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Military Service as Part of Iran’s Regime Election Playbook and Power Dynamics

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Recent reports from Iranian state media have highlighted discussions about reducing the military service period. On January 29, Mehr News Agency cited Mohsen Dehnavi, a member of the parliament’s presidium, who referred to an agreement between the General Staff of the Armed Forces and the parliament speaker regarding the Seventh Development Plan bill. According to Dehnavi, “the average military service, including training, will be reduced to 14 months” under this agreement.

Given that the Iranian regime heavily depends on its military and law enforcement forces for its survival, the accuracy and implications of this development demand careful examination, particularly its timing which is coinciding with the upcoming sham elections of the parliament and the Council of Experts.

In Iran, all men over 18 are legally obligated to serve 18 months to two years in the military or face imprisonment, fines, and social stigma for evasion. This system, often viewed as mandatory service to the regime, assigns individuals to the army or Revolutionary Guards, stripping them of choice. While exemptions exist for medical reasons or specific family situations, wealthier individuals can reportedly buy out their service, highlighting the unequal application of this forced obligation. Fleeing the country illegally or internally carries further risks, including potential imprisonment, travel restrictions, and even, rarely, the death penalty during wartime. This mandatory service system remains a contentious issue in Iran, prompting protests and discussions about its necessity and fairness.

On October 7, 2023, MP Mohsen Dehnavi, formerly the head of the Basij at Sharif University, raised the issue of reducing the military service period. While this sensitive topic has previously been raised within the ruling establishment, it faced significant opposition from influential factions, particularly within the Majlis (parliament).

However, it now seems that the faction aligned with Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Iranian regime, has signaled its decision to set aside its opposition. It aims to present a change in military service policy as a political accomplishment ahead of the elections.

Among the entities opposing the amendment to the military service law were the General Staff of the Armed Forces and the Organization of Conscription. Nevertheless, in recent days, Mohsen Dehnavi announced the agreement of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the parliament speaker, and Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. However, following Dehnavi’s statements, the Conscription Organization expressed its opposition to the proposed bill.

In its statement that was issued on November 6, 2023, the organization designated the Public Duty Organization of the Law Enforcement Force as the sole official source of information on this matter. Additionally, it implicitly labeled Dehnavi as “irresponsible individuals” in its statement. In this context, soldiers were urged to “participate in ensuring homeland security.”

This sequence ultimately resulted in the Guardian Council opposing the bill. Following the Guardian Council’s objection, the bill was sent back to parliament for amendment. However, before any amendments could be made, Dehnavi once again addressed the issue.

He reiterated his previous statements and asserted that an agreement had been reached between parliament and the General Staff to reduce the military service period to 14 months. Additionally, he claimed that soldiers over 35 years old with two children would be exempted from service.

Nonetheless, the publication of the resolution by the parliament news agency highlighted Dehnavi’s inconsistencies, even within parliament. Subsequently, the Conscription Organization issued a second statement opposing the parliament’s proposal. Nonetheless, the organization approved certain reductions for specific categories of soldiers.

Despite this, Dehnavi leveraged his network and reiterated his assertions on state television. Additionally, it was noted that parliamentarians are endeavoring to have this proposal approved by the Guardian Council before the Persian New Year. Subsequently, on January 28, the proposal was reintroduced to the parliament’s agenda, this time under the title of Clause T, Article 102 of the Seventh Development Plan.

Therefore, it appears that the political fight over the military service period is a Machiavellian strategy for vote manipulation. Furthermore, this process validates speculations about an individual who, despite being a newcomer to the regime’s power play, can enhance his profile within the corrupt hierarchy and expand his influence due to proximity to the Khamenei circle and strong connections.

Mohsen Dehnavi was detained by authorities in 2017 while traveling to the United States for educational purposes. He was sent back to Iran after 30 hours of detention due to his leadership role in the student Basij at Sharif University, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and his membership in the Council for Explanation of Basij Positions in Tehran Province. Upon returning to Tehran, Dehnavi assumed the position of deputy for production, commercialization, and market development at the Biotechnology Development Headquarters under the Office of the Vice President for Science and Technology.