IRGC Controls Conventional and Unconventional Military


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.

Relevant posts:


IRGC Controls Legitimate & Illegitimate Economy


Update from November 12th: 

Reuters investigates Khamenei’s economic empire worth at least $92 Billion.


Original Post

The IRGC gets Richer by the Day

The exact amount of money controlled by the IRGC will never be known by the outside world, since the IRGC’s empire is very diversified and includes both legitimate businesses as well illegitimate deals, black-market activities and smuggling.

And yet, enough is known to understand that the IRGC is probably the most influential economic enterprise in Iran – controlling approximately $80 Billion, half of Iran’s imports and one-third of the country’s non-oil exports, an estimated 11 thousand projects and 40% of the economy , generating an annual revenue of at least $12 Billion a year.

The IRGC’s political ties to the regime and to the Majlis (parliament), together with its high security credentials, allow it take control of businesses without tenders, without legal supervision and, in some cases, even with huge tax-breaks.

Huge Corporations with Huge Influence

One example: Khatam al-Anbiya, the IRGC’s powerhouse construction company, controls over 812 registered companies inside or outside Iran, and (is) the recipient of 1,700 government contracts ,including numerous tunneling projects, nuclear/missile activities, gas and oil pipelines, and the international airport. Most of these projects were handed to the IRGC without tender or competition.

IRGC Major General Rostam Qassemi, who just happens to be oil minister, makes it quite clear what the IRGC’s goal and future should be: This base (Khatam al-Anbiya) should become the replacement for big foreign companies. In fact, since taking over as oil minister, the IRGC was awarded, again without tender, numerous projects in the energy market including a “$2.5bn contract to build infrastructure in the South Pars oil field” and “a $1.3bn contract to build a natural gas pipeline running nearly 560 miles from Bushehr province to Sistan-Baluchestan“.

IRGC Gets Richer as Iranians Get Poorer

Not content with controlling the businesses themselves, the IRGC is now poised to take over the management of the Central Bank of Iran: “The CBI and IRGC (are) to prepare an urgent plan for an orderly transfer of responsibility for running the entire banking system to the IRGC.”

Perhaps when that happens, the IRGC won’t have to deal in smuggling gold from Turkey, through Dubai, successfully profiting from and circumventing the effects of the UN-backed sanctions on the economy.

Paradoxically, the IRGC profited enormously from the sanctions, which eliminated foreign competition and increased profitability from smuggling.

The IRGC’s (not so) Secret Partner

A closer look at the IRGC’s partners in businesses it bought or manages shines a bright light on the shady connections of the IRGC with the pinnacle of power in Iran – Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei controls numerous foundations such as the Imam Khomeini Foundation, Mostazafan Foundation, Abdolazim Shrine, and and Astan Qodsmanages. These foundations are directly appointed by the Supreme Leader and therefore, they do not pay taxes, and they cannot be audited by the parliament or by the judiciary system. Apart from huge assets in real estate ($45 Billion back in 2008), the Imam Khomeini Foundation is also a partner in Iran’s Telecommunication Company together with the IRGC and other profitable businesses in the energy markets, food and mining and much more.

The tie between Khamenei, the IRGC and Iran’s assets is no trivial matter. To quote Meir Javedanfar – “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the regime’s supreme investment manager” and “Khamenei’s shareholders consist mainly of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Principalists“.

Khamenei and his IRGC partners not only have complete control over where Iran’s money will be invested, they also profit from the businesses that own and manage these projects.

The next post will focus on the IRGC’s control military activities in and outside Iran.

Relevant posts:

IRGC controls national & foreign policy

IRGC controls politics & politicians

IRGC Controls Iran

How Moderate is Rouhani’s Cabinet?


The Current Power Base in Tehran

Over the past two weeks we began publishing a series of articles regarding the three pronged sources of power and control in Iran: Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani or the Iranian Guards Revolutionary Corps (IRGC), currently led by Mohammad Jafari. Although Jafari himself is still not a visible power player, the IRGC definitely is. The IRGC, “the principal defender of the Islamic Revolution“, has a disproportionate  amount of control on Iran’s politicspolicies and economy (next post in the series) – control that resembles the KGB at its hiatus and is strengthened by Khamenei at the expense of the clerics since he took office. In fact, half the cabinet members of former president Ahmadinejad were current/former IRGC officials as was Ahmadinejad himself.

