Military in Iran seen as taking control

Gates: Clerics being set aside

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a public gathering in Iran. He says Tehran is willing to deal with the outside world but resents U.N. sanctions. (Associated Press)Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a public gathering in Iran. He says Tehran is willing to deal with the outside world but resents U.N. sanctions. (Associated Press)

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Sunday that Iran’s government is becoming a military dictatorship, with religious leaders being sidelined and, as a result, new sanctions could pressure Tehran into curbing its illegal nuclear program.

“What we’ve seen is a change in the nature of the regime in Tehran over the past 18 months or so,” Mr. Gates said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“You have a much narrower-based government in Tehran now,” he said. “Many of the religious figures are being set aside.”

The defense secretary said Iranians “appear to be moving more in the direction of a military dictatorship.”

Iran’s supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “is leaning on a smaller and smaller group of advisers,” he said. “In the meantime, you have an illegitimate election that has divided the country.”

“There’s no doubt that Iran's military and security forces are playing an active role in running the regime,” said a U.S. official familiar with assessments on Iran. “Religious leaders like Khamenei continue to make key decisions and rely on the vast security apparatus to carry them out.”

Since Iran’s 2005 presidential election, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) expanded its control over the national economy. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former IRGC officer, has appointed many retired IRGC officers to posts in Iran’s government bureaucracy. The IRGC also began to control more oil contracts and asserted itself in Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear technology.

“Right now, the Revolutionary Guard is everywhere,” said Mohsen Sazgara, a founder of the IRGC who now lives in the United States and backs Iran’s democratic opposition, the Green Movement. “They control the economy, the news agencies, radio and television; they own several newspapers and the security forces and intelligence forces. They have secret prisons, and they control the puppet Ahmadinejad.”

Mr. Gates said that added economic pressures on top of the militarization “has real potential” of pressuring Iran into complying with international controls on its nuclear program.

Along with allies in the Persian Gulf and improvements in their defenses and other diplomatic pressure, “I think you have a reasonable chance of getting the Iranian regime finally to come to their senses and realize their security is probably more endangered by going forward than by stopping it,” Mr. Gates said of the nuclear program.

The U.N. Security Council on June 11 passed a resolution sanctioning Iran, focused on limiting Tehran’s access to nuclear-weapons goods and ballistic missiles and seeking to isolate the IRGC, the Islamist military forces that are in charge of nuclear and missile programs.

The resolution identifies 40 entities and one person who are the targets of the economic sanctions.

“On their own, these sanctions will not solve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program,” Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute said in a report on the sanctions. “But wisely implemented and enforced, they could prove critical in preventing Iran from getting the bomb. And that’s a very good thing.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Gates also said pessimistic assessments of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan are “overly negative” and that plans for withdrawing troops in July 2011 will be decided by conditions in the country at that time.

On recently passed legislation that would repeal the military ban on openly gay service members, Mr. Gates said unwanted items in the current defense authorization bill could lead to a presidential veto, despite President Obama’s plan to lift the policy called “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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