Iran's terror export business

Amir Taheri:
A number of shibboleths have dominated the study of Iran since the revolution. One such shibboleth is the assertion that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the ultimate arbiter of events in Iran. Known as Pasdaran in Persian, the IRGC and its role in government have been the source of myths that cast a long shadow on all analyses of Iranian politics.

For over a decade, the US Congress and successive administrations have kept the Pasdaran in their sights, encouraging the emergence of a veritable industry dedicated to the study of the IRGC. As a result, most Americans know more about the IRGC than they would like to. In 2008, the US Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution urging President George W. Bush to label the IRGC a terrorist group. He did so a month later, and continued to implement harsh new sanctions targeting the business interests of the group. As the then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told the press, “It is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran you are doing business with the IRGC.” Since then, President Barack Obama has taken a bipartisan approach and has imposed even harsher sanctions against the Pasdaran, including the blacklisting of some of its commanders.

The IRGC is a unique, often misunderstood, beast. It is an army answerable to no one but the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is also a business conglomerate that controls over five hundred companies active in a wide range of industries—from nuclear power to banking, life insurance to holiday resorts and shopping malls. By most estimates, the IRGC is Iran’s third-largest corporation, after the National Iranian Oil Company and the Imam Reza Endowment in the city of Mashhad, northeast of Tehran.

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The crown jewel of the IRGC’s business empire is the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, which has cost the nation over USD10 billion so far, according to unofficial estimates cited by the Iranian daily Aftab-e Yazd in 2011. Theoretically, the nuclear program—supposedly designed for peaceful purposes including the production of electricity—is controlled by the Iranian Nuclear Energy Organization (Sazman Enerji Atomi Iran), the head of which is appointed by the president of the Islamic Republic. In reality, however, from strategic conception to production and management, the IRGC supervise the program under the authority of the Supreme Leader.

The vast and expensive nuclear program is part of a broader scheme of arms purchases and manufacture, which in total accounts for almost 11 percent of the annual national budget. Iran started building an arms industry in the 1960s and it was manufacturing a range of weapons by the time the revolution happened, including a British-patented tank and a French-designed short-range missile. Since then, the IRGC has succeeded in expanding the armament industry despite sanctions imposed by Western powers, and it now produces a range of weapons including small attack boats, drones, and mini-submarines used for laying mines in deep waters. In 2010, Iran was exporting a range of weapons to twenty-two countries around the world.

The Iranian armament industry has put a special focus on designing and manufacturing missiles with scientific and technical assistance from many countries, including India, China, Russia, North Korea, Brazil, and South Africa. Several generations of the Shahab (Meteor) missiles are now manufactured and deployed as a regular part of the Iranian arsenal. The latest generation, Shahab 5, has a range of over two thousand kilometers and is designed to reach targets in Europe.
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There is much more.

It should be noted that Chuck Hagel opposed labeling the IRGC a terrorist organization.  While the organization exports terrorist activity through proxies like Hezballah, other elements of its operation are just business entities whose profits support its operation.  That is why the sanctions regime is important to reining in its activities.  Hagel also opposed sanctions in Iran.  With Hagel's hostility to Israel combined with his desire to let Iran skate he is sure to face a very active opposition to his nomination from Republicans and some Democrats.

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