October 25, 2010

Vol. 10, Issue 466, October 22, 2010
An Undeclared Covert War Takes Its Toll on Iran
Whose Rockets Knocked out Iran's Ballistic Missile Launchers?

Imam Ali Base
Iran is under enemy attack on four fronts in a war never acknowledged as such by the regime in Tehran or admitted by the aggressors.
The advantage to Iran of this shadow conflict is that it is not obliged to respond. Its leaders are therefore free to bend all their energies to propping up their Islamic Revolutionary regime. The advantage to the attackers is that they can keep on battering the Islamic Republic without risking an open clash and bring their hammers down on one front after another without warning.
In the last three months, four such offensives were launched against Iran, starting in July:
1. The cyber-attack:
The Stuxnet virus planted in Iran's nuclear and military control networks seriously damaged those systems. This attack is still ongoing, defying all attempts to exorcise the wily worm.
(This offensive was exclusively covered from its outset by DEBKA-Net-Weekly. See Issue 463: The Stuxnet Malworm's First Strike.)
2. Rockets destroy secret missile launchers:
On Tuesday, October 12, the day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew to Beirut, three massive explosions blasted through one of Iran's top-secret military installations, the underground store holding Shihab-3 intermediate-range ballistic missiles which were held ready for launching against US targets in Iraq and Israel in the event of war.
An unknown number of missiles, their launchers and warheads, including some tri-conic nosecones, were destroyed at the site beneath the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Imam Ali Base near the city of Khorramabad, in the Lorestan province of southwestern Iran.
The base is also home to IRGC's main missile force, the Al-Hadid Brigade, 18 of whose members were killed and 14 injured in the blast, according the official communiqué in Tehran - probably more, according to our sources.
The victims' funerals took place Thursday, October 14 at the same time as Ahmadinejad stood at the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail belting out another prediction of Israel's imminent "disappearance."

Iran fears Israeli UAV-borne rockets blasted its Shehab-3 store

Our intelligence sources report that Iran began its inquiry into the disaster to the missile armory by looking for traces of an infiltrator who managed to penetrate one of its most closely-guarded facilities and blow up the weapons tucked away inside deep tunnels. When they found no sign of a trespasser, they turned to the theory that American or Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles had flown in from Iraq and somehow found their way past the twists and turns of the underground passages until they found their pre-programmed targets - the missiles and their launchers - and blew them up with rockets.
Iranian investigators were pointed in that direction by Syrian military intelligence which gave them data on Israeli UAV rocket practices against underground targets, including several on the buried command centers of Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Namma, south of Beirut.
Israeli tacticians to have found a way of using the deep shafts leading straight down from the surface openings to the command facilities below as testing-ranges for weapons designed to blow up targets sunk deep underground.
Acting on this theory, Iranian investigators began combing through the rubble at the Imam Ali base in search of fragments of the Israeli guided supersonic missile Jumper which fits the Syrian description.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources describe this missile as powered by a two-pulse rocket motor with low radar and acoustic signatures, GPS/INS guidance gear and four steering surfaces on the aft section.
It was basically configured for stationary targets designated by geographical coordinates. The Jumper's accuracy is unaffected by low visibility or weather conditions; its precision may be optimized by an optional laser-guidance unit. It is 180 cm long and 15 cm in diameter. Each launch unit weighs about 1.5 tons and can be deployed by air or land and operate in an unattended mode, without requiring the support or presence of operators, on the principle of Dial and Hit.

