August 12, 2015 | Policy Brief

The IRGC’s Ambivalent Response to the Nuclear Deal

August 12, 2015 | Policy Brief

The IRGC’s Ambivalent Response to the Nuclear Deal

With all eyes fixed on the battle between President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress over the nuclear deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s struggle against Iranian critics of the deal gains less attention in the Western media. But this battle could also be consequential.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has been a fierce critic of Rouhani and his former patron, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, for three decades, will have a central role in maintaining the deal. So far as we know, the Revolutionary Guards have overseen all clandestine nuclear-weapons research. Judging by their public reactions, however, the guards’ views on the agreement are emphatically ambivalent.

The IRGC is Iran’s hardline organization par excellence. As the engine of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, the guards stand to gain most from the country becoming a nuclear power, and were therefore among the most vocal opponents of the negotiations. On September 30, 2013, the corps’ chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari denounced Rouhani’s phone conversation with Obama at the UN General Assembly, calling it “a tactical mistake.” Next, the guards organized parliamentary hearings where Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was accused of treason. It also organized rallies in major cities in a last-ditch attempt to derail the talks.

Once the agreement was announced, the guards initially responded with silence. A full week after the agreement, Jafari finally weighed in – negatively. “Some elements in the draft are specifically contrary and opposed to the major red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in particular concerning arms capabilities, and we will never accept it,” he said. “Any resolution that would be in contradiction to our country’s red lines will have no validity.”

Nonetheless, three weeks after the agreement, Sobh-e Sadeq, the guards’ official mouthpiece responded with a middle-of-the-road editorial urging Iranian officials not to make hasty decisions – to avoid both “celebrating” the agreement and “focusing solely on concessions” made by Tehran.

This reaction is understandable. The Guards face restrictions (albeit temporary) on work that could lead to a bomb. However, their economic enterprises are likely to benefit from sanctions relief the deal brings.

For Washington, an economically strengthened and politically ambivalent Guard Corps is probably the primary threat to the nuclear agreement. Given the Islamic Republic’s proven track-record of lying about its atomic program, the Revolutionary Guards will certainly be at the forefront of those who will want to profit from sanctions relief and encourage again clandestine nuclear research. It is unclear whether anyone in the revolutionary clerical elite will be inclined to stop them.

Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Find him on Twitter: @Alfoneh


Iran Iran Sanctions