In a press conference on Sunday 16 September 2012 with the national and international press present, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) commander Major General Mohammad-Ali “Aziz” Jafari gave a very concise analysis of a number of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s security dilemmas, including the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and the IRGC’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Israel unlikely to attack Iran’s nuclear facility
The press conference, held on the occasion of Holy Defense Week which commemorates the Islamic Republic’s participation in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), gave perhaps one the most well-articulated analyses to date of Iran’s thinking on the possibility of an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities.
Jafari stated that the strengthening of Iran on the one hand and the Islamic Awakening (the regime’s terminology for the Arab Spring) on the other had left Israel little choice but to resort to military confrontation with the Islamic Republic. He asserted that while Israel was trying to drag the United States into the conflict, he believed the latter would not join any strike because the price would be too high. Jafari contended that a US-backed strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would expose US military bases in the region to the IRGC’s missiles as well as Iran’s “proxies around the world” who would prolong the conflict. He reasoned instead that the US would reach detente with Iran and that Israel would not attack because of the lack of US support and the Jewish state’s geographical vulnerabilities:
“Israel is smaller than to dare attack Iran alone and if this mad action [an Israeli military strike] takes place, with respect to the small area and vulnerability that [Israel] has to Iran’s numerous missiles, it is unlikely that Israel will remain [in existence].”
Perhaps one of Jafari’s most revealing comments on this subject during the press conference was in regard to Iran’s probable response if a US and/or Israeli strike did take place:
“My estimation is that if Israel attacks Iran the circumstances of our commitment to international treaties such as the NPT [Non-proliferation Treaty] could alter. But this does not mean that the creation of nuclear weapons will be considered because based on Sharia law and the command of the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] the use of such weapons is haram [religiously forbidden].”
Iranian military forces present in Syria only as “advisers”
Jafari gave one of the Islamic Republic’s first high level confirmations that IRGC forces are present in Syria assisting the Bashar al-Assad regime in trying to contain the uprising that has raged in that country for the last several months. However, Jafari claimed that IRGC personnel were only present in the war torn nation to provide support in the form of “advice” and “experience” to pro-regime forces.
Jafari also condemned any possible foreign military intervention in Syria. While he raised the specter of an Iranian military intervention in the face of any regional or international military actions against the al-Assad regime by saying that Iran had “security agreements” with the Syria, he quickly assured his audience that this was far from certain:
“It is not clear if we can now say with certainty that if there is a military attack against Syria Iran will take a military action in support of Syria.”
Anti-Islam film and future of the Reformist faction in Iranian politics
Interestingly, Jafari took a rather moderate tone on two of the most controversial issues inside Iran today. Addressing the anti-Islam film controversy that has led to a number of anti-American demonstrations around the world, Jafari condemned the film for hurting the feelings of Muslims but said “This insult is not a license for killing people, and the most important point is that Muslims never insult the followers of other religions of God.”
The IRGC’s top man also took a moderate tone on the question of the future of the Reformist faction in Iranian politics. He stated that although the Reformists had shown some radicalism in the past (referring to their involvement in leading the 2009-2010 Green Movement demonstrations), they would be allowed to compete in future elections if they refrained from such radicalism. This contrasted somewhat with comments by IRGC political chief Yadollah Javani’s earlier this month which took a much harder line against Reformists.
Editor’s note: Such a candid and relatively rhetoric-free assessment of Iran’s security dilemmas by the IRGC’s top leader is rare, leading to questions about why Jafari chose this time to make these particular remarks. A partial explanation may linked to a group of Iranians currently being detained by a faction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). By admitting limited Iranian involvement in Syria on an advisory level, Jafari may be trying to lessen the blow to Iran’s international reputation from FSA-induced confessions by these Iranian hostages who may be IRGC officers. This is however only speculation at this point.
Jafari may also be trying to counter the strong media narrative that has emerged in the last few months that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is imminent. By showing that the Islamic Republic’s premier national security body, the IRGC, does not regard Israeli military threats as likely, Jafari may be trying to somewhat change the tone of the public debate over how to deal with the Iranian nuclear crisis.
Finally, his somewhat softened tone toward the Reformists may be yet another sign that they could allowed to participate in the upcoming 2013 Iranian presidential election, albeit according to the regime’s stringent guidelines and as a neutered political force.