Yesterday, reports appeared in the media that the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had stepped down due to failing health, handing over his position to his son. Other outlets cited rumors—and so far they appear to be just that—that Khamenei is dead. Whatever the reality, these stories suggest a weakened regime. So too does the assassination last month of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the scientist behind Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program. Like other covert operations that have recently taken place within Iranian borders, the killing of Fakhrizadeh is widely assumed to be the doing of Israel. Ray Takeyh observes:
[I]t has often been suggested that no matter how unpopular the Islamist regime has become over the years, it is firmly in control of the country given its overlapping and omniscient intelligence services. Now, this widely accepted truism has to be called into question. In recent years, Iran’s nuclear installations have been sabotaged, its scientists killed, and its secrets stolen.
Moreover, the country has been rocked by a series of demonstrations that its intelligence organs did not anticipate. To say the least, the Islamic Republic today suffers from persistent intelligence failure, an ominous sign for a regime that rules through fear.
[Another] worrisome aspect for the Iranian regime has to be the probable collaboration of members of its own elite with a foreign power. These killings could not have taken place unless many in the system were so disenchanted with Islamist rule that they were willing to provide critical information to an adversary.
A regime is in trouble not only when its populace grows disenchanted but when important segments of its elite give up on the system. If those who are the chief beneficiaries of the system don’t believe in it, then who does? The Islamic Republic has long suffered from brain drain as its best and brightest have often chosen to leave the country, but now, it seems, even those who have stayed behind are starting to crack.