By: Sharif Behruz
This past week marked the week-long “Holy Defense Week” on the regime of Islamic Republic of Iran’s calendar, commemorating the first bloody decade of the Islamic regime in Iran—notably the 8 year Iran-Iraq war and the war waged against the Kurdish resistance movement in the west and north-west of the country.
Across the theocracy, memorial events are held by the regime’s repressive military establishments during this week. Iran’s malicious Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, infamously known as IRGC, that control every aspect of life in ayatollah’s Iran, embarked on a large-scale campaign of propaganda; activities ranging from military manoeuvres, public speeches, and military parades. These events are the best opportunity for the regime and its various security and military apparatus to express their military might, anti-western rhetoric, and most importantly, their long-held anti-American sentiments.
While browsing through regime media a banner decorating one of these event stages at an IRGC base in Orumieh province caught my attention. The banner read: “We Will Trample the US.”
Knowing this regime quite well, I wasn’t surprised to see such harsh slogans on public display. I grew up seeing these fundamentalist fervors displayed so unashamedly; besides, as the rest of the world, I have also witnessed these blatant transgressions in action across the volatile Middle East region and beyond.
As I reflected on the photo displaying this palpable threat, a recent US assessment on the clerical regime’s military intentions and capabilities alarmed me.
The classified US Defense Department assessment on Iranian military posture and capabilities, delivered to the US Congress early in July, concluded that the regime of Islamic Republic of Iran maintains a defensive military doctrine, rather than an aggressive one. “Iran’s military strategy is defensive” says the unclassified executive summary of a congressionally mandated Pentagon report submitted to lawmakers on July 7.
Iran’s opposition leaders, among them Mustafa Hijri, leader of Democratic Party of Kurdistan in Iran has raised questions on the assessment on Iran’s military doctrine: “The basis for this assessment by the Pentagon is not clear to us. However, given its policy implications, it warrants scrutiny.” By enflaming wars in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq “Iran’s national security interests are no longer confined to Iran’s geographical borders, rather Iran fights its existential war in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip,” he writes.
Aside from suppressing dissent and opposition internally, IRGC’s other mission is to ensure a military and political presence and influence for the Islamic Republic in neighboring countries, if not further afield. “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,” he concludes.
When the Islamic state in Iran insists that its defense doctrine is entirely based on deterrence and its military might poses no threat to other states, one does not know who to believe; the military parades that call for the destruction of the US and the wiping off of sovereign nations from the map, or the charms and smiles delivered at world stage.
While the banners in Iran touted war, the regime’s publicity President, Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif were smiling and shaking hands with world leaders in New York at the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly. It seems that the apparent charms are wining hearts outside Iran, despite the widespread evidence of hostilities towards the US from Iran’s ruling elite.
The assessment even credits Rouhani for change of ‘rhetoric’ and ‘messaging’ since his election and inauguration: “Of note, Tehran’s strategic messaging about its military capabilities through the mass media has been less strident since Rouhani took over,” and “Widespread publicity of major military exercises, previously the norm, has been minimal.”
One with little knowledge of Iranian affairs and politics would know that little or no change can be observed, so far as the real centers of power in Iran remain intact. The regime media are as anti-American as they were prior to Rouhani’s inauguration. The IRGC and other security apparatus become increasingly dominant, visible and repressive in case of internal division and strife; human rights violations are as worrisome as they were a year ago; and most importantly the regime is as defiant on its nuclear dossier as it was a few years ago.
In essence, in Ayatollah’s Iran the truth lies in the words of those who hold the echelons of power, i.e. supreme leader Ali Khamanei and his repressive entourage, including the IRGC. Mehdi Taeb, among Khamenei’s inner circle admitted that the clerical regime’s sheer existence depends on the Syrian dictatorship. “If the enemy seeks to take over Syria or Khuzestan[Iran’s Arabestan province], Syria would be our priority. If Syria is lost, we won’t be able to hold Tehran.”
As well acknowledged in the Pentagon assessment “The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) remains a key tool of Iran’s foreign policy and power projection, in Syria and beyond,” and “IRGC-QF has continued efforts to improve its access within foreign countries and its ability to conduct terrorist attacks,” it continues. Regrettably, despite such brazen admissions, US intelligence and defense leaders still believe that “Iran’s military strategy is defensive”.
Beyond-border deterrence – a well argued position by the Islamic state in Iran – is not and should not be regarded as defense, especially in the case of a regime that adheres to its founding ideology of ‘exporting Islamic revolution’ and defends its strategic interests by fighting proxy wars thousands of miles away from its own borders.
From the perspective of regime officials, concessions emanates from defeat. The regime interprets this American gesture as weakness, and emboldens its position that as the Pentagon assessment proves “Iran’s military achievements pursue defensive purposes, putting the seal of approval on Iran’s military doctrine,” as was reported by Press TV, regime’s English language propaganda station.
One might argue that the US defense assessment might be a psychological war on the Islamist regime in Tehran. Others believe that this assessment is nothing new and “that precise posture has been affirmed by U.S. government reports for years now.”
Sadly, to American defense officials, past or present, these slogans are just rhetoric and the Islamic state in Iran does not have the ability, ambition or intent to threaten the US and the allies in the region.
Despite the wishful thinking in the US, as far as the Islamic state in Iran is concerned, actions speak louder than words. It does not take a genius to figure out what the Islamic state of Iran does and wants, one just has to follow the signs.
Sharif Behruz is a Kurdish-Iranian political blogger, analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern affairs focusing on Kurdish and Iranian affairs. He is the co-founder and President of Iran Roundtable, an Iranian-American advocacy organization.