Sanctions begin to hit the ordinary Iranian

3. Sanctions:
The offensive by sanctions is turning out to be a lot more effective than Tehran is willing to admit.
On Tuesday, October 19, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei commented that the Iranian people had lived under sanctions since the early days of the Islamic Revolution and learned how to confront them.
He said this when he arrived at the holy Iranian city of Qom (for a visit whose purpose is disclosed in a separate item in this issue). But his words made little impression on the ordinary Iranian. After all, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report, since early October, the Iranian currency has dropped one-fifth of its value against the basket of leading currencies, there is a rush on the banks to withdraw foreign currency, especially the US dollar, and oil exports have plunged by 13.3 percent - or more than 600,000 barrels a day. This is the steepest decline since the late 1970s and costs the government about $16 billion in net revenue loss.
Moreover, applications for new building licenses have fallen by 40 percent sending the private construction industry into a slump. Iran's credit rating is in free fall as a result of pressure from Washington on governments, banks and businesses to refuse to extend letters of credit for financial enterprises.
Tuesday, Oct 19, Tehran confirmed that some European airports are refusing to sell its carriers fuel; its flagship carrier has stopped making unscheduled stops en route to Tehran because London refuses to extend refueling services.
All this means that the basket of penalties wielded by US Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey is beginning to bite painfully all the way down to the Iranian in the street. It consists of UN sanctions, beefed up by unilateral US measures and steps taken by European governments and firms to cut off trade with the Islamic Republic.
Levey was in Ankara this week on a mission to persuade Turkish businesses and companies to join the sanctions regime against Iran. They would have to undercut their prime minister, Tayyep Recip Erdogan, who voted against sanctions, defends Iran's nuclear program and is proud of their warm bilateral friendship. Their trade ties are expanding fast, Erdogan boasts, and will be boosted from $10 billion to $30 billion in five years.

The USS Abraham Lincoln docks at Manama
The Saudi and Egyptian armies, navies and air forces secretly launched their first ever joint military maneuvers this week under the codename Tabuk-2. It ended Wednesday, Oct. 20.
Acting Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Khaled Bin-Sultan, who commanded the exercise, said the two military forces had agreed on doctrinal unification. Our military sources interpret this as meaning that the two armies are getting set for joint action in a war contingency with Iran.
4. Military muscle:
This week the US applied more military pressure on Tehran when Sunday, Oct. 17, the USS Abraham Lincoln docked at the Fifth Fleet headquarters at Manama, Bahrain, thereby raising the number of US carriers in the Persian Gulf to two, for the first time in as many years. Until now, the Obama administration kept the number of carriers opposite Iran down to one inline with his policy of engaging Iran in diplomacy to halt its progress toward building a nuclear weapon. Adding a second carrier to the USS Harry S. Truman and its marine air force might already present raises the number of warplanes facing Iran to 120 and is therefore a game changer.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources say this move relays two administration messages to Tehran:
First: The Six Power talks due to open with Iran in early November will be backed by American military leverage. To date, Washington has not invoked the UN Security Council's permission to search Iranian or other vessels suspected of carrying banned cargoes to the Islamic Republic. Tehran has threatened to resort to force if its vessels are intercepted for searches.
Wednesday, Oct. 20, Brig. Gen. Hussein Salami, commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards issued a warning: "The enemies of Iran should know the Islamic establishment's red lines and not trespass them."
Second: If diplomatic engagement fails once again, the US reserves the freedom and capability for military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Last minute: Thursday night, Oct. 21, the Obama administration padded the $60 billion weapons package for Saudi Arabia submitted to congress with several additional items including 1,000 2,000-pound guided bombs, described by our military sources as the most advanced bunker busters. They add a sharp new edge to US and Saudi intentions towards Iran and its nuclear program.
Might not the four war offensives buffeting the Islamic republic which he heads have weakened Ahmadinejad and been the cause of his bumbling performance in Lebanon on Oct. 14-15? And that would be without taking into accord the discord preying on the ruling echelon?
In DEBKA-Net-Weekly 466 article of Oct. 21, 2010
An Undeclared Covert War Takes Its Toll on Iran:
Whose Rockets Knocked out Iran's Ballistic Missile Launchers?
The second sentence of the para beginning "Our intelligence sources" should read:
When they found no sign of a trespasser, they turned to the theory that American or Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles launched from Iraq had fired small cruise missiles that somehow found their way past the twists and turns of the underground passages…

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Mid East Radicals Nurse Their Setbacks
Ahmadinejad's Lebanon Fiasco Retilted the Middle East Power Balance

