Some insights into Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei

Prof. Oded Brosh, at lectern, completes his lecture as Bill Sperling, president of the Tifereth Israel Synagogue Men’s Club, listens

Story by Donald H. Harrison; Photo by Shor M. Masori

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – There are four factoids about Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that discreet Iranians never talk about, certainly not in public, according to Oded Brosh, a former analyst in Israel’s prime minister’s office who now is serving as a visiting professor at San Diego State University.

First, Khamenei was born in Mashdad, the second largest city in Iran, where the population is said to be more extreme in their pursuit of the Iranian Revolution than citizens in the capital of Teheran or other parts of the country.

Second, Brosh told a forum sponsored by the Tifereth Israel Synagogue Men’s Club, Kamenei was not chosen from the ayatollah class; he was elevated from a class one step below known as the “wise men of Shi’a.” Among other ayatollahs, the reaction to Khamenei’s elevation to Supreme Leader was akin to the way professors with doctorates might feel if someone with only a master’s degree were appointed as a full professor.

Third, Brosh said on Thursday evening Dec. 22, Khamenei’s mother was an Azeri–a member of the ethnic group that populates neighboring Azerbaijan—and so the Supreme Leader cannot be considered “a full blooded Persian.”

Finally, Khamenei suffers from prostate cancer, which is a slow developing disease but which may, in time, require him to step down. Khamenei will turn 78 on July 16.

While the main thrust of Brosh’s lecture was, in an even-handed way, to outline the pros and cons concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran nuclear agreement, he sprinkled his lecture with enjoyable tidbits about world leaders.

For example, he said, while engaged in his post-doctoral research, he had the chance to interview at his Georgia home former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who served as America’s top diplomat under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Rusk was a heavy smoker who had the knack of letting his cigarette burn into a long ash, which he never flicked into an ash tray. Interviewing Rusk was difficult, Brosh admitted, because he was distracted by the ash that never fell. He kept waiting for it to drop off the cigarette.

The visiting professor said that notwithstanding the four “unmentionable” facts about Khamenei, he is indeed the Supreme Leader of Iran, who has been able to play off the hard-liners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard against such “moderates” as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohamad Zarif, who negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement.

Khamenei also plays the moderates off against each other. Although Rouhani is the president of Iran, it is Zarif who is said to have a direct line to Khamenei. Zarif often speaks to the Supreme Leader without first going through Rouhani, according to Brosh.

The professor said those who believe JCPOA was a good deal point to the fact that Iran has given up its known nuclear weapon activities for 15 years, and has promised never to produce nuclear weapons in the future. As part of that process, it destroyed 25,000 of its 30,000 centrifuges; shipped its uranium to Russia, and agreed to on-site nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. He paraphrased U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as saying that whereas Iran was only one month away from producing a nuclear bomb before the agreement, now if it should decide to violate the agreement, it is a full year away from being able to do so.

Brosh said that intelligence gathered by the United States, Israel and Great Britain on Iran’s doings is so refined that “a dog could not sneeze in Iran without someone hearing it.”

In return for giving up its nuclear capacity for 15 years, Iran essentially was “bribed” with access to billions of dollars in frozen assets, and the removal of oil sanctions, which together will mean trillions of dollars to Iran’s economy over 15 years, according to Brosh. Additionally Iran will be able to buy various items of mixed civilian and military importance such as airliners, computers, cyber systems, and software. After five years it will be able to buy any weapons it wants. After eight years, it will be able to purchase state of the art missile technology. In nine years, it can again purchase advanced centrifuges, and in 11 years will be able to purchase centrifuges with rotors.

When 15 years are up, Brosh noted, Iran will be allowed to do everything.

While 15 years may seem like a long time, over the course of history it is quite short. According to critics, over the 15 years, Iran will become invulnerable to attacks, and will have daunting retaliatory capabilities. This will enable it to potentially intimidate its neighbors, bending them to its will. In the critics’ view, Iran will become too powerful.

Those favoring the deal have suggested that with time, Iran may become less extreme in its pursuit of radical Shi’ite ideology. Another possibility is that they can be persuaded to extend the 15-year agreement, given all the economic benefits an international accord has brought to Iran.

But, according to critics, that would require world powers to bribe Iran again.

Brosh declined to say which side of the argument he thought was correct, adding that his purpose was to outline the scope of the arguments.

Asked how as an Israeli, he was able to access so much information about Iran, he said one of his prime sources was the IAEA which regularly issues comprehensive reports based not only on its on-site research but also on information provided by countries like the U.S., Israel and Britain that closely monitor Iran.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has expressed his opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, but except to withdraw and maybe persuade other signatories such as Great Britain to withdraw, there doesn’t seem to be too much that Trump could do, according to Brosh. He noted that neither the Iranians, nor the Russians, nor the Chinese, who also are signatories, are likely to back out of the agreement.

Further, he noted, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired Gen. James Mattis, has spoken out in favor of the agreement.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted via [email protected]

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One Response to “Some insights into Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei”

  1. J.J. Surbeck says:

    I was there and although I agree that the speaker gave a fairly balanced presentation on the facts at hand, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he also believes the JCPOA is a good deal, when it is in fact the most dangerous agreement ever supported in our time by a sitting US president. He seemed to make light in particular of Iranian violations, indicating surprising faith in their willingness to honor the terms of the agreement. Here is a counter-point to this rosy picture in Commentary Magazine: .


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