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The IRGC’s political chief talks Syria, the Guards’ role in Iranian politics, and the future of the Reformist faction

In an interview with the Young Journalists Club, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) political bureau, may have given some important clues on the Guards thinking on some of the most pressing issues confronting the Islamic Republic of Iran today. The long interview, released in two parts on 04 and 09 September 2012 touched on (among other things) the IRGC’s position on Syria, its own role in Iranian politics, and the Reformist faction.

On Syria

Javani, who is also the IRGC’s most senior advisor to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared that the problem of Syria was not merely a domestic or regional one, but an international and interregional one. He went as far as to call the ongoing civil war in Syria a “proxy war”, subtly alluding to the competition there between United States, European Union, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia on one side and China, Russia, and Iran on the other. He highlighted Syria’s role in what the Islamic Republic calls the “Axis of Resistance”, the anti-Western/Israel coalition in the Middle East which includes Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas, as the main reason behind the West’s support for the uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

When pressed by the interviewer on why he believed the regime in Syria had not yet fallen, Javani highlighted the “preservation of unity” in the Syrian military as one key reason. He asserted that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was for the most part made up of enlisted deserters and that the Syrian officer corps had essentially stayed intact. He cited the continued operability of the Syrian military despite what he called the “bitter explosion” that killed very high ranking national security officials as proof that the Syrian officer corps was functional and firmly behind the regime.

On the IRGC’s role in Iranian politics

The interviewer also asked Javani about the phenomena of IRGC-phobia (Sepah-harasi), in which some inside and outside Iran have raised the alarm about the IRGC’s increasingly prominent role in Iran’s politics and economy.

Javani rejected the notion that the IRGC has been overstepping its bounds in recent years, saying that the suspicion toward the organization was in part a result of a misunderstanding of its true role in the Islamic Republic, which he maintained was not purely military. Rather, Javani labelled the IRGC a “political, military, cultural, and security” institution. He referred to the Iranian constitution as a source of this understanding of the Guard’s role:

“Article 150 of the Constitution says that the IRGC continues to exist to safeguard the revolution and its achievements…and does not explicitly state that the IRGC is a purely military institution.”

He also quoted Khamenei, who has clarified the IRGC’s function within the regime: “The mission of the IRGC is to overcome any kind of threat with any kind of essence.” Javani interpreted this to mean that while in the first decade after the revolution the Guard’s purpose had been a military one (referring to the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)), in the decades since its role has expanded to include “cultural assault” and the “soft threat” (the regime’s terminology for the battle between the regime and the West for the hearts and minds of the Iranian people).

The interviewer asked whether this expanded role for the IRGC did not go against the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s pronouncement against the military’s involvement in politics, to which Javani replied that while the IRGC is not a political party that enters political matters, confronting “political threats” is among the IRGC’s main responsibilities.

On the Reformist faction and Green Movement

Javani was finally asked by the interviewer to comment on the Green Movement and the future of the Reformist faction in Iranian politics. The IRGC political chief replied that it was natural for the Guards to confront the Green Movement because it went against the ideals and achievements of the revolution. Furthermore, he said that the Green Movement had a direct link with the Second of Khordad Movement (the political wave that brought president Mohammad Khatami and the Reformists to power in 1997), and this was part of the reasons the Reformist faction was systematically targeted after the demonstrations that followed the controversial 2009 Iranian presidential election.

However, he took issue with the notion that the IRGC had eliminated the Reformists, and said that Iranian Reformists had in fact been removed by the people, who he claimed had simply stopped voting for them. He raised the electoral failure of Mostafa Tajzadeh, a leading Reformist political figure who came in 16th place in the 2003 city and village (municipal) council elections, as an example of popular dislike toward the Reformists. Javani also strongly attacked ex-president Khatami on a personal level, saying that the latter had a “black [political] record” and that he had been on the vanguard of those who sought to overthrow the regime.

Would the Reformists be allowed to participate in the upcoming 2013 Iranian presidential election? Javani mused that while the path for their political rehabilitation was open, it would not be for 2013 election and that the rejection of their past ideas and actions would only be the beginning of a long path back into the regime’s fold for the Reformists.