A few weeks ago a WikiLeaks cable emerged in which an Iranian source, talking to a US diplomat, said President Ahmadinejad had been slapped across the face by the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari.
Nobody paid much attention then, but in the last few days, with websites looking to fill space in the holiday season, Mahmoud's slap-down has raced around the Internet.
Only one problem: like many good tales, it may not be true.
The incident supposedly occurred in a meeting of Iran's National Security Committee in mid-January 2010, a few weeks after the opposition demonstrations on the religious day of Ashura had rocked the regime. Ahmadinejad "mused that to defuse the situation it may be necessary to allow more personal and social freedoms, including more freedom of the press."
This did not please General Jafari, who cried, "You are wrong! It is YOU who created this mess! And now you say give more freedom to the press?!" He then slapped the President, sending the meeting into an "uproar" before it was adjourned and never resumed.
The source continued that the National Security Committee was suspended for two weeks until Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, persuaded Ahmadinejad and Jafari to shake hands and make up.
Here's the catch: it is not clear how the source, "a former non-Marxist revolutionary activist", would be well-placed to learn of such a sensitive event. Certainly he was not in the meeting, and I doubt he is a good friend of either the President or the Revolutionary Guards commander. This reads more like a story that the source heard --- a bit of sensational gossip --- and passed on to the Americans as fact.
That feeling is reinforced by less dramatic portions of the source's report. For example, his claim that the "Tudeh (Communist) party is reorganizing among factory and government workers, and intellectuals" with "many former Tudeh sympathizers hold[ing] positions in the bureaucracy and elsewhere" does not seem to have been borne out by developments.
Still, even if the slapping did not actually take place, there is value in the document. This is a snapshot of an especially tense moment in post-election Iran, with a regime and Government uncertain and even scared about its stability. What changed this situation? Perhaps the source's truest comment comes when he is asked "what Iran will likely look like over the next year". He replies, "Ask me after 22 Bahman (February 11)."
That day, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, led to triumph rather than a slapping --- literal or metaphorical --- for Ahmadinejad, as he gave a speech to a large, organised crowd and the Green Movement fails to spoil the occasion.
THE ORIGINAL CABLE
P 111023Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY BAKU br>
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2384 br>
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY br>
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY br>
RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY br>
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY br>
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY br>
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY br>
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY br>
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
S E C R E T BAKU 000098 br>
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/11/2020 br>
TAGS: PGOV PARM PHUM AJ IR br>
SUBJECT: IRAN: JAFARI REPORTEDLY SLAPS AHMEDINEJAD AT SNSC MEETING; TUDEH RE-EMERGING? br>
REF: A. A) 2009 BAKU 972 br>
¶B. B) 2009 BAKU 921 br>
¶C. C) 2009 BAKU 920 (NOTAL) br>
d. D) 2009 BAKU 909 br>
Classified By: xxxxx for Reasons 1.4 (b and d)
¶1. (S) Baku Iran watcher met with xxxxx (strictly protect - see reftels).
He who Got Slapped
¶2. (S) According to source, President Ahmedinejad surprised other SNSC members by taking a surprisingly liberal posture during a mid January post-Ashura meeting of the SNSC called to discuss next steps on dealing with opposition protests. Source said that Ahmedinejad claimed that "people feel suffocated," and mused that to defuse the situation it may be necessary to allow more personal and social freedoms, including more freedom of the press.
¶3. (S) According to source, Ahmedinejad's statements infuriated Revolutionary Guard Chief of Staff Mohammed Ali Jafari, who exclaimed "You are wrong! (In fact) it is YOU who created this mess! And now you say give more freedom to the press?!" Source said that Jafarli [sic] then slapped Ahmedinejad in the face, causing an uproar and an immediate call for a break in the meeting, which was never resumed. Source said that SNSC did not meet again for another two weeks, after Ayatollah Janati succesfully acted as a "peacemaker" between Jafarli and Ahmedinejad. Source added that the break in the SNSC meeting, but not the slap that caused it, has made its way on to some Iranian blogs.
Sides Preparing for New Confrontations
¶4. (S) Meanwhile, source said, both sides are digging in for new confrontations, while various sub-groups maneuver. He stressed the importance of recent speeches by Karroubi and Khatami to the effect that Ahmedinejad will not be able finish his term, and that Supreme Leaders should not take partisan political sides. He stressed that "Karroubi chooses each word carefully," and aid the recent speeches reflect an ongoing effort to split Khameini from the Ahmedinejad group. Source described the overall political situation within and without the political elite as "getting worse and worse." xxxxx opined that this situation (of protests and instability) cannot be sustained indefinitely, and predicted that events are trending towards major developments and a new phases. Asked what Iran will likely look like over the next year, he responded "ask me after 22 Bahman (February 11)."
Tudeh Acticsts [sic] Re-Emerging?
¶5. (S) Source (a former non-Marxist revolutionary activist) also asserted that the Iranian Tudeh (communist) party is reorganizing among factory and government workers, and intellectuals. He claimed that many former Tudeh sympathizers hold positions in the bureaucracy and elsewhere, and opined that many still privately support the movement. He mentioned one xxxxx organizer who has re-emerged behind the scenes of recent bus worker and other labor strikes.