Plus ça change… Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, predictably, has responded to tensions between Iran and the United States by saying that Iran doesn’t want to start a war but is ready to face the enemy. He also switched military commanders around, replacing one trusted Revolutionary Guards commander with another. Khamenei assigned Ali Fadavi as the deputy commander of the Guards. He’s been a commander of the Guards Navy over the last 30 years and is among a few Revolutionary Guards who have had direct contact with American forces in the Persian Gulf. In the last year of the Iran-Iraq War, Fadavi led the Guards’ speed boats that attacked the American Navy there. More recently, Fadavi was in charge of arresting 10 American officers in the Persian Gulf in January 2016. Fadavi is known for his close contacts with the Guards’ intelligence unit and the expansion of the Guards’ naval presence in the Gulf over the last 30 years. His assignment shows that Khamenei, at least on the surface, is getting ready for a military confrontation.

In addition to Fadavi, Khamenei also appointed one of the most radical military leaders in Iran, General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, as deputy coordinator of the Guards. I’ve been to a few of Naghdi’s speeches. He’s one of the most ignorant, egotistical, paranoid and opinionated Iranian leaders I’ve ever seen. That says a lot. Naghdi’s speeches always included a long passage about how Iranian reformists are making people forget revolutionary values and selling the country to the US. Naghdi verbalized the paranoid vision of many regime supporters, especially members of the Guards and the paramilitary Basij. This vision includes two components: 1- That the Americans, Israelis and Brits are plotting night and day to defeat the Islamic Republic and they are using immoral and westernized Iranians to carry out their plans in Iran. And 2- Iran is surrounded by enemies in the region and beyond and needs to foster allies in different countries and fight the enemies in their own lands. This is essentially Khamenei’s core belief as well, and Naghdi’s assignment indicates that Khamenei is tired of diplomacy and is planning to go for the jugular.

I suspect as Iran becomes more militarized, the repression of dissidents will intensify. Recently, an IranWire source told us that jailed labor activists were threatened that if they or their families speak to the media they’ll face tougher sentences. Our new series on spying looks at the innocent people who have been falsely accused of espionage only to find out that the regime wants them to spy on other Iranians. Aras Amiri, who was recently sentenced, Iranian-British Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, US-based scientist Omid Kokabee and many others have made it clear that they have no access to any information that would be of use to Iran. But even if they did, they are unwilling to comply with Iranian officials because each of them know that it would be the start of a downward spiral of more informing and spying. The use of innocent citizens to achieve its goals reveals the corrupt nature of the Islamic regime, which has roots in the ideology behind it. The founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini famously said, “Spying to protect Islam and the Muslim people is a religious duty and if a particular act is a religious duty, then dereliction of this duty is subject to punishment.”

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