The details are still coming in, but it appears dozens — maybe hundreds — of demonstrators across Iran have been arrested over the past three days.
As usual, they will be interrogated and as usual, their interrogators will not believe these people were simply protesting against inflation, or corruption or censorship. Instead they will probe and threaten, trying to uncover evidence that the demonstrators belong to a huge international conspiracy – run by the CIA, or the Arabs or Mossad. Or all three.
This paranoia underpins the Iranian regime’s worldview, and it reveals a good deal about them — the police, the security services and the aging revolutionaries who still wield so much power.
They believe in conspiracies because they themselves are conspirators – lying, scheming and plotting against each other and their enemies abroad – both real and perceived.
There’s a term for this in psychology: “projection”, where humans refuse to acknowledge their own (in this case negative) impulses by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.
A good example surfaced recently of an Iranian conspiracy designed to hide the regime’s role in supporting a vicious regional war.
As the conflict in Yemen was heating up, Yemeni diplomats and politicians were shuttling between Tehran and Sanaa. That’s not surprising as Iran had offered to back the Houthi fighters.
However, the diplomats and politicians travelling on civilian passenger planes were smuggling Iranian-supplied weapons and even missile parts back to Yemen. This has been confirmed by both passengers and pilots on those planes, whose identities I have to protect for their own safety.
Actually smuggling weapons on civilian aircraft is old trick, practiced in the 1980s during the war with Iraq (and by now well-documented by spies who defected to the West.)
I have spoken to an arms dealer who not only confirmed that he moved lethal contraband that way, but that he did it accompanied by Mohsen Rafighdoust, the former head of the biggest religious foundation in Iran, Mestazafan.
Similarly, our regime has developed a Byzantine set of financial tricks to get around sanctions, and to funnel secret money to Shia groups – political and paramilitary – abroad.
So when the security agencies detain an innocent representative of an NGO using money from overseas to build a school or a clinic, they can’t take the explanation at face value.
“What are your links to the counter-revolutionary network?” the interrogator will ask. “How are you conspiring with Israel to undermine the Islamic Republic?
And if the unfortunate person has ties to a “suspect” organization –which could be anything from the Baha’i church to the Gonabadi dervishes to Mohammed Ali Taheri’s kooky mysticism cult — the interrogators will double down. “Who are your global contacts?” they’ll ask darkly. “And how do you contact them?” As if there was a sinister secret alternative to email and phone.
Oh you despots, blinded by suspicion and scheming.
In the real world, a school-building project is usually just a school-building project.
And a protestor is just a citizen — angry about the price of eggs, or unemployment or shameful political incompetence.
Of course, those are genuine problems that require courage and leadership to solve. Easier just to blame Mossad.