Newsflash: Iran's Revolutionary Guards Support the Nuclear Deal

Contrary to claims in the West, the IRGC will not block a nuclear agreement.

A great myth in the West has always held that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is opposed to any nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1—the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Since the Lausanne Accord was announced, neoconservatives and their allies have continued to claim that the high command of the IRGC opposes the agreement, and may even try to scuttle it. This claim is demonstrably false.

After the Geneva interim agreement between the two sides was announced in November 2013, this author opined that the IRGC would not try to scuttle it. As it turned out, Iran kept its commitments to the interim agreement, and—according to numerous reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—carried out its obligations under the agreement. Thus, now that the Lausanne Accord has been reached, the question again is: will the IRGC block the final agreement, to be signed by the end of June?

I argue once again that the answer to the question is a firm no.

First and foremost, we should keep in mind that the IRGC is not a homogeneous force with its officers and fighters having the same opinion on every issue. One must also distinguish the IRGC’s high command from the bulk of its fighting force. Moreover, it is only natural that the IRGC commanders have different opinions about the most important domestic and foreign issues facing Iran.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the military is loyal to him. Ironically, even though the IRGC, which is an ideological force, must, naturally, be more obedient to Khamenei than Iran’s regular armed forces, it is the regular military that is absolutely obedient to the Supreme Leader. The reason is that the regular military’s main task is defending Iran’s borders and territorial integrity, whereas the IRGC, invoking Article 150 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, has always claimed to be the guardian of the 1979 revolution.

Right from the beginning, Article 150 linked the IRGC with Iran’s internal affairs. The revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, tried to keep the IRGC out of domestic affairs, but after Khamenei took over as the Supreme Leader in 1989, he welcomed its involvement in the political and economic affairs of the state. As a result, the IRGC’s intervention in politics and the economy transformed it into the most powerful economic and political force in the country. It is for this reason that the IRGC is more independent that the regular armed forces.

Khamenei and other high officials consider Iran’s nuclear program as an important achievement of the revolution. Hence, the IRGC must protect the program. The Lausanne Accord, however, while forcing Iran to make major concessions, only gradually lifts the sanctions on Iran. Thus, many expected the IRGC commanders to harshly criticize it. But, in fact, they supported it on two conditions.

Six important positions of the IRGC commanders and the security forces

In the aftermath of the Lausanne Accord being signed, all the important security officials and military commanders have taken positions on it. The positions of six important officials are particularly noteworthy.

First, in an opinion piece on April 4, Tehran’s Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, an IRGC brigadier general, wrote, “I thank our nuclear negotiations team that have truly tried to use their utmost power to negotiate a deal that would bear desirable results for the Iranian nation.” He added: “Having high expectations for negotiations at this level is unrealistic. Generally speaking, all negotiations represent a process of making concessions by both sides. It is of course important that the concessions made by both sides be proportional, but some people act as if all expectations would be achieved.” Qalibaf emphasized that, in return for Iran’s concessions, all the economic sanctions imposed on Iran must be lifted all at once.

Second, on April 5, Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, the chief of staff of the armed forces, congratulated Khamenei for the Lausanne Accord. In an op-ed piece, General Froozabadi wrote that under the leadership of the Supreme Leader, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “took another important step in regaining the righteous rights of the sacred Islamic Republic system through negotiations about peaceful use of nuclear energy,” and “brought honor and steadfastness to the Iranian nation.”