Rafsanjani, the western media’s mythical ‘moderate’ (& US approves huge uranium transfer to Iran)

January 09, 2017

* Associated Press exclusive published in the last few minutes: U.S. just approved “huge” uranium transfer from Russia to Iran -- enough for over 10 nuclear weapons.



1. A “moderate” who murdered
2. Known in Iran as “the Shark”
3. “Rafsanjani Was Iran’s Mythical ‘Moderate’” (By Sohrab Ahmari, Wall St Journal, Jan. 9, 2017)
4. “Obituary: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani” (The Times of London, Jan. 9, 2017)
5. “AP Exclusive: Diplomats: Iran to get natural uranium batch” (Jan. 9, 2017)




[Note by Tom Gross]

As I have pointed out before, the news pages of The Wall Street Journal – America’s highest circulation quality newspaper – can be almost as slanted in their coverage of the Middle East as The New York Times and many other media.

In a news alert (above) yesterday, The Wall Street Journal tells us that former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a dominant figure in Iran since the 1989 Islamic revolution, was a “leading moderate.” Today other media are also omitting Rafsanjani’s less moderate side.

In fact he was responsible for the deaths thousands of people in Iran, as well as playing a key role in ordering terror attacks including the murder of Holocaust survivors and other Jews at the Buenos Aires Jewish community center in 1994.

Argentine state prosecutor Alberto Nisman – himself murdered as he was about to reveal more information on the case – had issued an arrest warrant for Rafsanjani, who had met with Hizbullah operatives in the Iranian city of Mashad in 1993 and ordered them to carry out the murder of Argentinean Jews.

The resulting terror attack in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed and over 300 wounded, was the most lethal attack on Jewish civilians outside Israel since the Holocaust.

He also ordered a number of other terror attacks abroad against Americans and others.

Rafsanjani died without ever facing justice.

Rafsanjani was also an architect of Iran’s nuclear program and became the first senior Iranian to admit (in 2015) that the program was indeed for nuclear weapons.

In the past, Rafsanjani boasted to an American journalist that an Iranian nuclear attack would kill as many as five million Jews [a number which at the time represented virtually the entire Jewish population of Israel], whereas even if Israel retaliated in kind, Iran would probably lose only fifteen million people, which Rafsanjani said would be “a small sacrifice from among the billion Muslims in the world.”



None of the above information is mentioned in the New York Times Iran correspondent Thomas Erdbrink’s article about Rafsanjani following his death.

In contrast to the reports I have read elsewhere, the obituary of Rafsanjani in today’s Times (of London) doesn’t pretend he was a moderate.

The (London) Times calls him “a Machiavellian conspirator of many years’ experience” and adds:

“Rafsanjani was, at times, described as a moderate. He did not qualify for the description. His was a shrewd mind moulded by many years of conspiring. He manipulated and achieved a position of leadership in whichever political grouping seemed to be in the ascendant.”

The (London) Times also says:

“Known in Iran as ‘the Shark’, he was one of the architects of the removal of moderate politicians from power in the first two years after the revolution and bore heavy responsibility for the country’s slide towards repression at home and terrorism abroad.

(The full obituary is below.)


The Iranian regime’s Fars news agency says Rafsanjani will receive a state funeral tomorrow and schools, offices and governmental organizations will be closed for three days of national mourning.


In contrast to The Wall Street Journal news pages, the paper’s opinion pages are rather more robust, and below I attach a piece from today’s paper by Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian born writer at the Journal. (He is a longtime subscriber to this email list.)

-- Tom Gross



Rafsanjani Was Iran’s Mythical ‘Moderate’
Vain dreams of reform haven’t died with the Islamic Republic’s former president.
By Sohrab Ahmari
The Wall Street Journal
Jan. 9, 2017

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was the original Mr. Moderation. Western observers saw the former Iranian president as a sort of Deng Xiaoping in clerical robes: a founder of the Islamic Republic who was destined to transform the country into a normal state. Rafsanjani, they thought, was too corrupt to be an ideologue.

Yet Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at 82, consistently defied such hopes. His life and legacy remind us that fanaticism and venality aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a lesson in the persistence of Western fantasies about the Iranian regime.

