Iran is reshaping its military command structure to enhance its ability to deploy and use conventional military power throughout the Middle East. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently reorganized the military’s chain of command with a series of appointments and structural changes that will better enable it to plan and conduct military operations using all branches of Iran’s conventional military forces.
Nearly two hundred flights have taken off from airfields in the Islamic Republic of Iran to land in Syria since the Iran nuclear deal was announced one year ago, according to publicly available flight-tracking data. These commercial aircraft have almost certainly been ferrying troops and arms that, in conjunction with Russian air strikes and the deployment of thousands of Iranian forces, have staved off defeat for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei shook up over 25 years of leadership in the Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS), the body that oversees both Iran’s conventional forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), when he replaced Major General Hassan Firouzabadi with IRGC Major General Mohammad Bagheri as AFGS Chief on June 28.
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.