This is Hassan Khomeini, and he is a Shiite mullah. Nevertheless, he has almost 700,000 followers on Instagram, he often wears jeans, and he happens to challenge the religious foundations of the Iranian ayatollahs’ regime. Most recently, at the end of last year, for example, Khomeini said that "continuous fragmentation of society – spreading hatred, holding a grudge, hypocrisy, double standards and dishonesty – is a bad sign for the government." He added that if this continues, the Islamic clerical government will cease to exist.
Thus, it is easy to imagine not only that Khomeini doesn’t have the trust of the ayatollahs in Iran but also that the ayatollahs consider Khomeini politically unreliable. When he wanted to run for election in 2016 as a representative to the Assembly of Experts, the body that appoints the new ayatollah upon the death of the incumbent, Khomeini was not allowed to take part in any way by the Guardian Council (another institution in the Iranian political system that does just that: censor the participation of politically unreliable candidates in any election).
The thing is that Khomeini is the favorite grandson of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who died in 1989. This is extremely inconvenient for the mullahs’ regime in Iran, because it can easily cope with discontent and criticism, but not when it comes from the biological descendant of the creator of the theocratic state. After all, his grandfather’s portraits hang all over the country, from the facades along the streets to the walls of public institutions. How can they silence the grandson in the name of his grandfather, given the fact that no inquisitor has more Khomeini blood than Hassan has?
However, Hassan Khomeini’s very name appeared recently in an interesting report released to the public by the Israeli media channel I24News. Last week, Hassan Khomeini, along with officials from Iran, claimed that Israeli media met with Americans in the Kurdish capital of Erbil in Iraq. To clarify at the outset, the United States denied this report. In an interview with Arab media, Brian Hook, Washington's special representative for Iran, chose not to answer the specific question as to whether there was such a meeting but stated that the U.S. is currently not negotiating with Iran. However, Tehran did not show any reaction to the information that emerged - neither its politicians nor its media reported anything. But such complete silence from Iran, which tends to hastily reject any notion of negotiating with the U.S. "while Washington practices economic terrorism," according to Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, was even more suspicious than Brian Hook’s evasiveness.
Whether this meeting between Iranian and American representatives took place at all is hard to say. There are far too many questions. For example, it is unclear who may have represented the United States during this meeting. (Nor is there any logical reason for the Israeli media to have disclosed the meeting.) However, we can point to two important things that emerged from the information that was disclosed.
First, Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi was also present as part of the Iranian delegation to the event in question, in addition to Hassan Khomeini and Iranian officials. The other curious detail is that this Iranian delegation was described by the media as wearing a different hat than the regime in Iran.
Iran's Ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, is a former commander of the Quds Force (an extraterritorial military division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), in which he also worked as an adviser to the head of the Guard, Qasem Soleimani. Masjedi has extensive experience in Iraqi affairs, including experience with the existing tensions in the country concerning the Kurds. Currently, he is also considered an informal member of the circle close to Soleimani, who for all practical purposes, directs Iranian policy in relation to Iraq.
It is very difficult for someone like Masjedi, who was dispatched to Baghdad, considered the most important diplomatic location from Iran's point of view, to be identified as someone who has ideas that are different from those expressed in Tehran. He is also regarded as someone who can initiate diplomatic contacts beyond those controlled by Tehran (taking into account his close relationship with one of the most powerful figures in the country, the aforementioned Soleimani).
On the other hand, it is also true that Masjedi is among the more moderate members of the Guard within the Iranian diplomatic corps. One cannot underestimate the importance of emerging information that within the Guard (whether in its foreign policy arm al-Quds or in the Basij, its internal policy division) staff are associated with the forced disappearance of people who have been fired, are missing or are in hiding.
In other words, disclosure of the meeting, which appeared in the Israeli press, regardless of whether or not it took place, is certainly a convenient opportunity for Tel Aviv to invest even further in escalating the tension that exists in Tehran's power circles. Earlier this year, for example, Foreign Affairs Minister Zarif resigned, albeit briefly, because of a conflict of interest between his ministry and the Revolutionary Guard. Details about tensions in the upper echelons of the Iranian state also appeared when an unmanned U.S. drone was shot down over the Persian Gulf. (It is questionable as to whether the drone was in international or in Iranian territorial waters.)
Israel does not need any additional encouragement to add fuel to the fire after Iran announced in the last few days that it is already enriching uranium above 3.7%, the amount permitted for non-military purposes. Moreover, elections will take place again in Israel in September, and this is a convenient time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, known in his country as “Mr. Security," to draw his country’s attention to the danger posed by Tehran.
However, unlike Masjedi, Hassan Khomeini qualifies as someone who thinks differently from official Iran. It is apparent that Khomeini’s grandson is far from being a confidant of the mullah regime, and he is not an official representative (again, unlike Masjedi). Is it possible that the grandson of the creator of the Islamic Republic is recognized as a mediator between Washington and Tehran, given that he is one of the identifiable critical voices in Iran? In other words, is Hassan Khomeini playing the role of mediator, a role usually reserved for countries such as Oman, Iraq, Kuwait and, recently, Japan? Can he act a mediator given the fact that he is connected to the regime by blood, while intellectually, not so much?
The odds are slim. However, luck is obviously on your side when you wear jeans and meet with Americans and yet, you're still alive because as a child you had the freedom to pull the beard of the creator of the Islamic Republic just for fun.
We know the adage that the Revolution devours its children. But nothing has been said about its grandchildren.