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Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War


The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),1 created in the early days of the Islamic revolution, has the lead in Iran for the production and employment of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. The United States would certainly want to understand the Guard from an operational perspective in order to deter NBC use, but the Guard is far more critical at the strategic level than any other entity. If the United States is able to deter the Guard, it will be far better able to deter Iran.

The Guard is described as an effective revolutionary unit that has not only survived, but thrived, in the post-revolutionary period with a structure reminiscent of the old Bolshevik Red Army but independent of the regular military. The IRGC and the IRGC Ministry are the focal points for the two items of greatest concern from a deterrent perspective. First, the IRGC is the focal point for Iran's efforts to produce and deploy nuclear and biological weapons and missiles (chemical weapons may be available to the regular army). Second, the IRGC, which would be the focal point for Iranian efforts to "export the revolution," appears to be destined to survive for some time, as Katzman has stated:

To a great degree, its (IRG) acquisition of a progressively more complex organizational structure is an indicator of the Guard's institutional strength within Iran. Its ability to develop a complex and structured organization without sacrificing its revolutionary character distinguishes it from other revolutionary armed forces that similarly developed regular military structures and functions but sacrificed revolutionary zeal and enthusiasm.2


Exporting the Revolution

The Iranian revolution was portrayed by Ayatollah Khomeini as being only the first step in a wider Islamic revolution. The 1979 Iranian Constitution included a preambular passage stating that the Iranian army "will be responsible not only for safeguarding the borders, but also for accomplishing an ideological mission, that is, the Jihad for the sake of God, as well as for struggling to open the way for the sovereignty of the Word of God throughout the world."3 This mission was adopted by the IRGC. Thus, one of the IRGC's primary missions is that of exporting the Islamic revolution outside Iran:

Foremost among the responsibilities stemming from its self-proclaimed status as pathfinder and model is solidarity with oppressed Muslims everywhere. This is a core value of the revolution rather than a vital security interest, but it is an important part of Islamic Iran's sense of legitimacy and one of the few areas in which the regime can claim to be principled and unique.4

This objective has been the basis for support of terrorist groups outside Iran, including Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and is the rationale behind Iranian intrusions into the internal politics of other states. It also could assist Iran in instituting opposition groups or even successor leadership groups in neighboring states that would draw their own legitimacy from the Iranian revolution.

The IRGC has been the primary advocate within Iran for the funding of terrorist groups. While the defeat of the IRGC would not necessarily guarantee the end of Iran's support for Islamic radicalism, it would certainly mean the end of the primary source of internal advocacy for such groups as Hezbollah and eliminate a strong source of pressure for the continuation or expansion of policies aimed at exporting the revolution.

Cohesion and Commitment to "the Revolution"

The IRGC places tremendous emphasis on ideological correctness. Its approach during the Iran/Iraq war, for example, was that "a maktab (ideologically pure) army is better than a victorious one."5 Ideological correctness and commitment to the revolution led in earlier years to its undertaking high-risk military operations "rich in ideological content but militarily ill advised and potentially detrimental to the Guards' own military posture and prestige."6

This connection to the Islamic revolution defines and orients the IRGC and could lead it to take risks that more traditional and conservative military institutions would not take. The Guard retains ideological loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini, who defined the purposes of the revolution and the IRGC:

Our war is one of ideology and does not recognize borders or geography. We must ensure the vast mobilization of the soldiers of Islam around the world in our ideological war. God willing, the great Iranian nation, through its material and moral support for the revolution, will compensate for the hardships of war with the sweetness of the defeat of God's enemies in the world. What is sweeter than the fact that the great Iranian nation has struck the United States on the head like lightening?7

The IRGC's self-defined role as defender of the revolution also appears to require it to oppose any liberalization within Iran. IRGC leader General Mohsen Rezai said in April 1996, while urging voters to vote conservatively, "The fate of the Islamic Revolution would be dependent on the results of the cultural and political war of Hezbollah with liberals in Iran."8 He was then quoted as having pointed out that liberalism was "a cancerous tumor that was growing up in parts of the country without having ever been seriously grappled with by the authorities."9 Linking the problem to the continued need to fight the West, he added, "The velayat-e-faqih (supreme religious Jurisprudent) and the ulema (the religious faithful) were the number one target of Washington in its fight with the Islamic revolution."10 The IRGC leadership also believes that Islam, in particular its faith in the value of martyrdom, empowers Iran in its fight against the United States. IRGC Commander Rezai said it clearly in June 1996: "The U.S. is unable to grasp the faith and spiritual power of the forces of Islam and is quite helpless against the martyrdom-seeking spirit of the Islamic combatants."11


The Guard tends to be more virulently anti-U.S. than the rest of the leadership and might be willing and able to act independently of the political or even religious leadership of Iran. For example:

The Guard fails to meet the substantive criteria of professionalismCunquestioned obedience to civilian authority, absence of political involvement, and a scientifically based decision making process. The Guard's resistance to professionalism in turn, reflects the depth and strength of the Guard's continuing commitment to the hard line ideological principles of the revolution, which are incompatible with the scientific and politically neutral foundations of military professionalism.12

