September 2, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1014

The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part III: Rafsanjani Says Assad Used Chemical Weapons Against His Own People

September 2, 2013 | By Yossi Mansharof and E. Kharrazi*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1014

In recent months, Iranian Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has challenged the leadership of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as well as his policy in the nuclear and Syrian crises.[1] On August 29, 2013, Rafsanjani made an additional defiant speech, unusually harsh for the Iranian political landscape; he stated that Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, who is Iran's strategic ally, had attacked his own people with chemical weapons.

Also in his speech, Rafsanjani bemoaned the plight of the Iranian people, which he says is suffering under the sanctions that are impacting all areas of life and security and economic affairs; this, he said, is due to Khamenei's nuclear policy, which rejects the option of compromising with the West and the U.S. in order to alleviate the suffering of the people.

His statements were recorded and were released on YouTube on September 2.

Rafsanjani's Anti-Assad Statements

In his speech (click here to view this clip on MEMRI TV), Rafsanjani stated: "Our current problems are real problems. We are besieged, under sanctions and boycott. We cannot use our resources, we cannot sell our oil, and if we do sell it, we cannot get the money transferred to us. If we buy anything, we must pay extra. We must pay extra in order to have the money transferred to us.

"We have many problems, and recently, we are witnessing even greater danger. You watch the news, so you see that the U.S., the West in general, and some Arab countries have just about declared war on Syria. Any moment now, we will hear the sound of rockets and bombs. May God have mercy on the Syrian people.

"Over the past two years, the Syrian people have suffered greatly. Over 100,000 people have been killed, and there are eight million refugees, within and outside Syria. The prisons are crammed full and there is no more room, so they have seized a few stadiums to fill them up too. The Syrian people are experiencing harsh conditions. On the one hand, they are bombed with chemicals by their own government, and on the other hand, they can expect American bombs."

ILNA Publishes, Then Censors, Rafsanjani's Statements

It should be noted that the news agency ILNA, which was the first to report on Rafsanjani's anti-Assad statements, on September 1, redacted the phrase "by their own government" immediately after it published it (see Appendix for images of the two ILNA reports).

Khomeini's Granddaughter: Rafsanjani Said He Accused Assad Regime

In an August 29 post on her Facebook page, Naeimeh Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, said that Rafsanjani had stated in his speech that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against its own people.[2]

Rafsanjani's Office Issues Denials

Rafsanjani's office issued a statement on August 31 denying that he had said these words: "Rafsanjani's position with regard to Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon is clear and will not be distorted by a rumor."[3]

In addition, on September 3, Rafsanjani's office released the details of a conversation in late 2012 between Rafsanjani and Iraqi special emissary and former oil minister Ibrahim Bahr Al-Ulum on the issue of the possible repercussions of the Syrian crisis on Iraq and Iran.

In the conversation, Rafsanjani assessed that "the prospects for [Assad] remaining [in power] are very low," but clarified that he considered Syria to be a strategic zone for Iran and the resistance axis.

Rafsanjani added: "We need Syria to be ours. From Lebanon to here [Iran], if this space is divided, bad things will happen."

Warning that the Syrian crisis could spill over into Iraq, he said that if this happened, the Shi'ite-Alawite bloc – that is, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran – could fall into the hands of the Salafi Sunnis, who, he said, prefer brute force to diplomacy. He also warned that Assad's chemical weapons arsenal could fall into the hands of Salafi circles.[4]

Reaction In Iran To Rafsanjani's Statements

The website that released the video of Rafsanjani's anti-Assad speech,, is a supporter of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and opposes Rafsanjani. According to its assessment of Rafsanjani's statements, his anti-Assad remarks reflect his withdrawal from the resistance axis and encouragement for the attempt by the Western media and President Obama himself to persuade international public opinion to pursue this adventure against Syria. It also claimed that this speech by Rafsanjani would have no impact on the Iranian people.[5]

The Alef website, which is identified with Majlis member Ahmad Tavakkoli, criticized, on September 3, Rafsanjani's anti-Assad statements. It said that the speech had shocked many people, among them supporters of Rafsanjani, and that the statements he made in it could not be justified by any logic. Perhaps, it said, Rafsanjani's office can provide an explanation regarding the recording of the remarks, in which he is heard directly accusing Assad of waging chemical warfare – an issue that, it noted, the American Congress has postposed [dealing with] due to uncertainty.

The website added that European countries oppose the American attack and are demanding an in-depth examination of the question of who really used chemical weapons in Syria.

Alef then asked, "Where did Rafsanjani get his information [that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people]? Who was he talking to in his speech? What plan is he devising? and, Was this recording also placed on the desk of the U.N. Security Council?..." [6]

*Y. Mansharof and E. Kharrazi are Research Fellows at MEMRI.

Appendix: Two ILNA Reports

The ILNA report on Rafsanjani's statements: Top: Original; bottom: after redaction (


[3] Tabnak (Iran), August 31, 2013.

[4], September 3, 2013.

[5], September 2, 2013.

[6], September 3, 2013.

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