What's going on, according to Michael Ledeen's report to John Batchelor last night, is so much dissent that after a funeral for Iran's favorite singer drew huge crowds Ali Khamenei, the country's 'supreme leader,' issued a fatwa against music. That only poured oil on the flames of ever-growing public anger in Iran against the regime. ("I keep saying that Khamenei is the CIA's best operation in Iran," drily observed Ledeen.)
Actually Khamenei didn't issue a fatwa banning music -- not yet, at any rate -- but he did condemn Iranian interest in music. According to the (U.K.) Guardian his statement was "among the most extreme comments by a senior regime figure since the 1979 revolution."
Ledeen also reported that 250 Revolutionary Guards soldiers had sided so openly with opponents of the regime that the IRCG Commander-in-Chief, Maj. General Mohammad Ali Jafari, had no choice but to relieve them of duty. Sympathy with the opposition, and outrage about corruption in the regime and the corps itself, has been skyrocketing within the IRGC.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps now controls by conservative estimates a third of Iran's economy but they're supposed to be incorruptible guardians of the faith. See this July 2010 BBC report on the economic power that the IRGC has amassed over the past two decades and in particular since Ahmadinejad came to power. The corps has followed Pakistan and Burma's military in doing big business at the expense of the rest of the country's citizens. IRGC, Inc. has created a sense of betrayal among the more idealistic members of the Guards not to mention Iran's regular military.
Another news item that never saw the light of day outside the country until Ledeen's report: the challenge issued to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by five jailed political dissenters when they learned he'd challenged President Obama to a debate: Come to prison; we'll be glad to debate you.
A year ago word of the challenge wouldn't have made it beyond the prison walls but with sympathy for the dissenters breaking out all over Iran, the opposition has become ever more outspoken even as the regime retaliates with torture and executions and ever more wacky fatwas.
As I observed the other day you can't keep 'em down on the farm forever; the mullahcrats are trying to stop the tides by hurling toothpicks at them.
Listen to the podcast of the 10 PM Batchelor show segment for the rest of Leeden's news about Iran. The first part of the podcast is news and analysis about Lebanon that hasn't made into the mainstream news, either, so you won't be bored waiting for Ledeen's turn at the microphone.
As to whether any of this is leading anywhere -- I've seen nothing to suggest that the Iranian opposition is committed to democracy and the defense of human rights. Instead, they still think it's possible to get comfy in hell by rearranging the furniture of the Iranian Revolution so it's more democratic, more committed to human rights. If, under pressure from the Western powers, more Iranian activists are putting freedom first, I'll be glad to retract my words or at least qualify them.
None of this means that pressure from the opposition, financial sanctions, Iran's worsening economic situation, and Khamenei's passing (reportedly he's dying from cancer or something or other) won't combine to remove Ahmadinejad and replace him with a kinder, gentler face of Islamic government in Iran and nicer attitude toward Israel. So I guess we should content ourselves with that much.
However, such an eventuality would exacerbate the problem at the heart of many matters, which is that the United States is closely allied with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Because you can bet that no matter how much of a smiley face a different Iranian leadership paints on, they're not going to be BFF with the Saudis and other Gulf oil states.
Better relations between Israel and Iran would also finally force the Israeli leadership to confront the worst realities of the Saudi-U.S. relationship. In my view it's because of the relationship that the Israelis are barking mad to be so greatly involved with the U.S., but that's just Pundita rambling on.
Yet if the Israelis ever notice that no matter what Iran does to offer a compromise the U.S. keeps setting the bar higher, they might quit barking long enough to do a little simple arithmetic.