While U.S. and Iranian diplomats continue their efforts to hammer out a nuclear deal, the most powerful Iranian body not at the negotiating table remains the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). A body that serves not only to defend the territory of Iran but also its ideology, the IRGC in recent decades has grown functionally independent from Iranian government control. Whether Iranian negotiators are sincere or not, they do not hold sway over the IRGC and cannot control its activity.
The 1 February anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return to Iran and the victory of the Islamic Revolution are normally the time for hardline polemical statements, and remarks by Brigadier General Salami, the IRGC’s deputy commander, suggest that the IRGC continues to see the United States as its number one enemy. Traditionally, the IRGC drilled confronting the U.S. military using asymmetrical means, either by hit-and-run terrorism via a proxy like Hezbollah on land or by swarming attacks by small boats at sea. However, Salami appears prepared to take Iranian threats to a new level with the suggestion that Iran might use its increasing missile capability against U.S. targets.
Growing Iranian strength—and the IRGC’s apparent perception of American weakness—also leads the IRGC deputy commander to offer advice to Iran’s nuclear team, urging them to stick firmly to their position in the firm belief that the Islamic Republic—and not the United States—holds the cards that matter.