Iran’s supreme leader, unbowed by the nuclear agreement with the U.S., has told his country’s most prestigious and powerful military officers that the Islamic revolution will continue into its 37th year and beyond — and they are the ones to enforce it.
The personal message from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who analysts say holds a deep hatred of America, signals that the fundamentalist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will continue to play a dominant role in Iranian society and foreign policy.
This, in turn, indicates that the corps’ Quds special operations force will remain active in destabilizing or shoring up regimes in the Middle East, depending on the leaders.
On Sunday, Ayatollah Khamenei spewed more anti-American broadsides in a special message to “world youth” reported by Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency. The Shiite leader accused the U.S. of creating and supporting al Qaeda and the Taliban, the two Sunni militant groups that American troops are fighting in Afghanistan.
“Today, there are very few people who are uninformed about the role of the United States of America in creating, nurturing and arming al Qaeda, the Taliban and their inauspicious successors,” he said. “Besides this direct support, the overt and well-known supporters of takfiri terrorism — despite having the most backward political systems — are standing arrayed as allies of the West while the most pioneering, brightest and most dynamic democrats in the region are suppressed mercilessly.”
Takfiri are Sunni Muslims, such as leaders of the Islamic State terrorist group, who accuse other Muslims of being nonbelievers.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s address to Revolutionary Guard officers earlier this fall ordered them to indoctrinate a generation of bureaucrats to run not only the government but also society.
His message was the subject of an analysis in a report by the U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
“To encourage perpetual revolution might mean to foment continuous crisis,” writes Middle East scholar Michael Rubin. “This, in turn, suggests greater regional instability and IRGC provocations toward U.S. forces and others.”
In other words, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal on which the Obama administration gambled for a more moderate Iran, has not tempered Ayatollah Khamenei’s fiery outcry.
“Khamenei’s endorsement of an expansive and perhaps even growing IRGC role confirms the group’s position as the chief obstacle to any political and economic reform in the Islamic Republic, and also suggests that the IRGC may win disproportionate advantage from any unfrozen assets or foreign direct investment entering the Iranian economy,” writes Mr. Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
The nuclear deal over time frees up $100 billion in frozen Iranian bank accounts and other assets. U.S. officials concede that some of that cash will be tapped to fund Iran’s overseas adventures. These include fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, fomenting uprisings in Yemen, and funding Lebanese Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group and committed enemy of Israel.
According to the Army study office’s transcript of Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech, the supreme leader sent a number of hard-line signals.
“Apart from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, we have no organization in the country that has defined an organizational responsibility for itself with the purpose of guarding the dearest historical and contemporary event of the country,” the ayatollah said.
“Today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps influences public opinion and the development of youth and people,” he said. “The many elements that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps exports to different organizations influence such organizations. In recent years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has exported many such elements to different organizations with the purpose of managing them.”
On the Islamic revolution continuing, he said: “When you say that you are the revolution’s guards, one of the meanings and implications of guarding is that the revolution is under threat. If there are no threats, then no guarding is necessary. One guards when there are some threats. So, you are both confirming, with your name, the existence of the Revolution, and informing people of the threats that face the revolution.”
Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech dashes hopes that “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani, the smiling Iranian leader with the Twitter account, would usher in a lesser role for the militaristic Revolutionary Guards.
As Mr. Rubin put it, diplomats saw Mr. Rouhani’s 2013 election as “a sign that the Islamic republic had turned its back on the rhetoric and radicalism of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad was the first Iranian president whose backing came from the Revolutionary Guard Corps as opposed to religious leaders.
Mr. Rouhani has removed Guard leaders from some ministerial posts, but officers insist that they continue to play active political roles, and in his personal address, Ayatollah Khamenei is agreeing with them.
James Russell, a former Pentagon official and an instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School, said the Revolutionary Guard Corps has been instrumental in maintaining the Iranian regime since its revolution brought it to power in 1979.
“The IRGC is an entrenched bureaucracy and organization in the Iranian regime,” Mr. Russell said. “Its roles and responsibilities will not be quickly changed or altered by a single leader. It’s typically been answerable to the supreme leader and responsible for regime security and internal stability. These were the truncheon-wielding thugs crushing heads in the crackdown in 2009 during the protests against the [presidential] election. These guys aren’t going away anytime soon, regardless of who is in charge.”
Hard-liners still hold sway in Iran. On Sunday, a performance by the Tehran Symphony Orchestra was canceled 15 minutes before it was set to begin because some of the musicians were women, Agence France-Presse reported.
Reuters reported that, as a run-up to parliamentary elections in February, the regime is cracking down on dissidents by summoning them to the Intelligence Ministry for interrogation and detention.
The suppression began after Ayatollah Khamenei warned of “infiltrators” in Iranian society. He holds ultimate power under the constitution, so such anti-free-speech moves would not happen without his blessing.