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Just a week ago, four radical Middle East leaders were looking forward to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadienjad's forthcoming visit to Lebanon on Oct. 13-14 as their ladder to the glittering pinnacle of Middle East power. To gain this boost to their personal and national prestige, they were even willing to set aside their differences for that defining moment.
Ahmadinejad himself was certain he had only to set foot on Lebanese soil for Iran's sway over that country to be accepted unquestioningly by all its diverse political and religious groupings which would henceforth toe the Iranian line.
Syrian President Bashar Assad believed that the visit would teach the Iranian leader to appreciate his value as the key to controlling Beirut and would henceforth defer to Syria's dominant influence and presence in the Lebanese capital.
Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah counted on the Iranian president to show the world that Iran was the invincible boss of Lebanon and Hizballah its trusty right hand for running the show of government, including national security and foreign affairs.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan saw the visit as a leap toward solidifying the bloc of nations made up of Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinians that was destined to rule the Middle East.
He put his contest with Tehran over the top slot on hold under the axis was up and running.
None of them imagined the brutally aggressive, attention-grabbing Iranian president could fall on his face, least off on the tiny Lebanese platform. But that is exactly what happened. Bowled over, all four found their apple carts tipped over, their strategic plans thrown off course and their personal prestige dented.

Lebanese president turns down defense treaty with Iran

All of DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources agree that the widely-hailed Iranian president's visit to Lebanon missed out. They are not entirely clear why this should have happened when Iran, Hizballah and Syria put in three months of painstaking efforts to make it a smash hit.
They advance four possible causes:
1. It went wrong on the first day when Ahmadinejad failed to persuade Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri to sign a defense treaty with Tehran and apply for Iranian weapons for the Lebanese Army.
This contretemps was his first eye-opener. It meant that if Tehran wanted to gain a strong military foothold in Lebanon and the eastern Mediterranean seaboard, it was not immediately for sale. For now the Iranians would have to be content with its proxy, Hizballah.
2. He was also brought up short by the limits drawn to Iran's ability to parlay its power and influence among Shiites into political clout in the Sunni-dominated Arab Middle East. This barrier loomed at the worst possible time for Tehran, engaged as it is in a campaign for influence in Baghdad and the last word on the Iraqi government's makeup.
The Lebanon venture starkly exposed the hidden interplay between Iran's machinations in Baghdad and Beirut, so compromising Iran as leading Middle East mover and shaker.

Lebanese prime minister won't give up Hariri trial

3. Ahmadinejad was frustrated again when Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri flatly refused to come to terms with Hizballah and Syria on doing away with the Special UN Tribunal for Lebanon-STL to save Hizballah leaders from indictment in the 2005 Rafiq Hariri assassination.
He had been certain of succeeding after picking up hints from Washington and Paris that neither would mind if the tribunal gradually faded into self-dissolution in the interests of Lebanon's fragile stability.
He also talked it over with Saudi King Abdullah before setting out for Beirut.
But Hariri adamantly refused to revoke the tribunal's mandate or funding, resolved more than ever to bring his father's assassins to justice, "whoever they may be."
That phrase has become a ticking bomb in Beirut for Hizballah to carry out its threat of military action against the Hariri government and/or across the Israeli border to save his security and intelligence officers from standing trial before the STL.
Ahmanijad's failure to talk Hariri and Hizballah round to an accommodation confronts Tehran with a quandary because letting Hizballah off the leash could have unpredictable and ungovernable consequences: A military challenge to the government in Beirut could quickly ignite internecine war in Lebanon and heating up the border with Israel carried the risk of a general conflagration.
On the other hand, by holding Nasrallah back, Tehran would appear to be abandoning its foremost Middle East ally to its fate.
Last minute: Hariri informed Saudi Arabia and Egypt Thursday night, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources disclose, that he would prefer to resign as prime minister rather than make the slightest concession to Hizballah with regard to the probe into his father's murder. Saudi diplomats are engaged in frantic efforts to arrange a meeting between Hariri and the Hizballah's leader to avert the outbreak of fighting in Lebanon.

