June 5, 2024 | House of Commons of Canada - Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Current Situation in Iran

June 5, 2024 | House of Commons of Canada - Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Current Situation in Iran

Hearing video

June 5, 2024

Watch full hearing here.

Oral testimony

(as delivered)

Chairman, vice-chairmen, and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for providing me the opportunity to testify virtually before you today and to share my analysis.

My comments today begin broad and then zoom in and come at a particularly turbulent time in Iran that may be hard to understand for external observers and non-Iran watchers.

Recently the country’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, died in a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran. Despite Iranian drones now being found in conflict zones in at least four continents, it was reportedly a Turkish drone that found the crash site first. Elsewhere, in normal countries, an accident of this scale would elicit national mourning and popular sorrow. Yet in Iran and across Persian-language social media, news of the president’s passing was treated with felicitation, jubilation, and even jokes by large swaths of society.

Indeed, there is nothing normal about the massive chasm that exists today between state and society in Iran. That’s because the Islamic Republic of Iran is an Islamist and authoritarian regime that sits atop and represses a secular nationalist and democracy-seeking people.

While snap “elections” or more aptly put, “selections” are scheduled for later this June, those are expected to be boycotted en masse, just as parliamentary elections were a few months ago. Since the outbreak of nationwide anti-regime protests beginning in 2017, rising protests have meant record-setting low turnouts, even when we look at official regime statistics.

Indeed for a regime with as little social legitimacy as the Islamic Republic, exogenous shocks like snap elections or accidents involving major political figures can be ill afforded given that the Iranian population has used nearly every opportunity, including crises, whether they are social, economic, environmental, or even related to foreign policy, as opportunities to protest and to make their case that the state does not represent the street and that they are done with incremental reform and are seeking wholesale political change.

This desire for wholesale political change caught the eyes and ears of members of this distinguished body from 2022-23 during the height of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” or “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” movement, at the peak of which anti-regime protests rocked over 150 different cities, towns and villages across all of Iran’s 30 provinces.

One of the elements in the cocktail of security forces instrumental in repressing those protests was the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC is a parallel ideological military created in the early days of the Islamic Revolution as a check against the national military. Tasked with defending the integrity of the “revolution,” this force and its veterans, affiliates, and supporters now constitute the single most important institution in contemporary Iran. It is the tip of the spear of the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism today and the hub and its spoke of transnational terrorism and repression.

For almost two decades now, the dominant trend in the discourse among regime elites in Iran who support the IRGC has been to frame its network abroad as an anti-status quo “axis of resistance,” constituting proxies and partners around the Middle East who were either created, like the Badr in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon, or coopted, like the Houthis in Yemen or Hamas in Gaza.

Nonetheless, the IRGC trains, equips, supports, and underwrites these terror militias in its axis with state-level capabilities, as has been the case with the Houthis in Yemen since 2015.

This group, which is the latest to join the axis of resistance, is now in possession of medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles. To date, it is the only proxy of Iran to have paraded and used these capabilities. Elsewhere it helps to work with those proxies to indigenously produce weapons, as has been the case with Iran and Hamas since 2014.

Since the Iran-backed terrorist attack against Israel by Hamas on October 7, the IRGC has been bringing more of its terrorist apparatus online, employing a “ring of fire” strategy so as to escalate the Gaza war into a regional conflict and prevent a member of its axis from being militarily taken off the chessboard.

While these proxies in the region have traditionally been used by the IRGC to mask its hand in foreign conflicts, today they are calling cards or tells of the regime’s regional enmeshment and growing capabilities and risk tolerance.

While the IRGC has helped Tehran engage in internal suppression and external aggression, its increasing role offers the distinguished members of this body, North American policymakers and, in reality, all Five Eyes nations, the opportunity to course-correct their Iran policies.

In my view, every single Five Eyes country ought to, under their own national counterterrorist authorities, be designating the IRGC a terrorist organization in its entirety. I’d be happy to explain why, along with the benefits of this approach, in the Q and A.

Every single Five Eyes country also ought to be using this time to push for anti-corruption or Magnitsky-style penalties against the supreme leader of Iran and his inner circle and taking the opportunity to align other sovereign sanctions regimes, whether they be nuclear, missile, drone, Russia, or human rights related.

After all, the IRGC is proliferating drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, escalating Iran’s nuclear program, engaging in more overt ballistic missile activity to include strikes and attacks in four nations during the first four months of 2024 alone, and stepping up its internal crackdown against dissidents inside the country. The predicate for more multilateral action today exists.

The main question is this: Does the West have the commensurate resolve to act to contest these threats and better marry its head and its heart on Iran policy?

Thank you for the time and the opportunity.

Issues:

Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Nuclear Iran Politics and Economy Iran Sanctions Iran-backed Terrorism Russia Ukraine