ludicrous idea.  The answer might just be in the mirror.
Corruption has been steadily increasing, and escalating sanctions on Iran have limited official trade and created a demand for large scale and organized smuggling operations. This paved the way for a systematic network of trafficking to be legitimized at high levels and to be integrated into the operations of governmental institutions.
This is something Rahimi is no doubt intimately familiar with, since he was appointed to head a committee tasked with bypassing sanctions. Yet smuggling activities go far beyond the authority of the committee. Most of the powerful institutions, including the IRGC, consider it a right to bypass the Iranian customs and border protection, and the lucrative side-business possibilities have created an atmosphere of competition.
One might remember the term “our smuggling brothers” used by Ahmadinejad to reproach IRGC commanders and his political rivals. During a speech in a conference about “modern ways of preventing and fighting the smuggling of goods and currencies,” Ahmadinejad complained about the multiplicity of autonomous institutions operating beyond the authority of customs and border protection. Referring to the multibillion dollar annual consumption of cigarettes, he indicated that this would even lure top international smugglers (traffickers), not to mention Iran’s “smuggling brothers.” Clearly, competition for such a lucrative enterprise is not welcome!
Heading the biggest official trafficking network as the Vice President of Iran, Rahimi might well envision himself to be in a state of competition with an international counterpart. Perhaps one can see, then, why Rahimi would project such bizarre machinations on Zionist phantoms.

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