We now know that the Iran's "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei is ready to take bread away from Iranians so that he can continue fattening Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and scores of other "for sale" personalities across the world. Pictured: Khamenei meets with Nasrallah, head of Lebanon's Hezbollah terrorist organization. (Image source: khamenei.ir)
"The greatest achievement of Imam Khomeini's Islamic Revolution!"
This is how the daily Kayhan in Tehran, believed to reflect the views of "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, describes what it labels a "Resistance Front" led by Iran.
The paper's editorial does not say why it needs to raise the controversial issue at this time. One possible reason may be a behind-the-scenes debate about the need for reviewing a policy that has cost Iran billions of dollars over the past decades.
With Tehran facing a serious liquidity problem, the administration of then President Hassan Rouhani proposed to cut the "resistance" budget by around 10 percent in the next Iranian year starting March 2022. Such a cut would have affected the various members of the "front", that is to say, the Assad regime in Damascus, the Houthi faction in Yemen, the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, Hashd al-Shaabi and other Shiite militias in Iraq, plus the Afghan Hazara Fatimiyoun fighters, at a time that, according to Kayhan, they are all under pressure.
The editorial indicates that the debate has ended with the victory of those opposed to reducing the cash flow to Tehran's regional "allies".
"Creating and maintaining the Resistance Front is the best investment that the Islamic Republic has made," the paper asserts.
The new administration of President Ebrahim Raisi has rearranged the budget to prevent any cuts in "resistance funding" which is handled by the Quds Force, led by Major-General Ismail Qaani.
There is little doubt that the ultimate decision-maker, as in most other cases, was the "Supreme Guide", who believes that the survival of his regime depends on the survival of the network that the late General Qassem Soleimani created.
The editorial quotes Khamenei as saying: "The Quds Force isn't just a military, security, intelligence, diplomatic, economic, or public service force, but all of them at once."
In other words, the Quds Force is an intra-national government for "Resistance Front" countries that is to say Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and, to be sure, Iran itself.
The paper revives the old idea of creating what it calls an "institution" to supervise the governance of the countries concerned under Iranian leadership. It mentions the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as possible models.
It was in that spirit that the late Gen. Soleimani deployed units of his Iraqi militia to the Iranian province of Khuzestan during a massive flooding crisis that could have led to anti-regime revolts. The Quds Force has also been training an unknown number of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in speaking Persian for possible deployment, when and if needed, to protect the regime against revolts inside Iran.
Researcher Reza Mohammedi suggests that Khamenei regards Hezbollah as his Praetorian Guard, ready to kill and die for him even if he is abandoned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Baseej militia.
This may be an exaggeration, but the Kayhan editorial says that without the "Resistance Front" there would be no Iran and, of course, no Iraq, no Syria, no Lebanon, and no Yemen. Control of the four Arab countries is vital for protecting the Islamic Revolution.
It also boasts that "no one has quit the Resistance Front or joined the other side."
It does not say what "the other side" is. The American "Great Satan" and the Israeli "Little Satan" are obvious targets. But the editorial quotes the late Khomeini as airing much bigger ambitions: "We must create a global party of the mustadhafin [dispossessed] and offer a third way to all mankind between East and West."
It is on that basis that the Islamic Republic has forged alliances with numerous non-Muslim groups in all continents, mostly on the left.
In that context, Tehran has been pumping cash and weapons into regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua and, until recently, Zimbabwe. It has also been in alliance with anti-war groups in Europe and North America while funding numerous non-Muslim politicians and celebrities across the Middle East.
Non-Shiite Palestinian outfits such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have also been on the payroll of the "Resistance Front" for decades.
With the Islamic Republic facing its worst financial crisis, one might have thought that the budget cut suggested by Rouhani for "exporting revolution" would have sailed through without opposition.
However, we now know that the" Supreme Guide" is ready to take bread away from Iranians so that he can continue fattening Bashar al-Assad, Hassan Nasrallah and scores of other "for sale" personalities across the world.
To be able to do that, Khamenei is counting on US President Joe Biden to ease some of the sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump.
A 35-page proposal presented by Iranian negotiators earlier this month at Vienna talks with the P5+1 group spells out Tehran's need for cash in some detail.
This is based on a formula initially suggested by then Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif in talks with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian almost three years ago. Zarif estimated that Tehran needed a minimum of $60 billion a year to pay its military and security personnel, keep the "Resistance Front" afloat and continue "exporting revolution".
At the time, Khamenei dismissed the formula as a trick by Zarif's "New York Boys" to weaken the "Resistance Front". He has now adopted it as core policy in the Vienna talks while the Raisi team multiplies signs that more concessions may be offered later.
Khamenei demands that the P5+1 deposit $3 billion a month in a German bank and another $1 billion monthly in a French bank from Iran's frozen assets, while allowing the Islamic Republic to increase oil exports to 2.5 million barrels a day. Depending on the price of crude oil, all that could provide Khamenei with around $80 billion a year of extra revenue, higher than that envisaged by the Zarif-Le Drian formula.
The big concession that Khamenei's formula offers is to make the arrangement subject to mutually agreed time limits. That could give the P5+1 the power to turn off the cash faucet at the end of an agreed time frame.
Khamenei has often talked of "heroic flexibility", his catchphrase for beating the retreat if and when necessary. Thus, his regime has survived on the edge of the precipice for decades. His recipe is simple: Live from one day to another but, even if you can't export oil, make sure that you can continue exporting revolution. The Khomeinist system can survive without exporting oil, but can't do so if it stops exporting revolution.
Thus the P5+1, knowingly or out of ignorance, are barking up the wrong tree when they seek a deal on how much oil Tehran can export and how much uranium it can enrich.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.