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August 8, 2021 6:18 am
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Confused by Tehran’s Latest Maneuvers? Don’t Be

avatar by Jonathan S. Tobin / JNS.org

Opinion

Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi ​attends an election debate at a television studio, in Tehran, Iran June 8, 2021. Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/YJC/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

JNS.org – The inauguration of a new president of Iran has launched a wave of articles in mainstream publications like the New York Times attempting to explain the meaning of the “election” of Ebrahim Raisi. The ascension of Raisi, who is considered a close ally of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is widely seen as a sign that the regime is now in the hands of “hardliners” rather than “moderates” like former President Hassan Rouhani. But much like when Rouhani took over from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013, these efforts do more to misinform than enlighten readers. The attempt to regard the byplay in Tehran as a funhouse mirror version of politics in a democratic country is one more example of Western analysts projecting their own values and outlook on Iran’s theocratic system rather than the product of any genuine insight.

There are some differences between these figures. Rouhani could pretend to be at least more reasonable-sounding than Ahmadinejad, who wasn’t shy about openly expressing his Jew-hatred and Holocaust denial. By contrast, Raisi’s role as a member of a death panel that ordered the execution of 5,000 Iranian dissidents marks him as a cold-blooded killer who has been more closely involved with the work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the terrorist arm of the regime, than Rouhani had been.

But just as there was no presidential election in any real sense — since all candidates must be approved by the Supreme Leader before they can run, resulting in no real choice at all for those who are forced to go through the charade of voting — the notion of competing factions inside the Tehran government is equally misleading.

That is the context in which the speculation about what Khamenei’s decision to tap a longtime henchman like Raisi means for the Biden administration’s hopes to revive the 2015 nuclear deal takes place. The same is true for efforts to understand the recent string of Iranian provocations aimed at the West, which include a kidnapping plot aimed at a dissident living in the United States, as well as a string of attacks at sea such as the deadly one on an Israeli-operated oil tanker off the coast of Oman.

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