There are other indicators that the Guard is more virulently anti-Western than the rest of the Iranian leadership and that it is willing to step beyond the rest of the political leadership. For example, in May 1995, Iranian President Rafsanjani responded to the U.S. embargo on Iran with assertions of its ineffectiveness: "In a world which has pressing need for energy resources, Iran cannot be shut out of world markets."13 The head of the IRGC, General Rezai, however, called upon his forces to prepare for war: "A military confrontation with the U.S. is inevitable and Iranian forces must be ready for war."14 Iran then held military maneuvers that Rezai said were in preparation for war.15 In response to a question of whether Rezai's words and the exercise meant that the next armed conflict in the Gulf would take place between Iranian and American troops, Iranian Foreign Minister 'Ali Akbar Velayati said: "There is absolutely no reason for concern, no matter what Rezai has said."16 Thus, the political Iranian approach was far different from the IRGC approach and the Foreign Ministry sought to downplay Rezai's statements, contradicting him in public. No change in the IRGC maneuvers or military acquisitions was evident after this exchange. Other evidence of IRGC independence and ideological zeal exist, and Katzman has noted that the Guard, while not openly defying civilian authority or acting to formulate major military, internal security, or external revolutionary policies in contravention of the wishes of the civilian leadership, has taken a lead role:

It can be argued that the Guard was able to drive most aspects of war strategy throughout the conflict, and that, without necessarily countermanding specific orders, it undertook hard-line actions and operations that sometimes conflicted with the goals of its civilian superiors.17


By the end of the Iran/Iraq war, the IRGC was directing 37 secret weapons development projects18 and working closely with another revolutionary entity that acted as its "corps of engineers"-the "Construction Jihad" or "Crusade for Reconstruction." In addition to setting up defensive emplacements and other infrastructure for tactical operations, it also was charged with developing Iran's indigenous military production capabilities to circumvent the international arms embargo against Iran,19 including, apparently, the production of material for Iran's nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile programs. In April 1986, the IRGC Minister announced,

the armament industries of the Corps have made notable progress in the missile, aircraft, biological, chemical and nuclear fields as well as in construction of engineering equipment such as a variety of bridges, mortar launchers, and rocket-propelled grenades.20

The IRGC role is also reflected in the fact that IRGC Commander Rezai led the Iranian side in 1994 talks with North Korea on arms cooperation. The North Korean delegation, headed by Air Force Commander General Cho Myong-nok, consisted of 28 "scientists, technicians, and officers." These talks were reportedly extended to include efforts for the development of new weapon systems, including missiles, such as the Nodong.21


The Iranian Navy is the branch of service most closely tied to the IRGC and is clearly the military force seen by Iran as spear-heading Iran's war with the United States:

As the situation in the Gulf is getting tense with more U.S. warships heading for the Gulf, Iran is strengthening its naval defense in the region. In addition to the regular Navy, the newly formed naval units of the Revolutionary Guards have been active. . . . Chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezai, who is also in Bandar Abbas, said yesterday that Iran was not only capable of attacking U.S. warships but also could capture some of them.22

The Guard has its own naval forces, but they have increasingly merged with the regular navy. It was the Guard navy that, "in contradiction to the wishes of the political leaders in Tehran," may have been responsible for mining the Gulf shipping lanes during the 1980 U.S. reflagging of Kuwaiti ships. Following the Kuwaiti reflagging, however, the IRGC navy was "lavished with resources and publicity not for its role in the Iran-Iraq war, but for its challenge to the U.S. naval buildup in the Gulf."23 In its confrontations with the United States, the navy has relied on operations, tactics, and goals that are unconventional.24 Recent indications are that it is prominent in the formulation of tactics and deployment of at least chemical weapons at Abu Musa25 and thus appears to remain both the vanguard of Iran's ongoing war with the United States and for NBC deployment and, perhaps, use.

The navy appears to be at the forefront of Iran's efforts to deter the United States and its naval forces in the Gulf, which are identified by Iran as being the primary and indeed only real threat to Iran. In December 1995, for example, the Deputy Navy Commander said that "the Iraqi threat has been eliminated for the moment. Our southern neighbors are small and weak and cannot be considered a threat." He also stated that "the only potential threat is an external one: the presence of foreign forces in the Gulf where there are about 50 foreign warships, mostly American."26 Iran indicated again 2 days later that it would be the navy that would take the lead in any confrontation with the United States: "Naval and air forces would play the biggest role in confronting the Americans" and "there is no other country in the region that could be considered a threat."27


The Iranian Army has emerged from early post-revolutionary purges to offer, primarily through the Basij, or volunteer corps, a means available to the regime and the IRGC of bringing the revolution to the masses and to ensure that the population of Iran can be brought into war should Iran's leaders wish to do so. This is to be accomplished in two ways. First, revolutionary education and indoctrinization is used as a means of strengthening the zeal of the masses that might not otherwise have adequate revolutionary commitment. Second, the Basij is usable as a deterrent to to those who might stray from the regime's dogma, or to punish those not adequately deterred.

The Basij was formed during the Iran-Iraq war, when old men, young men, and boys were inducted to serve primarily as human cannon fodder. Its revolutionary zeal, considered to be its most important attribute, was enhanced by their IRGC training:

The military training of the Basij by the Guard consisted of a two week instruction program in the use of hand grenades and automatic rifles, heavily infused with the promise that death in the war would provide automatic acceptance in heaven. Plastic keys were hung around each Basiji's neck; each was told that the key would open heaven's gates. Prayers, Koranic readings, songs and fiery speeches by the Guard commanders comprised much of the training program and life at the front line.28

The Basij remains zealous and seems to be viewed by religious leaders, including Khamene'i, as a useful instrument in ensuring suppression of internal strife. One analyst describes the political use made of the Basij in recent years:

The regular army and Revolutionary Guards alike have protested at being ordered to suppress citizens demonstrating against Iran's worsening economic conditions. In August 1994 they refused orders to open fire on protesters in Zazvin: the Basij had no such qualms and killed around 40 people. Up to 400 may have been injured. . . . Since 1991, full-time manpower has tripled to 300,000 and the organization's budget has increased fourfold.29

The IRGC has expanded its joint training with the Basij and regular army, and, as discussed in the section on Iran's Exercises and Maneuvers, a significant element in the joint maneuvers appears to include training to enable Iranian forces to operate in an NBC environment.

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