Iran Unveiled

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The Wall Street Journal – Review & Outlook: To gauge the radicalism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s next president, consider that prior to Friday’s run-off election Western media widely described him as a “hardliner,” whereas rival candidate Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was a “moderate.” The Wall Street Journal

The West may at last see the unveiled face of the Iranian regime and begin acting accordingly.

Review & Outlook

To gauge the radicalism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s next president, consider that prior to Friday’s run-off election Western media widely described him as a “hardliner,” whereas rival candidate Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was a “moderate.”

Mr. Rafsanjani is the former president whose tenure was marked by repression at home and dozens of terrorist attacks and assassinations abroad, including the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. Yet that record seems positively benign next to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s. If there’s a silver lining here, it is that the West may at last see the unveiled face of the Iranian regime and begin acting accordingly.

A student radical during Ayatollah Khomenei’s revolution in the late 1970s, Mr. Ahmadinejad was involved in planning the seizure of the U.S. embassy and helped organize Khomenei’s Islamic Cultural Revolution, during which universities were shut down and ideologically suspect lecturers and students were arrested and shot.

In the mid-1980s, he worked as an interrogator, or worse, in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, according to Iranian sources. Mr. Ahmadinejad then joined the Special Brigade of the Revolutionary Guards, where he was an officer in the “Jerusalem Force,” which had responsibility for terrorist attacks and assassinations abroad, including against prominent Iranian dissidents.

In the late 1990s, he was one of the organizers of Ansar-i-Hezbollah, government-sponsored vigilantes assigned to break up peaceful demonstrations. In April 2003, Mr. Ahmadinejad was appointed (not elected) mayor of Tehran, where he set about organizing “Abadgaran” (Developers) groups, which seek to return Iran to sterner Khomeinist principles.

Now this man is president-elect of Iran. Some reports have explained his victory as a populist backlash against Mr. Rafsanjani’s corrupt clericalism. Yet such “analysis” ignores the facts that 1,000 reform candidates were banned from running, that all the presidential candidates were chosen to run by Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, that the first round of voting was marred by fraud, that turnout was low (notwithstanding the regime’s claims), and that the winner benefited from the strong-armed tactics of his erstwhile comrades in the Revolutionary Guards and Ansar. Whatever else Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory represents, it does not represent the will of Iran’s people.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory also has consequences abroad. His regime may well create more trouble in Iraq in order to disrupt the chances for a democratic, pluralist and moderate Shiite government. The same goes for Lebanon, whose tenuous democracy is imperiled not only by Syrian meddling but by the Shiite Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in the country.

Most important is the question of Iran’s nuclear program, with which Mr. Ahmadinejad promises to press ahead even as he holds out the prospect of further negotiation with the Europeans. We have been skeptical of past negotiations, not least because we did not think there were “moderates” in Iran who could be relied upon to honor the commitments they failed to honor in the past. Still, we’re sorry to see Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory prove the point so brutally.

There will be time in the coming months to devise a serious policy to contain the Iranian regime and defeat its nuclear ambitions. The best place to start is not to be deceived by its nature, which Friday’s election unmasked.

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