Ahmadinejad and his terror-suspect minister

By Meir Javedanfar, August 27, 2009
Vahidi: Wanted by Interpol

Vahidi: Wanted by Interpol

The nomination of General Ahmad Vahidi as Iranian Defence Minister has shocked the international community.

General Vahidi is wanted by Interpol for his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Argentina.

Many see his nomination as yet another sign that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still intent on antagonising the West, and Israel especially.

This is a valid theory. Nobody should be under any illusions that the demonstrations in Iran, and the opposition shown to the president, are going to temper the president’s hostility towards Israel and the West.

In fact, Mr Vahidi’s nomination could very well be a direct result of the recent demonstrations, since Mr Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei hold the West responsible for supporting the opposition.

By nominating a wanted man for such an important role, the conservatives in Iran are sending a message to the West, that they too can antagonise the other side.

However, there are other reasons for Mr Vahidi’s nomination. A former commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp’s elite Al Quds force, he belongs to a shrinking group of officials who are ready to back Iran’s divisive president.

The Revolutionary Guards support Mr Ahmadinejad for two reasons.

One, he has been their most loyal political backer since Ayatollah Khamenei was himself president from 1981-89.

Two, and more importantly, Mr Ahmadinejad, more than any other Iranian president, has helped the Revolutionary Guards expand its business empire in Iran.

Before his presidency, the Revolutionary Guards’ influence was limited to the import–export sector, but since Mr Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, it has significantly boosted its presence in the construction sector and the country’s all-important oil industry.

With his popularity at all-time low, President Ahmadinejad needs all the support he can get, and in the Revolutionary Guards he has found a very loyal audience.

As well as shared domestic concerns, both parties have the same point of view regarding Iran’s nuclear programme.

The Revolutionary Guards and Mr Ahmadinejad are both loyal defenders of Ayatollah Khamenei’s policy of not showing any flexibility towards the West in this area.

In fact both would welcome sanctions. For the Revolutionary Guards, sanctions would provide an opportunity to increase their control over Iran’s economy.

For Mr Ahmadinejad, sanctions and increased tensions with the West would provide another the pretext to crack down on the opposition.

The recent demonstrations in Iran have greatly damaged Mr Ahmadinejad’s legitimacy. With the economy in ruins, more than ever he needs the help of the military to boost his popularity at home and to create enemies abroad in order to divert the attention of the public.

Ahmad Vahidi’s controversial past and good military credentials make him a very suitable candidate for this job.

Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian–Israeli Middle East analyst

Last updated: 12:27pm, June 7 2011