Rouhani’s Moderate” Cabinet

Last week, Rouhani chose his cabinet members and reduced the number of posts of IRGC members – while introducing “technocrats and economic planners” in their stead. This choice led to speculations, once again, that Rouhani is promoting a moderate version of Iran in the hopes of rapprochement with the West. Unfortunately, much as with Rouhani himself, Tehran’s definition of moderate is not easy to pin down.

His defense minister, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dheghan, is a top IRGC commander as is Hamid Chitchian, the future minister of energy – a key role in Tehran’s government.  Rouhani did reduce the number of IRGC officials in his cabinet and yes, some of his cabinet members seem to have been chosen for their abilities and not for their political ties to current controlling factors. And yet, some of his cabinet members are far from moderate:

The Future According to the Past

But perhaps more importantly, no one, inside or outside of Tehran, knows how the IRGC, and Khamenei himself, will react over time to this Rouhani’s “moderation” strategy.

Rouhani may have reduced the IRGC’s direct influence in his cabinet but the IRGC’s base of power includes Khamenei himself and as long as Rouhani’s moderation does not hamper the IRGC’s hold on Iran’s economy, it may be business as usual for the IRGC.

If and when that line is crossed, Rouhani, and the West, should remember what happened to former President Khatami who was deemed as too liberal by Khamenei and soon found himself ousted in favor of Ahmadinejad.

Earlier articles on the IRGC:

IRGC’s Controls on National & Foreign Policy

control 3

Supporting and Exporting the Revolution

The IRGC is active on the national front mainly in upholding and protecting the Islamic Republic system and the ideal of the Iranian-inspired Islamic revolution.

But that protection is not limited to the borders of Iran. In the May-June issue of its official newsletter, “Message of the Revolution”, the IRGC presents its version of “important issues in evaluating presidential candidates“. This includes “preserving the principles of the revolution and the ideals of the Imam [Khomeini] and Leadership [of Khamenei], specifically in the dimension of foreign policy” – including “the essential conflict between the Islamic Revolution and Global Arrogance” and, of course, wiping out the “Zionist regime”.

The IRGC and the Nuclear Program

Iran’s nuclear program is important to the IRGC on three levels: militarily, financially and in the context of foreign policy. Since the beginning of the nuclear crisis, the IRGC strategy regarding the way to handle the nuclear issue is much less blunt than Rouhani’s: No Deal.

The nuclear program is theoretically governed by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), but “in reality, however, from strategic conception to production and management, the IRGC supervise the program under the authority of the Supreme Leader.

Two recent statements by IRGC high ranking officers on the nuclear program that are worth noting:

While “Brigadier General Gholam Reza Mehrabi vigorously defended Iran’s nuclear program and rejected the notion that Tehran should negotiate with the U.S. on this issue“, Deputy Commander Brigadier General Salami stated the method and the goal: “The P5+1 formula is no longer able to prevent the Iranian nation from taking steps in nuclear technology. We are at the apex of our power today and taking last steps towards victory, and this is the final obstacle.”

The next post will focus on the IRGC’s control over economy activities inside and outside Iran.

earlier posts on IRGC:

Skeptism on Rouhani – Even in Al-Monitor

al monitor sentiment iran

As Rouhani finally steps into the role he was elected for barely two months ago, it seems that the levels of hope around his ability to steer Iran on a path of moderation are still dropping steadily. Whether this is a good news or bad news depends on who you ask and the future but it is plain to see that , for now, the wave of hope that got him elected is ebbing away.

Over the past two months, the voices of the conservative skeptics got louder as the voices hopeful liberals died down and a fresh waves of sanctions is sure to strengthen this trend.

Even media sites that are more open and liberal seem to be affected by this trend.

We reviewed 70 articles about Iran that were published in Al Monitor over the past two months (June 3ed – August 3ed) and tried to assign an overall sentiment. This is not an exact science since sentiment can vary in an article but the general sentiment of an article is usually evident from its title and the cover picture. The sentiments of all the articles were then categorized as “pro-Iran”, “neutral” or “con-Iran” and here are the results:

  • Overall sentiment June:73% pro, 22% neutral and 5% con
  • Overall sentiment July: 48% pro, 36% neutral and 15% con
  • Overall sentiment June-July: 61% pro, 29% neutral and 10% con

Although there still is hope surrounding Rouhani, it seems that the world is sobering up to the realities in which he is faced and his willingness and ability to bring about the necessary change to Iran’s situation.