Born to landed gentry in southeast Iran, Rafsanjani entered seminary at the holy city of Qom. There the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini adopted him as a protégé and revolutionary companion.

The totalitarian theocracy that replaced the Peacock Throne after the 1979 revolution was as much Rafsanjani’s creation as Khomeini’s. Khomeini provided the theological underpinnings for his model of absolute clerical rule. But it was Rafsanjani who fleshed out the ideas, as speaker of Parliament in the 1980s and president for much of the ‘90s.

Rafsanjani delivered the wake-up call to Iranian liberals and leftists, who still dreamt of sharing power with the Islamists. “Until we had our people in place,” he told one such liberal in 1981, “we were ready to tolerate [other] gentlemen on the stage.” But now the regime would brook no faction but those that followed the “Line of the Imam” – Khomeini. A decade of purges, prison rapes and executions followed.

Khomeini’s death in 1989 occasioned Rafsanjani’s worst political misstep. Thinking he could puppeteer events behind the scenes, Rafsanjani successfully promoted his archrival, Ali Khamenei, as the next supreme leader. But Mr. Khamenei, far more assertive than Rafsanjani had imagined, soon consolidated power.

The regime’s Western apologists framed that rivalry as a genuine ideological conflict between the “hard-line” Mr. Khamenei and the “pragmatic,” “moderate” Rafsanjani (along with others, such as current President Hassan Rouhani). President Obama’s nuclear deal was premised on the same fantasy: Rafsanjani had accumulated vast, ill-gotten wealth – here’s someone with whom we can do business.

Yet Rafsanjani never failed to follow the “Line of the Imam,” not least in foreign affairs. Khomeini turned terror into a plank of Iranian statecraft, and so it remained.

In 1992, during Rafsanjani’s presidency, Iranian operatives gunned down four dissidents at a Berlin restaurant. The “pragmatic” Rafsanjani regularly sat on a “Committee for Special Operations” that oversaw foreign assassinations, according to an Iranian intelligence officer who testified at a criminal trial in Germany.

Argentine prosecutors have marshaled evidence establishing the Rafsanjani government’s role in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, both in Buenos Aires. The two attacks killed more than 100 people.

The great pragmatist was also president when, in 1996, Iranian agents bombed Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. service members. And it was Rafsanjani who said in 2001: “If one day the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.”

Still the illusions die hard. Minutes after Rafsanjani’s death was announced, the New York Times’s Tehran correspondent tweeted that it “is a major blow to moderates and reformists in Iran.”



Obituary: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Calculating former president of Iran who took advantage of turbulence in the Middle East to become immensely rich and powerful
The Times (of London)
January 9, 2017

With the sole exception of his mentor, Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was the most powerful man in Iran after the Islamic revolution of 1979, and he went on to serve as president for eight years, from 1989 to 1997, though he lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election. Known in Iran as “the Shark”, he was one of the architects of the removal of moderate politicians from power in the first two years after the revolution and bore heavy responsibility for the country’s slide towards repression at home and terrorism abroad.

Although he became a close confidant of the country’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, he had moved in a more moderate and reformist direction in recent years, and he fell out with Khameini over the disputed elections of 2009.

A Machiavellian conspirator of many years’ experience, he had thrived in the lawlessness of the revolutionary period, his way to the top assisted by the heavy toll that terrorist opponents took of the new regime’s officialdom. Although he was closely identified with the country’s religious establishment he was eventually seen as a conservative pragmatist who was open to closer ties with the West.

He was a political survivor and an immensely skilful operator. The first president of the Islamic Republic, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr – a political enemy who he helped remove from power – remarked that Rafsanjani ingratiated himself with Khomeini by playing the court jester.

“He’s a man who makes people laugh,” Bani-Sadr said in 1989. “It’s a great art. He uses this to gain his objectives. He’s a political animal. He’s not brilliant as an organiser and he doesn’t have too many original ideas, but he’s a manipulator and he’s highly intelligent.’’ Rafsanjani often delivered the weekly sermon – more political than religious – at Friday prayer sessions at Tehran University. He would speak for hours without notes, clutching an automatic rifle and cracking jokes.

