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The Myth of Rafsanjani

Reuel Marc Gerecht
9th January 2017 - Quoted by Jenna Lifhits - The Weekly Standard

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a so-called Iranian moderate and pragmatist, died Sunday at 82.

For a picture of the cleric, who served as president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, read these excerpts from pieces over the years by Weekly Standard contributing editor Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, … is in the West probably the most misunderstood cleric in the Islamic Republic. For the Europeans, and some in the Bush administration, Rafsanjani was the white-turbaned hope, the realpolitician-pragmatist who would save the West from a showdown over Iran's nuclear-weapons program. In reality, he is the true father of Iran's nuclear-bomb program, an overlord for the Iranian terrorism that struck Europe in the 1980s and '90s, and quite possibly one of the dark princes behind the domestic assassination campaign of Iranian liberals that began in the late 1990s. Concerning Israel, Rafsanjani has never given any indication that he differs with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group Rafsanjani has always supported: Israelis are best when dead.

On Rafsanjani and the long line of Iran's "Make-Believe Moderates:"

Hassan Rouhani and his former mentor, the clerical major-domo Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, liberalized Iran's economy in the 1990s when Rafsanjani was president and the de facto co-equal of Ali Khamenei, whom he had elevated to supreme leader in 1989 upon Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death. Rafsanjani eased up a bit on cultural expression and didn't blow a gasket when middle-class and affluent Iranian women started to add a bit of color to their clothing and push back the scarves covering their hair. Rafsanjani made a personal pitch to successful Iranian expatriates to come home and invest. Rafsanjani and his aide-de-camp Rouhani especially tried to attract European money to Iran. As Rouhani put it in 1994, "Because of the fierce competition between Europe and the United States, we must expand our relations with Europe and counter America's conspiracy." The two clerics tried—and failed—to check the growing economic and political power of the Revolutionary Guards.

However, Rafsanjani, with Khamenei, could come down brutally on those who politically or culturally pushed the envelope too far. Many intellectuals, at home and abroad, were assassinated during Rafsanjani's presidency by officers and agents of the ministry of intelligence. Rafsanjani and Rouhani, who'd been the driving forces behind that ministry's creation and had men closely aligned with them serving in its highest ranks, were unquestionably culpable for this terrorism, as they were also undoubtedly "in" on the attack at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which left 19 Americans dead and 372 wounded. Some Iranian students believed that Mohammad Khatami, a complicated cleric who sincerely wrestled with the collision of Western and Islamic ideas, would usher in an age of reform after he succeeded Rafsanjani in 1997; Rouhani's deeply felt antipathy toward them exploded during the 1999 student protests. Rouhani, then secretary of the supreme national security council, gave a firebreathing speech threatening the students with death.

Read more here.

Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the former major-domo of political clerics and repeatedly the savior of the Islamic Revolution during its early dark days, is a volcano of words. No mullah has reflected more openly and proudly upon Iran's and his (the two are often inseparable) Islamic destiny. Rafsanjani—who more than any other man mentored Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani—has a hard time hiding his greatest accomplishments. He let us know in his never-ending autobiography that the Islamic Republic had blown the Americans out of Beirut in 1983 and that he, not Ayatollah Khomeini, was the driving force behind the fateful decision to keep the war against Saddam Hussein (1980-88) going after the Iranians had ejected the Iraqis from Persian soil in 1982.

Read more here.

On Rafsanjani and the Jews:

Rafsanjani gave so many speeches in the 1980s and 1990s that he has provided us with a marvelous map to an über-pragmatic revolutionary cleric's tactical and strategic sentiments. Much more fulsomely than the Holocaust-denying former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ever could, he has shown us how upper-class clerics see Jews dominating the United States and the West. Listen to Ahmadinejad talk about Jews and one hears a devout Shiite populist, whose worldview was formed on the street and on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war. Listen to Rafsanjani talk about Jews, and one hears a sophisticated mullah: He's Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer on speed.

Read more here.

Rafsanjani, whom Washington foreign-policy types have usually viewed approvingly, gave a few speeches in 1983 and 1984 about the Jewish contribution to Western imperialism. He described the creation of Israel as "a united conspiracy against Islam" which the Jews still lead. Understanding the aggression and nefariousness of the United States, he said, isn't possible without first understanding the role of Jews within America—their success at capitalism and their power within the media. The Iran-Iraq war, the most searing near-death experience for the founding fathers of the Iranian revolution, couldn't have happened without Jewish-controlled America giving the green light to Saddam and his financiers in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Jews were thus responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranians. For Rafsanjani, Jews have a dark, centripetal eminence. For Khamenei, a man of fewer words, it's much simpler and more explicitly religious. When he describes Israel as an "enemy of God," he means exactly that. His Revolutionary Guards continuously rail against nefarious Jewish power.

Read more here.

On Rafsanjani's push for nukes:

[Rouhani] was at Rafsanjani's side after Saddam Hussein had been defanged by the Americans in the first Gulf war, when Rafsanjani, then Iran's president, decided to fund seriously the clandestine effort to build nuclear weapons. The United States, not Saddam's Iraq, was now the primary concern. It was Rafsanjani, with Rouhani beside him behind the scenes, who drove nuclear research in the 1990s. The United States and other Western allies have enjoyed detailed intelligence from Iranian defectors from the nuclear program. There was never any question about the Islamic Republic's atomic intentions. The Iranians were after a nuke, and we knew it, and they knew we knew it.

Read more here.

When Rafsanjani became president in 1989, his key foreign policy was expanding trade relations with Western Europe, a step critical to the Islamic Republic's nuclear aspirations. European imports—especially dual-use items—allowed the then-clandestine atomic program to begin in earnest.

Read more here.


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iran, rafsanjani