Iran's deep preoccupation with spies, which has been on the increase since the occupation of the United States Embassy last November, is spilling over into new areas.
The list of suspects has gradually been extended to include foreign journalists, missionaries, foreign companies, and even Iranians not following the official line.
Latest victim of the mania was British missionary Jean Waddell, who was arrested about five days ago in Isfahan, about 220 miles south of Tehran. She was charged with spying for Britain and the Israeli intelligence organization, Mossad.
Miss Waddell has denied the charges, but Revolutionary Guards insist that they have documentary evidence against her. Having heard such unproved statements from the guards several times previously, analysts in Tehran tend to take them with reservations.
The overall pattern that has emerged is that the revolutionaries have been trying to hound out of the country any group of people they find undesirable by slapping spy charges against a few of them. After examples have been made of the few, the others in the group, whether journalists, missionaires or whatever, make plans to leave earlier than expected.
The objective, analysts believe, is to bring down an Islamic iron curtain around Iran, in much the same way that the Soviet Union and China did after their revolutions. In doing so, the fundamentalists here are following Ayatollah Khomeini's line. He said in one of his earlier speeches:
"If only one could build a wall around Iran and cut it off from the rest of the world while we establish a new Islamic society her."
Miss Waddel was secretary to the Anglican Bishop of Isfahan, Hassan Degqani-Tafti, who was hounded out of the country after two attempts were made on his life. Bishop Dehqani-Tafti, an Iranian, is currently living in Cyprus.
Miss Waddell was wounded in earlier incidents in May, and after her recovery was not permitted to leave in Iran. After inquiries, officials in Tehran were willing to permit her to leave, but the revolutionary authorities in Isfahan objected.
She traveled to Isfahan last week to plead with the authorities there to allow her to leave. Instead they arrested her Aug. 6. It was not until four days later that the newspaper of the Islamic Republican Party (IRP) announced her arrest on spy charges.
British Embassy officials in Tehran say they have not been allowed to see her. They were unable to confirm a report in the newspaper that she had been sent back to Tehran for further interrogation.
Before Bishop Dehqani-Tafti was forced to leave Iran, charges were made that the Christian hospital that was under his charge in Isfahan was being run as a "spy center" for Britain. The guards now claim that Miss Waddell worked in that center.
Acctually, prior to these charges against him, Bishop Dehqani-Tafti had strongly resisted attempts by an Islamic group to take over the hospital after the overthrow of the previous regime.
Another recent incident involving spy charges against missionairies concerned the Andisheh School run by Roman Catholic priests in Tehran. Highly derogatory remarks were made against the priests
The Catholics at least had somebody to come to their rescue. They called in Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, the Palestinian prelate of Jerusalem, who is afforded some respect by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini because of his troubles with Israel. Archbishop Capucci said later that he had found no evidence that the priests had been spying for Israel or anyone else.
The priests have since been allowed to leave the country, but a government order banning Christian missionaries from running schools in the country has not been withdrawn.
Having used the espionage charge so successfully against the hostages of the US Embassy (despite admissions in private that perhaps no more than three or four of the embassy personnel were actually engaged in espionage), Iran's hardline revolutionaries appear to see no reason why they should not use it against any other group they wish to oust from the country.
They have used it against more than a dozen foreign journalists with a success that might make the Soviet secret police envious. But perhaps the best evidence that the spy charges are false is the fact that the majority of the newsmen have been allowed to leave the country (without publicity) after being held and interrogated for at most five days.