Mustafa Hijri: “Iran’s military doctrine is aggressive, not defensive”


Mustafa Hejri, the secretary general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). Photo: Rudaw.

Mustafa Hejri, the secretary general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). Photo: Rudaw.

In an article, published on PDKI’s official website, Kurdish leader Mustafa Hijri raises questions on a classified Defense Department assessment on Iran’s military doctrine. The Pentagon report, delivered to Congress on July 7, has leaked to the press. The thrust of the report, which departs from Pentagon’s previous assessments of Iran’s military posture, describes Iran’s military doctrine as “defensive” rather than “aggressive.” In his thought-provoking article, Mr. Hijri questions this conclusion.

Below we have translated some of the most important passages of the article into English for our readers:

According to a classified report on Iran’s military posture by the Pentagon delivered to Congress [which leaked to the press], it is claimed that Iran has a defensive rather than aggressive military strategy. The basis for this assessment by the Pentagon is not clear to us. However, given its policy implications, it warrants scrutiny.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the only state in the Middle East – if not in the entire world – which has two official military forces; that is, a regular army and the so-called Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). While the task of the army is to protect Iran’s borders, the IRGC is tasked with a) suppressing dissent and opposition internally and b) ensuring a military and political presence and influence for the Islamic Republic in neighboring countries, if not further afield.

The IRGC accomplishes this covertly, as evidenced in Iran’s support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as overtly, as evidenced in the military presence of Iran in Iraq and its participation in the civil war in Syria. The IRGC’s so-called Quds force also conducts terrorist operations and assassinations overseas. In other cases, Iran destabilizes other countries through its proxies by taking advantage of popular dissent – as for example in Bahrain and Yemen.

Considering the tasks assigned to the IRGC, both within Iran’s borders and externally, it is clearly unwarranted to describe Iran’s military strategy as “defensive.” As the world witnessed in the aftermath of the so-called presentational elections of 2009, the IRGC played a crucial role in the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.

As far as the IRGC’s tasks overseas are concerned, to which the Islamic regime in Tehran devotes enormous resources, none of the actions by this military unit could be deemed as defensive. On the contrary, Iran’s overseas military and intelligence operations all fall within an offensive and aggressive military strategy.

Iran’s “national security strategy”, which in fact is a strategy in the service of the Islamic regime in Tehran, is based on two important tenets that are offensive rather than defensive.

Ever since the end of the war with Iraq in 1988, Iran has pursued a military strategy that encompasses a geographical scope far beyond its borders. It is true that states pursue national security strategies that reach outside of their borders. Iran is not unique in this regard. However, what makes Iran’s military strategy offensive and aggressive rather than defensive is evidenced in the sheer scope and nature of its military operations.

When Iran sends troops to Syria to help the al-Assad regime to brutally suppress the popular uprising in that country – something Iran has done with respect to uprisings and opposition groups within its own borders – and when Iran ensures that Hezbollah becomes a state within the Lebanese state, it is naïve to describe its military strategy as defensive.

Furthermore, when Iran has final say over the formation of government in Baghdad and has created a plethora of Shiite militias in Iraq that take orders from itself, and when Iran reserves the right to carry out terrorist operations and assassinations across the region, it strains credulity not to see these policies and actions as offensive and aggressive.

As to the second offensive tenet of Iran’s military strategy, the targeting of Western interests in the Middle East is important to consider. For example, the Beirut barracks bombing in 1983, resulting in the death of 299 American and French servicemen, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, in which 19 U.S. servicemen were killed and 498 other individuals of different nationalities were wounded, as well as the countless attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq from 2004 onwards are all evidence of an offensive military strategy.

It is also important to consider that Iran’s offensive military and political regional strategy consists of deliberate and systematic destabilization of the neighboring countries. While Iran attempts to cast itself as a stabilizing actor in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, careful analysis reveals instead that the Islamic regime in Tehran is the destabilizing actor par excellence in the region.

Iran combines diplomatic charm offensive with covert operations to destabilize countries of strategic importance. Iraq is a case in point. Iran’s modus operandi is to, through duplicity and intrigue, sow divisions among Iraq’s political forces. The result has always been that Iran emerges as an arbiter between these competing forces. This, in turn, ensures and enhances Iran’s influence in the political affairs of the country.

Ironically, it was Iran’s close ally Muqtada al-Sadar who dissected Iran’s devious strategy in Iraq. Initially, Sadar seemed to believe that Iran could at least be a reliable ally of the Shiites. However, once it became evident that Iran had engineered a split within his own movement and also instigated terrorist attacks against the Shiites, he could grasp the reality of Iranian intentions and strategy toward Iraq.

Ultimately, Iran’s strategy of destabilizing neighboring countries consists of undermining Western strategy of bringing stability to the region through democracy promotion. Iran was extremely fearful that U.S. attempts to democratize Iraq would succeed. Therefore, Iran did everything in its power to destabilize Iraq. Iran has been interested in creating conditions in Iraq so that political forces loyal to itself can be in power. But Iran has been keen to make sure that Iraq will not be able to address fundamental problems in order to achieve meaningful stability and democracy.

The message Iran wants to send to Western governments and public opinion is to never consider promoting democracy in the Middle East and, in particular, in Iran itself. By destabilizing Iraq, Tehran wanted to make sure that democracy promotion ushers in instability. The Iranian regime hopes that this fear of instability on the part of the Western world results in accepting authoritarian rule as a better alternative over democracy promotion, while at the same time seeking to having itself – the major destabilizing actor – as a force for stability at the negotiating table. All this is meant to make the Western powers to relinquish any military option in dealing with the threats emanating from Iran.

When the Pentagon appears to buy into this Iranian propaganda and – contrary to its own assessments during previous years – describes Iranian military strategy as defensive, it would be extremely dangerous if such an assessment were to inform U.S. Iran policy in a strategically vital region. Hopefully, regional states and actors as well as Western powers will understand the reality of Iranian intentions and strategy. This requires intellectual soberness and political courage.

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