The Muscle Behind the Supreme Leader
The IRGC’s military power is the muscle that Khamenei depends upon in order to preserve his regime and export the Islamic Republic’s revolution.
The use of military force within Iran by the IRGC is focused on muting the voices of dissenters and critics of the regime – whether through arrests, torture or hanging – and focused on developing and maintaining the required military assets necessary to defend Iran or to attack its enemies.
Iranian leaders usually stress that their military might is meant only to defend Iran but in reality, the IRGC in particular devotes significant resources to offensive capabilities in the form of support for subversion and terrorism. An editorial published by the IRGC itself provides some insight as to reason why such activity is a key factor for Iran: “In order to achieve ideological, political, security and economic self-reliance we have no other choice but to mobilize all forces loyal to the Islamic Revolution, and through this mobilization, plant such a terror in the hearts of the enemies that they abandon the thought of an offensive and annihilation of our revolution…. If our revolution does not have an offensive and internationalist dimension, the enemies of Islam will again enslave us culturally, politically, and the like, and they will not abstain from plunder and looting.
Global Terrorism as a Strategy
This “mobilization” includes a vast network of proxy fighters such as the Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas organizations as well as a network of terrorist cells across the globe which the IRGC supports or is actively involved in directly or through its elite Al Quds division. In some cases, such as in Syria, the IRGC does not even try to hide its involvement: “We have extended our security borders to the East Mediterranean” – Deputy Commander (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami.
In most cases, the IRGC’s operations are covert and include espionage and terrorism. In activities of this nature, the IRGC tries to not be directly involved and relies either on its elite Al Quds division or on proxy terrorist, and in some cases, even Iranian diplomats.
The fact that many Iranian diplomats are in fact ex-IRGC operatives creates, once again, a very fluid structure within which the IRGC operates:
“80 percent of the staff working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are directly linked to the Revolutionary Guard and are not linked to the (foreign) ministry itself. Thus, the head of the diplomatic mission has no control over them”.
The IRGC controls the agenda, the budget, the proxy fighters and the diplomats in terrorist activities outside of Iran. Obviously, most of these activities are concealed and the links that do surface between terrorist activities and the IRGC are not in the open.
Still, enough links have been exposed to lead countries to call for the IRGC to be listed as a terrorist entity – as well as to sanction IRGC officers such as Gen. Hosein Salimi (Commander, IRGC Air Force), Gen. Mohammad Baqr Zolqadr (IRGC officer serving as deputy Interior Minister), Brig. Gen. Qasem Soleimani (Qods Force commander), Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi (IRGC ground forces commander), Brig. Gen. Morteza Reza’i (Deputy commander-in-chief, IRGC), Vice Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadiyan (chief of IRGC Joint Staff) , too name a few.
The IRGC without Khamenei?
It is hard to imagine another organization with so much power, in so many fields in one country. But then, most countries do not have a Supreme Leader either. Both Khamenei and the IRGC are intent on protecting the regime and their futures and both are able to do so quite freely because Khamenei is above the law and he has brought the IRGC above the law with him.
Rouhani’s ticket to the presidency was one of change. A change in the handling of the confrontation with the UN over the Nuclear program and thus, a change in the economic situation in Iran. He can easily change the tone and style of Iran’s foreign policy but it is doubtful that he can change its content – in other words, as long as the IRGC and Khamenei are in charge, he can change the talk but not the walk.
This cycle of power seems impossible to breakthrough as long as Khamenei is in power. If and when Khamenei passes away, the IRGC will find itself under the “protection” of another Supreme Leader. Will Khamenei’s heir accept the IRGC’s powerbase as his own and accept them as his partners? Will they accept him? And what will happen if Khamenei’s heir wants to change the status quo? How will the IRGC react to a threat to its control? Will the enemies of the IRGC try to seize this opportunity for change?
In any case, the IRGC is inherently connected to Khamenei and according to an IRGC-related site, its purpose is to serve the Islamic system and not the current administration.
These questions are probably being asked by IRGC leaders as well as their enemies at this very moment. They should be asked by the Western powers as well because such a power struggle is bound to affect the rest of the world if and when Iran reaches nuclear break-out.