DECISION BRIEF: The IRGC Response to Israeli Attacks on Iran

Role: Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari

Mikaela Bennett

George Washington University

 

  1. BACKGROUND.

    1. President Trump issued a proposal to offer humanitarian aid in exchange for increased oversight of the Iranian nuclear program. Iran is reeling from an Israeli attack on several of their nuclear sites which resulted in considerable casualties and a humanitarian crisis the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) has not handled well. The IRGC usually plays a lead role in domestic crisis management.  

    2. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) was founded to secure the rule of the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Khomeini. The IRGC is primarily concerned with internal security, although that line has been blurred in recent years by the IRGC’s involvement in Iraq and Syria. The IRGC has been ruthless in this task (For example: The crackdown on protesters in 2009).

    3. In 2007, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC, the top position in the IRGC. Major General Jafari has a reputation as a specialist in asymmetrical warfare and as an unconventional, innovative strategist.

  2. ASSUMPTIONS.

    1. The Iranian government is seriously considering the American offer.

    2. The IRGC is not working for the interest of the people (A solution to the humanitarian crisis won’t help the IRGC consolidate power.)

    3. President Trump is sincere in his offer and can be trusted.

    4. The IRGC cannot easily take power in Iran via a direct coup.

    5. The IRGC is primarily focused on domestic security.

    6. The IRGC has existential and economic interests in preventing rapprochement with the West.

    7. Iran does not need to develop its nuclear capacities any further in order to be able to achieve a nuclear weapon, it can purchase enriched uranium from another country (such as North Korea).

  3. DISCUSSION.

    1. Facts Bearing on the Problem

      1. During negotiations for a nuclear deal with the P5+1 the IRGC opposed such a deal and was at odds with other branches of the IRI government.

      2. The IRGC has almost exclusive access to informal markets in Iran which have been extremely lucrative.

        1. This economic privilege would be threatened if the country opens up to global markets.

      3. IRGC members frequently commit violent acts and get away with abuses of power. Examples include: A spate of acid attacks on ‘immodest women’ in the streets, the 2009 crackdown on protesters, murders and rapes for which the victims are blamed and sometimes executed, impunity in Iran’s natural reserves.

        1. Liberalization in Iran could make IRGC members responsible for these behaviors.

      4. The IRGC runs an extensive indoctrination campaign through the Basij wing which advocates the IRI’s vision of nationalism, Shi’a political Islam, and the absolute authority of the supreme jurist (Ayatollah Khamenei).

      5. A previous mystery attack was never resolved. IRI spokesmen accused  Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, Azerbaijan, and Syrian Kurdish enclaves of collusion. All these countries named denied the accusation.

        1. At the time, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei threatened revenge, and ordered secret repairs, and dispersed and modernized the Iranian uranium production infrastructure.

        2. The mystery attack had no physical effect on the Iranian stockpile of 185.1 kg of UF6 enriched to 20% U235, or to the hidden stockpile of DPRK-supplied bomb-ready U235 and Pu239.

      6. IRI nuclear engineers and scientists were on track to complete assembly of three 100-kiloton yield nuclear warheads in February 2020.

      7. Iran has 2,200-kilometer range ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to Israeli population centers.

      8. Iran has a reputation for orchestrating a sophisticated assassination campaign.

        1. Between 1979 and 2008, 162 prominent critics of the IRI were assassinated in nineteen countries.

        2. In the years between 2009 and 2016, under orders of Ayatollah Khamenei, Major General Qasem Soleimani increased number of persons targeted under the Qods Force program of extrajudicial killings and attempted to assassinate Saudi diplomatic personnel in the U.S., and American diplomats in Baghdad and Israel.

          1. The Qods Force is a branch of the IRGC.

      9. Online daily, Rooz, quoted Major General Gholam Ali Rashid, who was until recently the acting deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, as saying, "In the first few years of the Iran-Iraq war, it was Mr. Aziz Jafari that designed the first surprise operation of the IRGC, without paying attention to classical warfare."

      10. It is speculated that Major General Jafari may have been directly involved in the 1989 assassination of Dr. Abdulrahman Ghassemlou, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI).

      11. Major General Jafari is quoted as reflecting on the 2009 demonstrations and government crackdown by saying, "Forgiving the rioters, particularly the Ashura day rioters, is not practical, and even if some officials want to forgive them, people will not allow them."

