The latest reported coup attempt in Iran, involving the military and the gendarmerie, comes at a time of greater desperation than ever in Ayatollah Khomeini's revolutionary camp.
The desperate has many facets.
The camp as a whole is frustrated that, 18 months after the ouster of the shah, Iran is sinking into an increasingly agitated sea of troubles.Yet, within the camp, the bitterly divided secular and religious factions are locked in a fierce struggle that of itself produces recrimination and stalemate.
At the moment, the religious fundamentalists have the upper hand. President Bani-Sadr -- symbol of the secular camp -- is very much on the defensive.
But the fundamentalists have been thwarted in their efforts to clinch total victory. Their instinctive response is to look for scapegoats. In this search, attention is concentrated on two areas:
* The holdovers from the old-regime within the two major instruments of power in any state -- the upper levels in the bureaucracy and the military. This area is given priority because it probably is the greater short-term threat.
* The second is the extreme left, particularly that segment of it owing allegiance to Moscow. This area poses perhaps the greater long-term threat. Interestingly, both Ayatollah Khomeini and Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh have taken verbal swipes at the Soviet Union in recent days -- with Mr. Ghotbzadeh pointing the finger, too, at the pro- Moscow Tudeh Party (Iran's orthodox communist party).
But it is the bureaucracy and the military, with suspected links to the US, that are primarily under the whip. Hence the repeated reports of thwarted coups plotted by the military. Hence the intensified purges launched in recent weeks within government departments.
Both top-level civil servants and the officer corps in the armed forces are suspected of really wanting an Iran retaining more links with the West than the religious fundamentalists would allow. and suspicious about the ultimate loyalty of the military to the revolution have become almost paranoid since the unsuccessful American attempt last April to rescue the hostages -- an attempt that never got beyond the desert base at Tabas. Within and without Iran, the belief is that the US rescue team was counting on the eventual cooperation of Iranians inside the country who never got as far as openly showing their hand last April.
President Bani-Sadr and other Iranian officials have claimed on television that the lates plot was backed by the US, Israel, and Iraq. These three are the favorite whipping- boys for Iranians looking for foreigners to blame for their troubles.
Mr. Bani-Sadr said the aim of the intended coup was to bring back to power Shahpour Bakhtiar, Iran's transitional prime minister who was swept aside in the full fury of the revolution in February 1979. Mr. Bakhtiar now lives in Paris and has openly sought to rally anti-Khomeini support from there.
US officials were quoted in the New York Times last month as acknowledging that the US was behind anti- Khomeini broadcasts beamed to Iran from two transmitters in Egypt, with Egyptian President Sadat's consent. Mr. Sadat has been the target of hostile propaganda from Iran ever since he first gave the ousted Shah refuge from the fury of the Iranian revolution. The New York Times said material in the transmissions from Egypt "indicated support" for Mr. Bakhtiar.
The Paris newspaper Le Monde wrote a few days earlier of two anti-Khomeini radio programs beamed "apparently" from Iraq. The latter has a long common frontier with IRan, and Iraqi strong man Saddam Hussein is at loggerheads with Ayatollah Khomeini because of the latter's efforts to subvert Iraq's Shia Muslim Arabs. Le Monde said one of the two programs was manifestly royalist and contained coded messages for real or imaginary anti-Khmomeini cells in Iran. The other program often included recorded quotations from Mr. Bakhtiar.
There are conflicting reports about the precise identity and number of people involved in the latest coup attempt -- described by Mr. Bani-Sadr as the sixth to be foiled in the past four months. (The US rescue attempt was nearly three months ago.)