Nasrallah publicly humiliated, Assad snubbed in Riyadh

4. On the second day of the visit, Thursday, October 14, things went from bad to worse.
The plan was for Ahmadinejad, with Nasrallah beside him, to drive in a triumphal cavalcade down the Lebanese coastal highway to the South. The Hizballah leader stage-managed the event to present himself as its co-star. Smart Hizballah units and Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen were to accompany the cavalcade as its security escort after pushing Lebanese soldiers out of the way.
However, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman supported by Lebanese Chief of Staff Gen. Jean Qahwaj stamped hard on the plan, insisting that no force other than the Lebanese army - certainly not Hizballah - secure all parts of the Iranian president's visit.
After arguing for four hours, Ahmadinejad bowed to his hosts' decision (More about this incident in HOT POINTS below) and informed them he accepted the protection of the Lebanese army for the remainder of his visit.
So mortified was Nasrallah by this public humiliation, the most painful since Tehran ostracized him in July 2006 for going to war with Israel without permission, that he retired to his bunker. He tried not to hear the murmured question running through the Middle East: is this how Iran treats its staunchest allies?
The Syrian president was next to feel the backlash from the Iranian president's Lebanon fiasco.
He arrived in Riyadh for talks with King Abdullah Sunday, Oct. 17 on working together in Lebanon and Iraq and finding a way to prevent the Hariri tribunal's case from exploding into civil war in Lebanon.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Persian Gulf sources disclose he was stunned by the cool reception he met with. He found Abdullah had hardened his position on all the issues on which they had planned to cooperate.
Instead of being invited to sit down for a formal dinner at the royal palace in Riyadh, Assad was fobbed off with a scratch meal at the Saudi Air Force base to which their meeting had been moved.
The Lebanese prime minister was supposed to wait in the wings until he was sent for to join the Syrian and Saudi rulers. Abdullah would have then told him how to cooperate with Assad.
But Hariri was not present at the Saudi air base and when Assad asked why he was not about Abdullah replied brusquely that he was not needed at this stage.

Assad attempts damage control

According to our sources, when the Syrian ruler tried to impress the king with the important ground covered by Ahmadinejad in Lebanon, Abdullah raised his hand impatiently and cut him short: "That was not the impression we received," he said, "We followed the visit and were not particularly impressed."
Assad went on to stress the significance of the Iranian president's tour of southern Lebanon and the Israeli border, to which Abdullah remarked drily: "So what? Ahmadinejad went to the south and returned after a short time. Has anything changed?"
Assad cut the interview short and returned to Damascus empty-handed.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Beirut sources report that the Syrian president pretends to be mystified and goes about saying the Saudi king's change of heart is incomprehensible, while scrabbling to gain some of the control and influence which has begun to seep away in the fallout from Ahmadinejad's unfortunate trip to Lebanon.
Assad's first move was to press Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to come over to Damascus very soon for talks, hoping he can achieve more from this encounter than the Iranian president managed in his two days in Lebanon.
As for the Turkish prime minister, he has had to swallow a major setback to the radical Middle East bloc he had set his heart on and wait for another chance to fulfill his ambitions.DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources reveal that Erdogan in particular had hoped the Arab League would accept Turkey and Iran as new members despite being non-Arab in recognition of their regional power status. He had been encouraged in this expectation by Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa.
That hope, too, lost traction as a result of the Iranian president's poor performance in Lebanon. Shortly after Saudi King Abdullah saw Assad off his premises, he notified Moussa that the two applications would be vetoed.
All this left big questions hanging over the visit, such as, what happened to make the over-assertive, fire-eating Ahmadinejad appear so hesitant and confused in Lebanon? How did he come to act in a way that fumbled Tehran's strong image and miss striking the right note for carrying Arab and Muslim public opinion before him? Was he thrown off by current happenings in Tehran?

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Palestinian Leaders Maneuver to Dodge Peace Talks
Seek UN Trusteeship for West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan

Hillary Clinton
Washington DC and Ramallah are 11,000 miles apart but that distance could be a lot greater, as illustrated by this week's events. Wednesday Oct. 20, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "We remain convinced that if they persevere with negotiations, the parties can agree on an outcome that ends the conflict, reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps."
She had no new messages to offer when she addressed the annual gala of the American Taskforce for Palestine in the US capital, whereas in Ramallah the lights in the offices of the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minster Salam Fayyad burned well into the night.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that the two Palestinians are full of energy and new plans - which they call audacious - for circumventing what they regard as historic American government support for Israel, continuing to avoid direct talks with the Netanyahu government, and confronting Washington and Jerusalem with a new angle for addressing the conflict that does not require Israel's consent or even participation.
Their widely publicized plan to call on the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state within pre-1967 boundaries is not their first option. Our sources report that the PA has come up with a more complex scenario which it is planning to test very soon. It consists of four steps:
1. To start building a small Palestinian airfield on the West Bank north of Jericho near the Arab village of Baqiya for direct flights to destinations in Europe. It would initially serve carriers of West Bank Palestinian farm produce flying to European markets.
The site chosen for this airfield is in Area C, i.e. under Israeli civilian and military authority according to the Oslo Peace Framework accords. But Palestinian leaders have no intention of asking Israel for permission for the project; instead they hope the Netanyahu government will rise to the challenge and send troops to stop the construction work and seize the site.