He was born in 1935 in the village of Behraman in the province of Rafsanjan on the fringe of the central Iranian desert into a family of relatively well-to-do peasants, owning orchards of pistachio nut trees. After a primary education in Rafsanjan, he was sent to the shrine city of Qom at the age of 14 to become a mullah.

Iran, which had until recently been occupied by Allied troops, was going through an unstable period with the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party and right-wing Muslim fundamentalists, the Islamic Fedayeen or Sacrificials, regularly assassinating politicians, scholars and journalists. Hashemi, as he was then known, became an admirer of the latter group, gravitating towards one of their mentors, Ayatollah Khomeini.

By that time, the Sacrificials had been broken up by the authorities and had given birth to a network of secret cells, which Hashemi joined in Qom after the bloody riots of 1963.

In 1964, Hashemi was conscripted into the army but deserted after only two months, claiming later that the police had planned to prosecute him for his clandestine activities. During Khomeini’s exile in Iraq until 1978 he spent a total of about four years in prison, partly for his association with the assassins of Hassan-Ali Mansour, the prime minister, and his support of the mujahidin urban guerrillas who had murdered several US military advisers. His part seems to have been confined to pamphleteering and strengthening the ideological commitment of the terrorists rather than taking direct action.

Outside prison, he went into partnership with fundamentalist merchants dealing in land and building houses for Tehran’s booming population when the economy flourished as oil prices rose in the 1960s and 1970s. The morality of his mercantile activities has been questioned by critics. He claimed that their main purpose was to forge stronger links with the merchant class in Tehran and the provinces; at any rate, from the relatively austere background of a desert village he rapidly became a wealthy man, and was thought to have become a dollar billionaire.

After the revolution and Khomeini’s triumphant return from exile in France, Hashemi, now known as Rafsanjani, was appointed by the Ayatollah to the Council of the Revolution. After the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, he joined the Supreme Defence Council, on which he served as the Speaker of the Islamic Majlis, or parliament, and, more importantly, as Khomeini’s personal representative. He had served his mentor well. As acting minister of the interior in 1979 he supervised the controversial plebiscite that restricted the nation’s choice to installing an Islamic republic or bringing back the monarchy. He also helped found the Islamic Republican Party, which forced the removal of the moderate prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan, and the liberal president, Bani-Sadr. He supported the invasion of the US embassy in November 1979 and the holding of 52 diplomats for 444 days.

An important factor in his subsequent rise was the disappearance from the scene of around 100 leading clerics and officials at the hands of a number of left-wing and Islamic guerrilla groups, mainly the mujahidin. Rafsanjani’s close identification with Khomeini enabled him as Speaker to build up the Majlis, or parliament, as the dominant organ of the state. For many years he was fireproof: even when his political enemies disclosed that he had conducted secret negotiations with Robert McFarlane, the former US national security adviser, he was not dismissed. Instead, some of his opponents were hanged for conspiracy.

His readiness to be named acting commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces in June 1988, when the country was suffering a string of seemingly irreversible setbacks in the war with Iraq, surprised observers who had come to know him as a sly, calculating man. As Khomeini seemed like he would fight to the end against Iraq, the suspicion was that Rafsanjani believed the Ayatollah would die soon, by which time he would be in a position to inherit his political powers.

He played a central role in the arms-for-hostages deal with the United States in 1985-86 – the Iran-Contra affair – and appeared vulnerable when his rivals tried to discredit him. Typically, he outmanoeuvred them all and came out on top. As president, Rafsanjani excluded radicals from the government and introduced economic liberalisation. In foreign policy he was a pragmatist, improving relations with Germany, France, Japan and the Soviet Union. But as the price of oil dropped, the economy suffered, inflation rose, and his popular vote declined steeply, though he was re-elected.

His role in supporting Iranian terrorism abroad led him into several controversies: the Argentinian government wanted to question him for his alleged role in the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people and injured hundreds. During a terror trial in Germany in 1997 he was accused of organising the murder of Iranian opposition activists in Europe.

