With the recent arrest and detention in Iran of Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman, and Nizar Zakka, a U.S. legal resident, by intelligence operatives of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), murky jockeying for power at the top levels of the Tehran regime just got murkier.
Set against the backdrop of a nuclear ‘deal’ that nobody in Iran has either approved or signed and a generational shift underway between the by-now very wealthy founders of Khomeini’s 1979 revolution and a lean and hungry younger cohort of hardliners imbued with the zeal of true believers, the arrests seem at first glance to make little sense.
Namazi, a Dubai-based close associate of key Iran Lobby figure, Trita Parsi and his National Iranian American Council (NIAC), and Zakka, an IT executive with Beirut connections (and a checkered past involving Canadian accusations of running an illegal immigration racket), would appear to have all the right connections and credentials to stay out of this kind of trouble.
And yet, Namazi today sits in Evin Prison and Zakka was detained after being lured to a mid-September 2015 conference to promote entrepreneurship in Iran.
While some regime insiders, like President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who have been close to the top leadership since the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah, now seek a more open business and political environment to develop and protect their economic equities, powerful factions within the IRGC, some of which own (collectively) as much as one-third of the Iranian economy, and some of whom (like former Pasdar President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) oppose any opening whatsoever to the U.S. or the West on ideological grounds, are determined to keep Iran (and its financial assets) firmly within their own grip.
The big question is, where does Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, stand?
If perennial reports about his ill-health are to be believed, he might not be standing at all for long. But at this writing, it is his word that – probably – still defines Iranian policy. Unless elements of the IRGC finally have grown powerful enough to challenge even the Supreme Leader. In any case, these recent arrests are likely as much about the gathering succession struggle as sending a signal to over-excited American officials panting after a nuclear deal that never was and probably never will be.
Adding Namazi and Zakka to the four American hostages already being held by the Tehran regime may not trouble the Obama White House or its hapless negotiating team, but ought to serve as notice on several counts: