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Why The US Sanctioned Khamenei's Son

Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei a son of Ali Khamenei)R) Vahid Haqqanian, Deputy Special Affairs Office of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. File photo
Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei a son of Ali Khamenei)R) Vahid Haqqanian, Deputy Special Affairs Office of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. File photo

On November 4, on the 40th anniversary of Iran's hostage crisis, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action against Iran’s Armed Forces General Staff as well as nine members of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's inner circle.

These are "individuals who are appointees of, or have acted for or on behalf of, Ali Khamenei, the Iranian regime’s unelected Supreme Leader whose office is responsible for advancing Iran’s radical agenda," said a statement by the Department of Treasury.

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury's official website the action taken by OFAC aims to " to block funds from flowing to a shadow network of Ali Khamenei’s military and foreign affairs advisors who have for decades oppressed the Iranian people, exported terrorism, and advanced destabilizing policies around the world."

One particular member of Khamenei's inner circle who has been sanctioned as a result of this action is Khamenei's second son, Mojtaba. The Department of Treasury designated Mojtaba Khamenei for representing the Supreme Leader in an official capacity "despite never being elected or appointed to a government position aside from work in the office of his father."

The statement said, "The Supreme Leader has delegated a part of his leadership responsibilities to Mojtaba Khamenei," and that he maintains close ties with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps IRGC and the Basij militia.

A review of Iranian political developments during the past two decades shows that Mojtaba has gradually become one of the key players on the Iranian political scene. Many analysts speculate that he is likely to play a greater role in the future of the Islamic Republic. So, his designation can lead to discussions that may bring about a degree of transparency about the scope of his powers, responsibilities and authority.

During the past ten years some clerics have said that Mojtaba is being groomed to be a marja' or a religious source of emulation.; a position that would unusually promote his position and rank in Iran's clerical circle. To this end, he has been teaching advanced religious courses at the Qom Seminary since 2009.

Mojtaba Khamenei during a religious lecture. Undated.
Mojtaba Khamenei during a religious lecture. Undated.

According to Jahan News website, this has annoyed some clerics who believe Mojtaba is taking advantage of his father's position. But clerics close to Khamenei have been reportedly calling on renowned clergymen in Qom to help elevate Mojtaba to the position of “source of emulation” as a first step in grooming him for the role of Supreme Leader after Khamenei's death.

Former Majles Speaker Mehdi Karroubi has twice written to Khamenei in 2005 and 2009, accusing his son Mojtaba of interfering in presidential elections with the help of the IRGC and Basij militia.

Mohammad Hashemi, a brother of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former deputy interior minister Mostafa Tajzadeh have also said that Mojtaba has interfered with election process and been involved in suppressing Iranian dissidents.

Although Khamenei has never been observed to publicly comment on his son's role, Many Iranians see Mojtaba's behavior including his interference in elections as a prelude to rising to power as his father's successor. Demonstrators who expressed their opposition to the allegedly rigged election in 2009 chanted a meaningful slogan that showed their attitude about Mojtaba's behavior: "Wish you death Mojtaba, so you would never be the next leader!"

Protesters chanting slogan in 2009 in Iran against Mojtaba Khamenei

The slogan revealed that speculations about Mojtaba's future role was not limited to analyses in the media as it found its way into the minds of ordinary Iranians.

Some individuals linked to Khamenei's family have ruled out concerns about Mojtaba's political future as a successor to Khamenei. They say Mojtaba lives a simple and modest life and has no political activity. But there is evidence emerging about his interference in the country's executive management.

Former state TV chief Mohammad Sarafraz wrote in a book he has published recently that Mojtaba played a part in the dynamics that led to Sarafraz's resignation from his post. Sarafraz also wrote about Mojtaba's link to a network led by IRGC Intelligence Chief Hossein Taeb which was instrumental in pushing him out of the state TV.

Mojtaba Khamenei during the Iran-Iraq war in "Habib Battalion". Most of his former comrades in this photo are now key security officials.
Mojtaba Khamenei during the Iran-Iraq war in "Habib Battalion". Most of his former comrades in this photo are now key security officials.

Sarafraz's advisor during his term in office at the state TV has charged that Mojtaba also supported a business network which had Taeb at its center.

Information about Mojtaba's role first started as a rumor by Iranian politicians, spread during mass protests in 2009 and finally found its way to the international scene, making him a unique figure on the Iranian political scene.

His name appearing on the list of sanctions was not an accidental occurrence or part of a psychological warfare against the Iranian government. It was the rise in the extent of his power and influence that brought him into the spotlight.

Khamenei certainly has a plan about Mojtaba's future. The more the discussions regarding Mojtaba's future role and responsibilities find their way into public spotlight, including social media, those plans are likely to become increasingly more complicated and at the same time difficult to realize.

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.