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Persia House, Booz Allen Hamilton’s Iran shop, has the following analysis in its latest policy brief:
Two recent developments, while not obviously related, may in fact have significant implications down the road for the Islamic Republic.
First, the velvet revolution. Based on recent statements by IRGC Commander Jafari and Basij Commander Hossein Ta’eb, it is very clear that the regime is actively shifting its priorities and resources from defending primarily against external “hard threats” to defending against “soft threats.” Long aware of the threat posed by the soft power of the West—and the United States in particular—Iran’s leadership appears to have realized the extent to which western technology and influence are already impacting Iranian society. As a result, the regime is taking steps to roll these back, including pulling the opposition out by its roots so that it has no chance to grow back. The detention and trial of a host of well known, but second tier, opposition figures may be simply the first salvo in an ongoing assault on the opposition leadership. Further, the alleged threat of a velvet revolution provides certain regime elements with a virtual blank check to enact even harsher measures. For example, given the key role played by the press, the internet and new forms of communication (YouTube, Twitter, etc), it will be very interesting to see whether the regime puts in place additional restrictions in these areas in a further attempt to restrict interaction with the outside world.

A second development is the unexpected purge within the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS). Coupled with the placement of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) notable at the ministry’s helm (as we noted in Persia House News Brief 27, dated August 4, 2009), this indicates that Ahmadinejad’s agenda is broader than simply silencing the overt political opposition. Rather, he appears intent on reshaping elements of the internal checks and balances—such as the separation between the IRGC and MOIS—that have characterized the Islamic Republic since its inception.
What makes this action particularly noteworthy is that those senior MOIS officers removed appear not to have been targeted as a result of being opponents of the Revolution, or in any way enemies of the state, but because they are not sufficiently loyal to Ahmadinejad himself. It is unlikely that Ahmadinejad would have made such significant changes without the approval of Supreme Leader Khamenei, which indicates that the latter was also unhappy with aspects of their performance. Regardless, this will almost certainly raise tensions within the regime to a new level. These senior MOIS officers are hardened veterans of the Iranian security apparatus, with extensive and highly organized personal networks within the MOIS and throughout the government—resources they can bring to bear, politically or otherwise, against the President. A key question, therefore, will be whether these groups are willing to simply go quietly into the night or if they are prepared to resist this loss of prestige, power and perhaps eventually, more.

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