Ducking talks with Israel at any price

2. That will give the Palestinian Authority its pretext for complaining to Washington and the United Nations that Prime MinisterBinyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have no intention of making good on their consent to Palestinian statehood, witness their readiness to sabotage its future infrastructure. The PA will then offer a solution to this impasse: a United Trusteeship for Palestinian territory within the pre-1967 boundaries.
3. The army of international law experts and legal advisers the PA hired in the last two months produced a precedent: The Palau Island Republic, 500 miles east of the Philippines, emerged in 1994 from UN trusteeship administered by the United States as one of the world's youngest and smallest sovereign states. It voted to freely associate with the US while retaining independence under the Compact of Free Association after a long period of transition from 1947 during which two presidents died violent deaths.
The Palestinians are not seeking US administration, but have chosen the Palau precedent as the fast track to independence with Washington's support.
4. The PA's fallback formula failing the Palau precedent would be a bid for the UN Security Council to vote for United Nation recognition of all Palestinian territory not held by Israel prior to the 1967 war, namely the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan, as part of a future Palestinian state.
Abbas and Fayyad take it for granted that the Obama administration, which supports a two-state solution of the Middle East conflict, will abstain from voting on this motion and it would be carried by a vote of 14 with one abstention.
They see this resolution as the means of manipulating the world body to confirm the international borders of the two states, Israel and Palestine, while relieving Palestinian leaders of the need to face Israel across a negotiating table for a mutually-agreed accommodation.

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Hizballah Prepares to Fight
Nasrallah Builds an Anti-Government Alliance with Druze and Christian Factions

The way Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian president to visit Lebanon, let himself be cut down to size in Beirut last week left his Lebanese Shiite ally, Hizballah's secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, fuming with resentment and up in arms over being cheated of their shared victory spectacle and of the public recognition of his movement's primacy in Lebanon.
(A separate item reveals undisclosed details of that visit)
Four days later, on Sunday, Oct. 17, Nasrallah invited the Lebanese Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi, the community's defense chief, for a war conference. They were joined by Nasrallah's lieutenant, Wafiq Safa, commander of the Hizballah militia.
Our intelligence sources name Safa for the first time as lead suspect in the Special Lebanon Tribunal's probe into the 2005 murder of Rafiq Hariri. He stands to be indicted as the crime's senior planner and handler of the Hizballah squad allegedly responsible for executing the lethal explosion which killed the former Lebanese prime minister and another 22 victims.
Nasrallah has sworn to deploy his militia against the Lebanese government to forcibly block any arrests of its members when the tribunal issues its indictments before the end of the year.
The Hizballah-Druze conference therefore focused on a very real scenario. It went on all day Sunday and when night fell, the Hizballah leader invited his co-conspirators to continue talking over dinner.
Their main theme, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources disclose, was how Druze and Hizballah's combat units would work together and complement each other if Nasrallah decided to seize power in Beirut by military force and overthrow the elected government.
It was agreed that a coalition administration would rise in its stead made up of their two communities and augmented by Michel Aoun's Christian Free Patriotic Movement, the Shiite Amal movement headed by the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the pro-Syrian Sunni militias.

