In Iran it is not the nuclear programme, it is the IRGC
Iranian President Hassan Rohani has successfully worked his charm on the West. In just a couple of years since taking office, he has built an image as a moderate leader capable of gaining the support of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to his policy in reaching a deal with world’s superpowers on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
However, Rohani has foes in Tehran, which the West refers to as hardliners, and they comprise the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and a number of extremist mullahs.
So far the hardliners have cautiously supported the nuclear talks in the hopes of having sanctions lifted to allow the release of billions of dollars to the country, most of which would end up in ministries and accounts controlled by the IRGC.
Although many in US President Barack Obama’s administration and the parties advocating a nuclear deal with Iran have convinced themselves and are trying to convince others that most of the money going to Iran from easing sanctions would be used to shore up the devastated Iranian economy, they are not able to answer a vital question: What about the IRGC?
Tehran feels powerful and confident because of aggressive foreign policies in which the IRGC has played a leading role. IRGC training and arming of Shia militias in Iraq was one of the main factors that led to a bloody insurgency against US troops that brought about their withdrawal in 2009.
IRGC training and arming of Palestinian groups contributed to the collapse of peace talks with Israel and the emergence of Islamic factions ruling the Gaza Strip.
The IRGC was behind the birth of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which led to a long war to drive Israel out of the country and recently became a major player in the Syrian war, helping the regime’s forces there.
The IRGC is raising an army of Shia militias from Iraq, Asian countries and Yemen to use in spreading Tehran’s influence in the Middle East.
The IRGC is the main force protecting the Iranian regime internally and preventing any forms of democracy, freedoms and liberal practices in the country.
There is a wide sense among many Iranian officials that IRGC actions forced Washington and other global powers to negotiate and make concessions that would allow Iran to keep a good part of its nuclear programme and have sanctions lifted.
Hence, it would be very logical to conclude that the IRGC will be untouchable and will continue its current actions. It could moderate them slightly but will not likely stop them.
US President Barack Obama seems to believe that normalising relations with Iran will empower the moderates and weaken the extremists. This could be true in a country that does not have expansionist ambitions and does not perceive itself as an empire and is using the export of the Islamic revolution as a means to empower Shia groups worldwide to bring them under the control of the supreme leader.
Iran is not an ordinary state with one army and one government. It is a system in which the IRGC acts as a state within a state. The IRGC is much better equipped and armed than the regular Iranian armed forces and has its own intelligence arm and internal security forces that outnumber and outmatch the regular police.
So when the United States and the other countries of the P5+1 sign a nuclear deal with Iran, would they be signing it with the IRGC state as well?
Rohani might be the president but he has no power over the IRGC. Only Khamenei has this power and his poor health brings about the possibility of having to soon deal with a new supreme leader, who could be one of the extremist mullahs.
The IRGC fully controls the country’s nuclear programme as well as its ballistic missiles. In other words, it controls all of Iran’s strategic military assets.
So what are the IRGC views of the nuclear deal with the P5+1 and the possible normalisation of relations with the West? Nobody really knows. We only hear contradictory views from various commanders of the group.
However, based on IRGC history and the group’s recent actions, one can conclude that it wants more power, larger regional influence, lots of money and resources and is unwilling to share or surrender what they gain.
If Iran wants to be a regional power that commands the respect and cooperation of its neighbours and the international community it will have to end its policy of exporting the revolution. In other words, it has to disband the IRGC and transfer all the assets and powers to its regular professional armed forces and other relevant government institutions.
Coexisting with the Iranian regime as is will not be possible and the near future will reveal this. The IRGC will most likely disappoint those who believe Iran with more economic resources and good ties with the West will be more tamed and easier to deal with or control.
Lifting sanctions must be gradual and tied to Iran halting its policy of exporting the revolution, which will subsequently lead to the disbanding of IRGC. Otherwise, the Iranian regime will become a bigger and more serious threat to the international community, even without nuclear weapons.