Iran’s military in powerful political role

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The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, by virtue of its performance in the 1980-1988 war that guaranteed the survival of the Islamic republic, has unique influence in the Iranian government. The situation is similar in Turkey, where the army founded the state, and in Israel, where the military has a history of defending the country against existential threats.

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However, in Israel and Turkey there is strong civilian control over the military, and the armed forces influence policy largely through constitutional mechanisms. Iran’s political system is more complicated, enabling the military to play a more direct role.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has played significant, if not critical, roles in domestic security and national defense, commerce and illicit trade, finance and banking, heavy industry, civil engineering and the energy sector. However, pragmatic conservative Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seeks to assert the supremacy of the government’s civilian bodies in accordance with the constitution, and his efforts have the clerical establishment’s support. This unprecedented transformation within the Islamic republic threatens to weaken the power and influence concentrated in the hands of the corps.

The elite military force also has membership in the Supreme National Security Council, the highest policy-making body in the country. The corps’ commander, Major General Mohammed Ali Jafari, plays a key role in steering the council’s debates. Additionally, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps represents the core of Iran’s security sector and holds influence over intelligence, law enforcement and defense matters. Moreover, the corps’ links to the clerical establishment and its position as the vanguard of the republic’s founding ideology give it influence over the council.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also has influence in Iranian society. By means of corps-controlled electronic and print media organizations as well as those that are independently operated by figures aligned with the corps, the elite body can influence the public and policy debates. There is also no shortage of political and social groups that champion the corp’s policy positions. A key body linking the state with society is the approximately million-strong ideological militia called the Basij, which since the 2009 Green uprising has also come under the direct control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Basij personnel, through their kinship and friendship networks, provide the corps with extensive social support. The corps also has massive influence in civil society via the clerics appointed in different mosques around the country. In terms of the security and clerical establishments, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shares influence with the Supreme Leader, especially via his representatives within the corps.

Republishing by The Manila Times of this analysis is with the express permission of STRATFOR.

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