The Druzes will pitch in at home in a Hizballah war on Israel

Our sources report that the conference got down to particulars:
1. In the event of the Hizballah putsch spreading outside Beirut, the areas to be assigned the Druzes and the forms cooperation between their forces outside the capital would take.
2. The Druzes' role in a flare-up of hostilities between Hizballah and Israel. It was decided to temporarily transfer to the Druzes for safekeeping the regions abandoned by Hizballah troops called to the warfront against Israel.
3. The Iranian and Syrian radar units stationed on the strategic Lebanese peaks of Mt. Barukh and Mt. Sannine are a special case. They are encircled by two lines of defenders - the Hizballah militia holding the inner circle and the Druze militia the outer one. Nasrallah and Jumblatt agreed that the two foreign units should not be given free rein during the crises of civil strife or war with Israel. They therefore had to decide how much authority to confer on the Druze commanders remaining at this post in an emergency.
Tuesday, Oct. 19, the Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun threw his support behind Nasrallah and Jumblatt. He released a statement stating that "any potential conflict in Lebanon would not be of a sectarian nature but rather be for change and reform which are more important than the Special Tribunal for Lebanon."
Wednesday, the Lebanese government received a word of encouragement from Washington.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Lebanese President Michel Suleiman by phone to advise him that Lebanon should not tolerate any attempt to discredit the UN tribunal investigating the Hariri assassination.

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A Dynastic Move in Iran
Ali Khamenei Wants Qom to Support His Son as Heir

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
The state of health of Iran's spiritual ruler, the unelected successor to the founding father of the Islamic Republic of Iran,Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is of overriding concern in Tehran's power stakes. Therefore, the deteriorating health ofAyatollah Ali Khamenei, 71, is a closely guarded state secret. So too until the last minute, was the date of his visit to the town of Qom, the most important Shiite spiritual and religious center, second only to Najaf in Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 19.
The purpose of that visit, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources disclose, is to persuade the authoritative clerics of Qom to acknowledge his son Mojtaba, 43, as his successor. Khamenei, whom much of the clergy do not acknowledge as ayatollah, also wants to be confirmed as "imam."
Khamenei is in a hurry to settle these matters; he is receiving medical treatment for an undisclosed illness in the day-to-day care of two doctors.
The prevailing presumption is that he suffers from cancer, although no one knows what kind or how advanced it is. Western intelligence reports tentatively diagnose him as suffering from lung cancer as well as liver and gallbladder disease, but these reports are unconfirmed.
It is common knowledge that he was a heavy smoker for many years and fond of alcohol, although both violate his religious beliefs. In his younger years, Khamenei enjoyed the reputation of a bon vivant, partygoer and lover of music and song.
He scheduled his visit to Qom, his first in 10 years, to fall on or around the traditional birthday of the seventh Shiite Imam and ordered a grandiose reception prepared.

Never acknowledged as Ayatollah, Khamenei seeks title of Imam

Against some local disapproval, religious seminaries and state schools were ordered to shut down to allow students to take part in celebrations. Gaudily-colored booklets were distributed to the children to honor "the glorious leader who is coming to our city" and referring to Khamenei as "Imam," a title reserved for twelve members of the holy dynasty of the founders of the Shiite movement.
Only the revolution's founder Khomeini dared to claim this title and he too was mockingly derided as "the thirteenth imam."
The incumbent spiritual leader's ranking as ayatollah has never been confirmed by Iran's senior clergy who regard him as short on pious scholarship. Twenty years ago, he proclaimed himself spiritual leader of Shiites outside Iran but there too he found himself outranked by Grand Ayatollahs Ali Sistani in Iraq andHassan Fadlallah in Lebanon.
At home, he showered rank, funds and political backing on high-ranking clerics to win their acceptance, gaining such prominent supporters as Ayatollahs Hossein Nouri Hamedaniand Ahmad Janati. He also tried in recent years to transfer huge sums, running into hundreds of millions of dollars, to the courts of the senior clerics and their institutions in the city of Qom. But they drew the line when he tried to infringe on their independence and make them kowtow to the government.

The great Khomeini's grandson challenges Khamenei's son

Allegations that last year's presidential election was rigged energized the clergy's resentment of Khamenei after he threw all his weight behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as victor. Not a single senior cleric followed his lead.
For the past eighteen months, Khamenei has worked hard to silence his religious opponents. He closed the bank accounts of Ayatollahs Vahid Khorassani and Mojtaba Shirazi, denying them access to the millions of dollars contributed to them yearly by supporters. Others were subjected to strong-arm tactics and intimidation. The three grand ayatollahs who come out openly against him: Hossein Ali Montazeri, Yousef Sanei andAsadollah Bayat-Zaniani, had their websites shut down.
However, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources, his opponents have not been idle.
The great Khomeini's grandson, Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, ostracized by the regime since he came out in support of the Green opposition, is being put up against Khamenei's son as candidate for next Spiritual Leader.