    2. Course of Action (COA) Analysis

      1. COA # 1: Revive international assassination campaign.

        1. Advantages

          1. Strikes back at Israel without engaging in outright war.

            1. Iranian capabilities and willingness to start a conventional war are questionable.

          2. Redirects focus from government failures (the humanitarian crisis) to foreign threats.

          3. It is largely consistent with previous IRGC/IRI behavior and has been endorsed by Ayatollah Khamenei.

          4. Reasserts IRGC relevance and authority.

          5. Will make international travel for Iranian citizens more difficult.

            1. Reduces brain-drain and outward immigration.

        2. Disadvantages

          1. Likely backlash in international politics and public opinion.

            1. Would lose the political capital gained from being the victim of a nuclear attack.

          2. Strategy might not be strong enough, which risks further attacks on Iran or retaliatory assassinations.

          3. Assassinations might not improve domestic public opinion of the IRGC.

          4. Limits exist to who can be targeted. For example, assassinating a high-profile target like Prime Minister Netanyahu (who is clearly responsible for the attack on Iran) would egregiously violate international law in a highly public way. It could unify worldwide opposition to Iran.

          5. Assassinations would likely cause President Trump to withdraw his offer as a result.

            1. The IRGC would be to blame.

            2. The Majlis and the public would be upset.

              1. Intensified protests could endanger the IRI.

            3. Ayatollah Khamenei’s opinion on the deal is unknown.

      2. COA # 2: Commence a “Deal with Devil” PR campaign and invoke nationalism. Accuse President Trump of insincerity and accuse Iranian officials who propose to accept the agreement of being traitors. Stage an internal attack on a second nuclear site and portray it as a second Western attack.

        1. Advantages

          1. Inflames fear and nationalism in the population.

          2. Fits the “West as the Devil” narrative and feeds conspiracy theorist tendencies in the population.

          3. Forces the government’s hand so that they are unable to accept President Trump’s deal. The deal is bad for the IRGC because:

            1. It makes the IRGC look bad because America is taking care of Iranian citizens after the IRGC failed to do so.

            2. It impinges on Iranian sovereignty.

            3. It threatens IRGC and Islamic Republic of Iran power structures based on opposition to the West.

            4. Major General Jafari could lose his job.

            5. Major General Jafari could lose access to private and organizational economic profits from illicit behaviors such as smuggling.

          4. Provides convincing evidence of an external threat which would distract from domestic disagreements.

          5. Empowers IRGC as the defender of the country.

          6. Opens up the opportunity to pursue protesters and opposition leaders as ‘traitors’.

          7. Elevates Major General Jafari’s personal position and influence in the country.

          8. Protects current power structures supporting IRGC.

            1. Exclusive access to the informal economy.

            2. Role as personal security forces for the Supreme Leader.

            3. Role as domestic defenders of Iran.

          9. Might gain sympathy from international community.

            1. Sympathy could be leveraged to further international goals or procure military and political support from China and Russia.

          10. If Israel is considering a follow-up attack they may be dissuaded.

            1. The IRGC can remove key equipment from the site before destroying it.

            2. Circumvents a potential second attack by increasing international outcry.

        2. Disadvantages

          1. Risk that the attack will be uncovered as fraudulent might result in any of the following outcomes:

            1. Imprisonment.

            2. Execution.

            3. Loss of Major General Jafari’s position in the IRGC.

            4. Dissolution of the IRGC.

            5. Collapse of the IRI.

          2. Kills Iranian citizens.

          3. Destroys a nuclear site.

            1. Costly to re-build.

          4. Potential to escalate into international conflict.

  4. CONCLUSIONS.

    1. It is not in the interest of the IRGC or Major General Jafari to accept humanitarian aid from the U.S. in exchange for nuclear program limits.

      1. Rapprochement with the West poses an existential threat to the IRGC and the IRI.

    2. The IRGC and Major General Jafari would act against Iran’s citizens and other branches of government if needed.

    3. The IRGC and Major General Jafari’s strengths lie in unconventional and asymmetrical warfare techniques and innovative strategy.

    4. An assassination campaign would be a potentially ineffective and costly choice.

  5. RECOMMENDATION. COA # 2. Commence a “Deal with Devil” PR campaign and invoke nationalist sentiment. Accuse President Trump of insincerity (as well as collaborating with the Israelis to use military attacks to force Iran to make concessions) and accuse Iranian officials who propose to accept the agreement of being traitors to Islam and Iran. Stage an internal attack on a second nuclear site and portray it as a second Western attack. Pressure the international community for support.

  6. ATTACHMENTS. None

 

Prepared by: Mikaela Bennett

Background Image Source: Orginal image taken by Mikaela Bennett