Why Is Iran Shaking Up Its Military Leadership?

July 27, 2016 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Tags: IranDefenseAli KhameneiIRGCMilitary

Why Is Iran Shaking Up Its Military Leadership?

The Islamic Republic doubles down on its regional ambitions.

Now, however, it appears Iran’s political leadership is once again trying to integrate the two forces.

Significantly, the new chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri revealed a four-point mission in his new role, set directly by the supreme leader: (1) a five-year modernization plan for the entirety of Iran’s armed forces; (2) promotion of popular mobilization in the fields of defense and security;  (3) continued defensive preparedness with the help of the General Staff and Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters; (4) integration of Iran’s armed forces, particularly the IRGC and Artesh.

In a similar vein, top Artesh commander Ahmad Reza Pourdastan announced the creation of a “chain of defense” along Iran’s borders, aimed at increasing intelligence gathering and sharing between the IRGC and Artesh.

It seems, therefore, that Iran has embarked on another attempt to integrate the various wings of Iran’s armed forces. There is certainly strategic rationale behind the move: the IRGC’s expansive growth and involvement in conflicts across the Middle East, coupled with the relative neglect of the Artesh, have left a significant imbalance in capabilities that needs to be addressed. For the IRGC to advance its interests abroad and continue its transformation into a multinational military enterprise, the Artesh must demonstrate the ability to fill in the gaps at home.

What is not yet well understood is whether these changes put the IRGC and Artesh on equal footing, or amount to a raid on the Artesh’s resources by the IRGC. The renewed prominence of the Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters points to the former. But the very fact that the new chief of staff is an IRGC commander, who boasts extensive military pedigree and hails from the IRGC’s core leadership, is a poignant reminder that it is the IRGC, not the Artesh, who calls the shots.

Foreign observers, too, should take note: such bold changes to Iran’s armed forces, even as they are embroiled in conflicts across the region, demonstrate a brash confidence in the country’s leadership. This is not a recalibration of policy; it is a doubling down, with a very clear focus on the future.

Sam Tamiz is an independent political analyst with a special focus on Middle Eastern affairs.

Image: A meeting of the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Via Office of the Supreme Leader.