Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) test-fired the latest generation of its laser-guided surface-to-surface missile on February 11, as well as a new long-range ballistic missile that can carry multiple warheads. According to one source, the IRGC had also invited a delegation from North Korea to observe the missile test.
Remarkably, the IRGC seems to have conducted the missile test and invited the North Korean delegation in direct contravention of President Hassan Rouhani’s explicit orders.
The conflict between the IRGC and the Rouhani government became public when 23 parliamentarians issued on February 9 an open letter to the president complaining that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council had not authorized the annual IRGC missile test.
In a second open letter published the same day, but this time addressed to Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, those same parliamentarians asked “why the Foreign Ministry, provoked by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, prevented the visit of a delegation of experts to the Islamic Republic in order to improve [Iran’s] missile capabilities?”
From what we can tell, the Rouhani government sought to avoid a crisis with the West at a sensitive point in diplomacy, and ordered the IRGC not stage its annual missile test. It also appears that the Rouhani government ordered the IRGC not to invite the North Korean missile experts to Tehran, particularly as Pyongyang was days away from conducting a nuclear test.
The fact that the IRGC ignored the Rouhani government on both the missile test and the North Korean delegation underscores a blind spot for the United States and the other world powers as they negotiate with Islamic Republic. While the Rouhani government may be open to dialogue on Iran’s national security policy, it is ultimately the IRGC that is in charge of that file. The IRGC’s positions are consistently at odds with the stated goals of Rouhani’s diplomatic initiatives, raising questions about how much the West’s diplomatic efforts will ultimately achieve.
Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.