After losing the 2005 election he became a vocal critic of Ahmadinejad, calling for political prisoners to be freed and for opposition parties to be given more freedom, as long as they operated within the constitution. Ahmadinejad accused him of corruption, a common accusation in Iran; he responded by complaining about the president’s “insults, lies and false allegations.”

His last years were spent as the head of Iran’s Expediency Council, which mediates between parliament and the influential Guardian Council. He was also a member of the Assembly of Experts, which appoints the supreme leader, but his bid for the presidency in 2013 was blocked.

In 1958 he married Effat Marashi, who survives him. For all his pre-eminence, two of his children attracted the regime’s attention for their activism. His daughter Faezeh Hashemi, an activist, politician and journalist, was arrested after addressing a rally and served six months in jail. His son Mehdi became head of the state-owned oil company, Gaz Iran. He was arrested in 2012 on charges of inciting unrest but was released a few months later.

Another son, Mohsen, became an engineer, and served as chief executive of the Tehran metro, as well as serving the government in an advisory capacity when his father was president. Yasser became a businessman running a successful import and export business in Tehran. Another daughter, Fatemah, went on to become head of Iran’s Women’s Solidarity Association.

Rafsanjani was, at times, described as a moderate. He did not qualify for the description. His was a shrewd mind moulded by many years of conspiring. He manipulated and achieved a position of leadership in whichever political grouping seemed to be in the ascendant.

(Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of Iran, was born on August 25, 1934. He died of a heart attack on January 8, 2017, aged 82)



AP Exclusive: Diplomats: Iran to get natural uranium batch
January 9, 2017


VIENNA (AP) — Iran is to receive a huge shipment of natural uranium from Russia to compensate it for exporting tons of reactor coolant, diplomats say, in a move approved by the outgoing U.S. administration and other governments seeking to keep Tehran committed to a landmark nuclear pact.

Two senior diplomats said the transfer recently agreed by the U.S. and five other world powers that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran foresees delivery of 116 metric tons (nearly 130 tons) of natural uranium. U.N. Security Council approval is needed but a formality, considering five of those powers are permanent Security Council members, they said.

Uranium can be enriched to levels ranging from reactor fuel or medical and research purposes to the core of an atomic bomb. Iran says it has no interest in such weapons and its activities are being closely monitored under the nuclear pact to make sure they remain peaceful.

Tehran already got a similar amount of natural uranium in 2015 as part of negotiations leading up to the nuclear deal, in a swap for enriched uranium it sent to Russia. But the new shipment will be the first such consignment since the deal came into force a year ago.

The diplomats, whose main focus is Iran’s nuclear program, demanded anonymity Monday because they are not allowed to discuss the program’s confidential details.

They spoke ahead of a meeting this week in Vienna of representatives of Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to review Iranian complaints that the U.S. was reneging on sanctions relief pledges included in the nuclear deal.

The natural uranium agreement comes at a sensitive time. With the incoming U.S. administration and many U.S. lawmakers already skeptical of how effective the nuclear deal is in keeping Iran’s nuclear program peaceful over the long term, they might view it as further evidence that Tehran is being given too many concessions.

The diplomats said any natural uranium transferred to Iran after the deal came into effect would be under strict surveillance by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency for 25 years after implementation of the deal.

They said Tehran has not said what it would do with the uranium but could choose to store it or turn it into low-enriched uranium and then export it for use as reactor fuel.

Despite present restrictions on its enrichment program, the amount of natural uranium is significant should Iran decide to keep it in storage, considering its potential uses once some limits on Tehran’s nuclear activities start to expire in less than a decade.

David Albright, whose Institute of Science and International Security often briefs U.S. lawmakers on Iran’s nuclear program, says the shipment could be enriched to enough weapons-grade uranium for more than 10 simple nuclear bombs, “depending on the efficiency of the enrichment process and the design of the nuclear weapon.”

The swap is in compensation for the 70 metric tons (77 tons) of heavy water exported by Iran to the United States, Russia and Oman since the nuclear agreement went into effect.

Heavy water is used to cool a type of reactor that produces more plutonium than reactors cooled by light water. Like enriched uranium, plutonium can be turned into the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.


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