The deployment of elements of Iran’s conventional military, the Artesh, to fight in Syria over the past month was surprising. The Artesh has historically focused on the territorial defense of Iran, and there have been no confirmed expeditionary Artesh deployments to a combat zone since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988. The decision to deploy Artesh troops was likely driven in part by the casualties taken by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) conventional forces
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari delivered a stern warning to President Hassan Rouhani on April 5: Stop opening up to the West. Rouhani has used his success in obtaining the nuclear deal to push forward a program of economic reform and easing of tensions with the West. Jafari declared that these policies are a dangerous departure from the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary values of economic independence and diplomatic isolation from the West.
Just a little over a month ago, Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress that Iran, one of the major backers of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, was moving its troops out of that country. Unfortunately, it isn’t so.
The Justice Department’s indictment of seven Iranian hackers for a “coordinated cyber assault” against 46 major financial institutions and a New York dam on March 24 was a good symbolic gesture, even though there is no measurable chance that any real action against the Iranian attackers will result. Many of the details in the indictment are not particularly surprising, however. The Islamic Republic has conducted an extensive, aggressive, and well-documented cyber campaign targeting U.S.
As the world is focusing on the yet-again extended nuclear talks, Iranian leaders are expressing ever greater concerns about the perceived threats from ISIS and Saudi Arabia. How Tehran may respond, including deploying ground forces in Iraq, should give everyone pause.