ANALYSIS: Iran’s big business and IRGC commanders
IRGC is no straightforward military force, its influence stretches into all facets of Iranian society, writes Tony DuHeaume
With new US President Donald Trump determined to completely rewrite the terms of the Iran Deal, the Iranian regime and commanders of its praetorian guard, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), will no doubt soon have to decide whether to continue to pursue their ballistic missile program, which breaks the terms of the treaty, and will no doubt see it collapse, or they will have to give up manufacturing and testing such missiles, to enable them to continue to have vast amounts of cash flowing their way, from the unfrozen billions of dollars that has been held as a result of sanctions.
But so far, the cash payments that have been returned have lined the pockets of the regime’s elite, plus strengthened the country’s military forces, but none of it has aided the people of Iran, and through appearing to have abided by the terms of the deal, it has given the regime a much better standing in the world community. But to take the course of defiance, the regime would be on a collision course with the US government, and with an unmovable Donald Trump in control, it could end in armed conflict.
But as far as the accumulation of riches from other sources is concerned, much of these riches, which both the mullah leadership and the IRGC have accumulated, have come their way through running the countries state-owned industries, and other lucrative enterprises, which through the lifting of sanctions under the Iran Deal, will be able to deal openly on the world market, and thus doing so, will strengthen the private bank accounts of both the mullah leadership, and their much pampered IRGC commanders.
As far as the IRGC is concerned, it is no straightforward military force, its influence stretches into all facets of Iranian society, and since its creation, its commanders have been afforded seats in parliament, and although the attaining of seats is significantly lower under the Rouhani administration, the Guards are still a very powerful force in the running of the country.
Adding to the esteem of IRGC, Iranian lawmakers have recently approved a rise in the defence budget to 5 percent, as well as approving a program to develop long range missiles. But to show the true arrogance of IRGC commanders, they flaunted the terms of the nuclear agreement, by carrying out the test flight of a new medium-range missile earlier this year, said to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. This test flight incurred the wrath of President Donald Trump, who in turn introduced a series of extra sanctions, which will hit companies owned by the Guards, bringing about a travel ban on business associates who run their lucrative empire.
From its humble beginnings as a lightly armed paramilitary force, created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to introduce order to the streets of Iran during the early days of the revolution, and to protect its leader at all costs, the Guards have evolved into not only a powerful political force, but also the controllers of a powerful military-industrial-financial complex.
With a large proportion of Iran’s most profitable businesses under the control of its commanders, including the nuclear industry, all of which has been heaped upon them by various leaders to ensure their loyalty to the regime, their influence among the regime’s elite is unassailable.
So as well as exerting great political power, the Guards have gradually built up a vast business empire in various sectors of the Iranian economy, and from humble beginnings in the construction trade, they now dominate several lucrative industries. Through a myriad of holding companies, front companies and so-called “charitable foundations”, the IRGC run their vast business empire.
The black money
Having used these organizations to work around international sanctions imposed on the country, through its refusal to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of its nuclear facilities, the Guards have become very adept in the workings of the black economy, using its control of customs and excise and the docks, to set up a substantial smuggling network.
Such is the scope of the Guards enterprises, they have also ventured into the lucrative oil and gas sectors, moved into the production of consumer goods, car manufacturing, the import-export industry, telecommunications, and black market smuggling. Just like the American Mafia, the Guards have built up varied routes to smuggle goods, and are said to be in control of a string of jetties on the southern Iranian island of Qeshm, situated in the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf Coast.
The Guards also have the use of terminals at Iranian airports, to enable members of their vast workforce to fly their illicit goods in and out of the country unchecked, and whichever route they use, they are guaranteed to avoid having to pay any form of export or import duties.
Operating what has become a powerful criminal empire, the Guards have long been involved in the black market, and by shipping in and out of the country various illegal goods, which includes vast caches of weapons, they have built up a highly lucrative business. The Guards also have a large stake in the illegal drugs industry, using the vast drugs network setup by Hezbollah, which enables the IRGC Qods Force to deal with various major players throughout the world.
When you consider that sales of illegal drugs in Iran is around $3 billion per year, with the Qods Force said to be taking a sizeable cut, through the running of many of the routes in and out of the country, as well as having contacts with drug smuggling gangs in Afghanistan, and also South America through Hezbollah, their wealth is vast through this alone. So it isn’t surprising that the US Department of the Treasury had placed Qods Force Commander Gholamreza Baghbani on the US sanctions list, accusing him of being a narcotics kingpin.
Over the years, various ex-members of the IRGC, who now live in exile, have made highly credible claims, on how the corps they had served in for many years, had been dealing in vast amounts of illegal drugs, and that the global network it was running, was bringing in billions of dollars, which would then be used to pay for terrorist activities carried out by the Qods Force across the globe.
The druge industry
The Iranian regime has been committed to the so-called cracking down on the illegal drugs industry in Iran for many years, there have been a vast number of shootouts between traffickers and security forces, with hundreds of so-called drug smugglers executed annually by the authorities, some for simply possessing illegal drugs. But behind this massive crackdown, the IRGC was dealing in heroin, cocaine, opium and amphetamines, and the crackdown was simply to protect its own profits against rival gangs.
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But one of the main problems that comes from hitting the IRGC in the pocket, is its notoriety for hitting back, as has already been shown in its defiance of Donald Trump’s warning on Iran’s missile tests, when new sanctions had been introduced, and the Guards carried out massive military drills in defiance the following day.
These drills had enabled the IRGC to assess its ability to defend the country against attack, through testing various homemade missile systems, which included the long-range Qadir radar system said to have a tracking range of over 1,000 kilometres, the Kavosh low altitude radar system designed to track threats including cruise missiles and various aircraft, and as well as these, they also tested the ability of command and control centres, and cyber warfare systems.
Also, since the introduction of extra sanctions, threats have already been made against Bahrain and the Gulf nations by IRGC commanders, and any extra pressure applied on the IRGC by the Trump administration, would most certainly in the long run have the negative effect of pushing its Qods Force into restarting the export of terrorism on a large scale.