ANALYSIS: Are Iran’s Revolutionary Guards ready to take control?

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume - Special to Al Arabiya English
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At the time Ruhollah Khomeini seized power, millions of Iranians had suffered years of hardship under the rule of the country’s former leader Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the infamous Shah of Iran whose violent regime had used every form of oppression to keep them in line. No sooner had Khomeini taken control, Iranians filled the streets of Tehran to welcome him as their new leader, ready to give unquestionable loyalty to the man promising to release them from the yoke of tyranny.

Right from the start of his rule, Khomeini lost no time in fortifying his position, and with his new-found power based just like that of his predecessor on extreme violence, guns and the destruction of any political force that opposed him, Khomeini went about constructing a ruthless state security apparatus. This deadly force was named by Khomeini as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – a powerful armed praetorian guard that would keep him in power at any cost.

Since the day the IRGC was founded, it has never been as dangerous as it is today. As due to the death of so-called “moderate” leader Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran, who became chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council as well as a president of the Assembly of Experts, both of which are politically influential groups in Iran, the pragmatic Rafsanjani had spent his final years ensuring the country’s political balance was carefully managed between the hawks and the moderates, keeping the IRGC’s power diluted. So with Rafsanjani now out of the picture, it has strengthened the hand of the ultra-right wing IRGC commanders, who unlike Rafsanjani, would rather see war with the West than peace.

The Assembly of experts has the key role of nominating the new Supreme Leader in the eventuality of the ruling leader’s death, and with Rafsanjani having been determined to curtail the powers of the IRGC; he would have been looking towards any future Supreme Leader, being a person who shared his views. But now that Rafsanjani has gone, he has left behind him a more hard-line Assembly of experts, which is likely to be more conciliatory towards candidates favored by the Guards.

With Rafsanjani being chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, this also put him in a very good position where curtailing the power of the IRGC was concerned, as not only did the Council act as a mediator between the Iranian Parliament and the Council of Guardians, giving him a great deal of leverage over solving disputes concerning executive, judiciary and legislative powers, the Council also acted as a trusted advisor to the Supreme Leader, putting Rafsanjani in a very good position to advise on the shaping of future policy.

With the IRGC’s involvement in international terrorism already proven through its sister organization the Quds Force, which since the 1980s has trained, armed and financed its terror proxy Hezbollah and others, to carry out attacks on its behalf, it now needs to be reigned in more than ever. With the latest revelations exposed by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, revealing the extent of the IRGC’s vast arms smuggling network, Donald Trump needs to act fast to designate the group as a terrorist organization.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was created in the wake of the 1979 revolution, to protect Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, as having overthrown Shah Pahlavi in a blood-soaked coup, Khomeini needed a praetorian guard like that of Adolf Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (SS), to protect him from inside forces who were once allies, but were now out to remove him, after realising they had taken part in an armed struggle to install yet another brutal dictator. So, to protect his newly-formed Islamic state from being overthrown in a counter revolution, Khomeini formed the IRGC, and at was at this point, the real bloodletting began.

Throughout the armed struggle to overthrow the Shah, many of the revolutionary groups that had aided Khomeini in his quest for power, had turned against him, after realizing his true brutal character, and such was his fear of being removed, Khomeini had sent his death squads out onto the streets to eliminate all who opposed him, in a crackdown that would cost the lives of tens of thousands of dissidents.

The IRGC has always been under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, its commanders taking orders from him alone, and as such, with the IRGC being an elite force that is completely independent from the regular armed forces, the Supreme Leader felt protected should the regular army rebel against him. With the Guards having always been supplied with the most advanced weaponry, it is also in charge of all military projects from that of light armaments to the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and on top of its military role, has been afforded great political power. So, because of the IRGC’s vast superiority on all fronts; the regular army is in great fear of it, and not powerful enough to rise up against it.

Until now, the new Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has managed to keep the Guards on side, rewarding its commanders by allowing them full control of the underground economy during the period that Iran had heavy economic sanctions slapped on it, and through sanction busting, the Guards had made billions from smuggling everything from cigarettes to drugs. During 2015, Iran’s shadow economy was estimated to be around $100 billion, and so the Guard’s cut of that would been an astronomic sum.

As far as power is concerned, the IRGC’s military strength has increased incredibly through cash siphoned through to it from the Iran Deal, its political clout has been strengthened over the past years through Khamenei courting commanders with seats in parliament, as well as through the gift of ownership of various top Iranian businesses, including those in the defense industry.

So not only is the IRGC a powerful military force, which has kept control of the streets of Iran through its vicious Basij paramilitary force, it also commands a massive terrorist army under the auspices of its Quds Force, which controls Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah, a group with tentacles stretching across the globe, with connections to the world’s most powerful criminal organizations, and sleeper cells set up on most continents, which it has used to control its own vast criminal empire.

Everything the IRGC does, has always been connected to its remit which was put in place by its founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which is to protect the ongoing revolution by building a defence force that encompasses the whole of the Iran, and in an effort to spread revolution abroad, a powerful military force was also needed to cause upheaval in foreign lands, using proxy terror forces if necessary. So where disrupting foreign governments is concerned, which is often done through the infiltration of political groups in Shia areas of targeted nations, this is carried out by the IRGC’s sister group the Quds Force, which is the overseas arm of the IRGC, charged with subversion abroad, as well as executing foreign military campaigns.

With the tightening of economic sanctions by the incoming US administration of Donald Trump, plus the fact that there could be plans in the future to outlaw the IRGC, this could make the Guards even more belligerent than they already are. With their powerful influence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen likely to increase, not only would they have plenty of springboards with which to use as areas to harbor troops, and cause further instability in neighboring countries, they would also have the ability to control a variety of international waterways with which to cause havoc through the intimidation of ships travelling through them. Such intimidation is likely to disrupt billions of dollars of trade along watercourse trade routes, but it would also allow the IRGC and its proxy forces the ability to use the borders of countries they have commandeered to carry out subversive activity.

In the past, the IRGC has been kept in check by powerful personalities such as Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, but with so many hardliners now backing the Guards, should tension with the West increase dramatically, and should the Iranian people revolt in great numbers over the fact that Iran’s economy is being strangled once again due to renewed sanctions, which would impact terribly on the already shrunken economy, leaving ordinary citizens in even more dire straits than they already are, more people than ever are likely to take to the streets due to their ever-shrinking incomes.

Then, with the Iranian administration severely weakened, it could find itself facing another revolution, which would cause the IRGC to step in. Should this come about, Iran would fall under the grip of an extremely dangerous government-directed terrorist entity, which not only has a series of powerful conventional weapons under its control, but also possesses chemical weapons, as well as being on the verge of completing a nuclear weapon, and has missiles with which to deliver them.

It is now time for the world to realize, such an event is virtually inevitable, and the time has come to rein in the IRGC before it is too late, as the “Chamberlain moment” for “Peace in Our Time” has long past, and a road to war could soon be facing us.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writer(s) in this piece are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.

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