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Rouhani’s Cabinet Isn’t “Moderate” Either

When new leaders want to appear moderate in the Middle East, there are generally three ways to do so: table the hate speech, surround themselves with a balanced cabinet, and show a history of restraint on matters of interstate violence. (Note: These rules do not apply if you are Benjamin Netanyahu, who has followed them carefully and is still described in more extreme terms than his Palestinian counterpart by the media.)

So it remains a mystery why the Western press thinks anyone will fall for the idea that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. As Jonathan has noted, Rouhani has not tabled the hate speech, even since his election. As Sohrab Ahmari pointed out, Rouhani spent part of the 1990s on a government committee that oversaw the assassination of enemies of the state, so he cannot pretend he has a history of peaceful conduct. And now he has put quite the cabinet together, the latest controversial addition to which has a fairly notorious incident on his resume.

The Washington Free Beacon reports that Rouhani has selected Hossein Dehghan as his defense minister. Dehghan “was implicated in the 1983 bombing that killed 241 American servicemen in Lebanon, according to an Israeli intelligence official.” That official is retired IDF Brig. Gen. Shimon Shapira, who is now with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Over the weekend, Shapira explained the background:

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, Dehghan was sent to Lebanon. He served as commander of the training corps of the Revolutionary Guard, first in Syria and soon after in Lebanon. This role made him responsible for building up the military force of Hizbullah, which also was established at that time. After most of the Revolutionary Guard force returned from Lebanon to Iran, and the force’s commander, Ahmad Motevasselian, was kidnapped along with three other Iranians in the summer of 1982 by the Christian militia – the Lebanese Forces, Ahmad Kanani was appointed commander of the Revolutionary Guard force in Lebanon.

About a year later Hossein Dehghan replaced Kanani in that position. One of his first goals was to set up a central command for the Iranian force, which at that time was scattered among small towns and villages in the Baalbek region. At the beginning of September 1983, Hizbullah, with the help of the Revolutionary Guard headed by Dehghan, took over the Sheikh Abdullah barracks, which was seized in the course of a procession led by three Hizbullah sheikhs: Abbas Mussawi, Subhi Tufayli, and Muhammad Yazbek. It had been the main base of the Lebanese army in the Beqaa Valley and now became the Imam Ali barracks, the main headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard.

It was from this headquarters that Iran controlled Hizbullah’s military force and planned, along with Hizbullah, the terror attacks on the Beirut-based Multinational Force and against IDF forces in Lebanon. The attacks were carried out by the Islamic Jihad organization, headed by Imad Mughniyeh, which was actually a special operational arm that acted under the joint direction of Tehran and Hizbullah until it was dismantled in 1992.

That does not appear to be an exception to the rest of the cabinet. As Ali Alfoneh of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains, in selecting his cabinet Rouhani hasn’t exactly emboldened the reformers:

Rouhani chose his cabinet nominees under pressure, but not from the quarter the Kayhan editor warned against. Rather than reflecting the wishes of the Green Movement, Khatami-era reformists or Rafsanjani’s network, some of the new president’s nominees were imposed upon him by even more powerful quarters:  Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani (Judiciary head), Ali Larijani (Speaker of the Majles) and the former’s brother, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Ali Teyyebnia, economy and finance minister, is a selection of the Supreme Leader, and so was Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s new intelligence minister. Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi, Rouhani’s health minister, and Abd al-Reza Rahmani Fazli, the next interior minister, were imposed by the Larijani brothers. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, justice minister, is a selection of Sadeq Larijani, but also the Supreme Leader. Hossein Dehqan, defense minister, is the IRGC’s man in the cabinet, and Ja’far Mili Monfared, science minister, is believed to be closer to the Larijanis than to the reformist camp.

Now, it can be argued that Rouhani can’t really prove his moderate credentials without full control of his appointments. After all, the point Alfoneh is making is that Rouhani’s most important deputies were preselected. And further, the subtext of Alfoneh’s post is that Rouhani would never be viewed as being in charge of his appointments no matter who he picks. If he appointed reformists, he would be viewed as being the puppet of the reformists. Instead, his cabinet is a reformist’s nightmare–but no one believes he acted independently.

But that is really the point that Rouhani’s skeptics have been making from the beginning. The “give Rouhani a chance” chorus tried to argue that the doubters were being ungenerous in reading the election of the more moderate candidate as a farce set up by Khamenei and his fellow backseat drivers. Now that Rouhani’s cabinet is conforming to the expectations of his Western critics, expect his boosters in the press to begin making a version of the very same argument about a powerless stooge and a meaningless election.

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