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Many in Western diplomatic circles view Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a pragmatist or reformer but, within his decades-long career inside the Islamic Republic, he has always been the regime’s “Mr. Fix-it,” especially with regard to questions over Iran’s military arsenal. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini turned to Rouhani to institutionalize the Iranian military at the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq War. Between 1988 and 2005, Rouhani was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, effectively in charge of coordinating investment in Iran’s ballistic missile and then-covert nuclear enrichment and warhead design programs.
It is against this backdrop that Rouhani’s statement on Islamic Republic of Iran Army Day bragging about his administration’s investment in Iran’s military becomes so important. In the excerpted passage, Rouhani brags about a 145 percent increase in Iran’s military budget, a figure which he might also use to shore up his credentials before this summer’s presidential elections. Such a major increase coinciding with the windfall Iran received in unfrozen assets—the Iranian state media claimed to have received $100 billion — following the activation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action suggests that the Iranian government has disproportionately invested its augmented income into Iranian military programs. After all, against the backdrop of a presidential campaign in which Rouhani’s handling of the economy has been a central subject of debate, Rouhani has not been able to make similar claims with regard to domestic expenditures when faced with a public increasingly uneasy over their standard of living.
While Iranian authorities have used their defense budget to develop their indigenous military industry, they also continue to import certain technologies. One noteworthy example of this is Iran’s purchase of the S-300 air defense missile system from Russia, which was displayed during the military parade following Rouhani’s speech.
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