Iran's shadow wars eclipse its nuclear threat, says expert

Afshon Ostavar says Tehran's highly influential Revolutionary Guard Corps has combined ideology and practicality in an effective way, producing results in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

May 3, 2017 21:47
2 minute read.
Iran Syria

Iranian Revolutionary Guard members in Tehran carry the casket of Iran Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Mohsen Ghajarian, who was killed in the northern province of Aleppo , Syria . (photo credit: ATTA KENARE / AFP)


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Iran’s clandestine regional interference is a much bigger issue than the nuclear file, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) expert Afshon Ostavar said on Tuesday.

Ostavar, a professor at the US Naval Postgraduate School and author of Vanguard of the Imam about the IRGC, made the comment at a Foreign Policy Research Institute conference in Philadelphia.

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“When it comes to the Middle East,” the Revolutionary Guards, he explained, “are basically the decision-makers if not the shapers of that policy... when it comes to what is going on in Iraq, or Syria, or Lebanon... [it is] their activity or their literally lobbying the supreme leader that seems to dictate policy more than anything else.”

Asked about Hezbollah and Hamas, he said that the IRGC controls Iranian policy because “basically they have done the groundwork. They control the ground game.... The 21st century has been very successful for what IRGC has been trying to achieve.”

He was later asked about the significance of IRGC intervening in the region alongside the nuclear deal.

Ostavar replied: “As I understood the Obama administration, what they thought they gained from the deal... this was a nonproliferation issue for them... keeping nukes out of the hands of a country we didn’t trust with nukes..., everything else was different... Along those lines... I think it achieved what they had hoped it would achieve.”

However, for “people who are less sold on the deal, they were less sold on it because of everything else... [the issue was:] would the deterrent [of signing the nuclear deal with the West] make them [Iran] feel safe and therefore less likely to sort of expand and follow what they’re doing outside of their country? Or would it in fact shield what they were doing and allow them to do it even more openly and boldly?

“What people are worried about now is that it’s done the latter. They don’t need the nuclear deterrent anymore because now they have the nuclear deal deterrent, which in effect took... the leverage out of the US and the international community to put pressure on Iran,” Ostavar continued. “But Iran was able to keep this other deterrent, which in my opinion was actually much more important than a nuclear weapon would have been,” he said, referring to IRGC activities.

Ostavar described the IRGC as highly committed to Iran’s religious revolution and thoroughly practical about influencing Iran’s neighbors. The IRGC’s success is what pushed Israel together with Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries, at least on a level of certain military cooperation.

Ostavar also discussed the Revolutionary Guards’ control of Iran’s ballistic missile program, especially as it connects to weaponization of its nuclear program, and control of dozens of small naval vessels that can harass US and other international trips traveling near its coast.

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