Waiting in the Shadows: The Iranian Revolutionary Guard

The situation in Iran has become incredibly nebulous. While a political solution has long been evasive, what could be coming soon would be shocking, and yet not all that surprising: A nuclear-armed Iran with The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the driver's seat.

Iran continues to rebel in ways that are difficult to ignore. Iranian leadership recently announced the addition of advanced centrifuges to their nuclear infrastructure capable of speeding up the enrichment process of their Uranium and tripling output. According to an ex-high ranking official at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran's centrifuges have been tuned to produce exclusively 20% enriched Uranium. This level of enrichment is the perfect level to create a breakout capability, meaning Iran can maintain this level of enrichment until it decides it needs a nuclear weapon and enriches to the 90% level necessary to do so. That last step only takes 2-3 months to complete.

According to this official report — along with supporting documents from the IAEA — every sign points towards Iran's creation of a nuclear weapon in the near future.

More interesting is the growing rift and tense atmosphere within the Iranian regime itself. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been increasingly at odds over internal and foreign matters. The biggest of these disagreements is detailed in a recent report that Ahmadinejad wants to make Iran's push for nuclear weapons public, while Khamenei disagrees.

As the public leadership of Iran quarrels and the already murky lines of allegiances continue to blur, the autonomous and all too powerful IRGC remains unaffected. The IRGC is controlled by Khamenei but has shown defiance when it doesn't agree with his ideology as it has also done with Ahmadinejad. It takes in oil revenues, owns many businesses, is economically self-reliant, and its membership is enormous.

The IRGC has far-reaching influence in the region as well. It created and continues to support Hezbollah, has shown the ability to cross the aisle by working with and helping Hamas (a Sunni Muslim group), provides logistical support and training to Islamist Shiite groups in Iraq, and recently attacked anti-government protesters in Syria.

With increased nuclear capabilities, a looming breakdown in Iranian domestic politics, and a seemingly powerless international community that has few options with which to stop Iran's nuclear program, the time would be right for IRGC leadership to take control of Iran if the domestic system fell apart, something analysts say isn't out of the question.

The only question is what an IRGC-controlled Iran would look like and if it would be better or worse than the current leadership.

If Western officials want to solve the Iranian quagmire, they should spend less time worrying about Iran's enrichment—which would be impossible to stop—and more time worrying about what a future Iran under control of the IRGC will mean for U.S. interests in the region.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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