Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: An Open Source Analysis

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: An Open Source Analysis

Article excerpt

In The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, President George W. Bush singled out the Islamic Republic of Iran as perhaps the greatest challenge facing the United States today. (1) Iran is specifically identified as a direct obstacle to accomplishing a majority of the Nation's strategic objectives. Among these are preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), promoting freedom by ending the rule of tyrannical regimes, denying terrorists state-sponsored support and sanctuary, and defusing regional conflicts. (2) Despite, and in many instances because of, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, perpetual conflicts on every continent, and the battle with terrorist organizations in every corner of the globe, the Iranian government has positioned itself to become the focus of the world's collective attention.


Translating the strategic objectives outlined by the President into effective operational plans requires carefully studying the enemy and determining his centers of gravity (COG). The availability of accurate, relevant intelligence is a key element to correctly identifying a COG, which is a "source of moral or physical strength, power, or resistance." (3) Knowledge of the enemy's culture, history, sociopolitical and economic infrastructures, and leadership is as important in COG determination as knowing his military capabilities and force disposition.

Unfortunately, after the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, and the subsequent hostage crisis that lasted 444 days, access to information on the current political, military, and social structures within Iran has been severely limited, complicating the task of identifying centers of gravity. Much of the available information is found in official statements, press releases, government-sponsored Web sites (several in English), and interviews on one side, and a litany of Internet-published documents, as well as official and unofficial testimony from exiled dissident groups and defectors, on the other. The result is a virtual maze of material that must be navigated with care, keeping in mind the perspective and underlying motive of each source. Knowing the limitations on available information, it is nevertheless possible to surmise an accurate, albeit imperfect, COG identification.

By analyzing only this open source material, it is evident that the key center of gravity in Iran is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), or Sepah-e Pasdaran (Pasdaran). The IRGC's conventional military strength, uncompromising execution of its conceptual and constitutional mandates, political and economic influence, and direct as well as indirect control of the country's WMD programs combine to make the Pasdaran the source of the clerical regime's power both domestically and internationally.

Conventional Military Strength

The Pasdaran emerged from the war with Iraq (1980-1988) as the premier military institution in Iran. With numbers that now equal as much as half of Iran's regular military, the IRGC alone boasts a force as large as or larger than any in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Israel. (4) Iran's total active duty military strength numbered 538,000 in 2005, with 145,000 of those in the IRGC. (5) The Revolutionary Guard maintains a small air contingent and a more robust and increasingly capable naval force. The naval and air components were officially established in 1985 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, although the Revolutionary Guard had operated a small force of marines as early as 1982. (6) The Pasdaran was also given control of Iran's ballistic missile program in both missile employment and development. (7) Originally established to add more domestic ideological and political weight to the IRGC as a whole by becoming, at least in appearance, a more conventional force, the Revolutionary Guard services essentially removed the sole ownership of air and sea warfare enjoyed by the regular military forces. …

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