Iran has a military-industrial complex problem. The complex is a hulking guild that stands in the way of any Iranian attempt toward policy moderation. Its visible head is the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the armed guardians of the Islamist regime since 1979. As a phenomenon, however, it comes in different shapes and affects every aspect of life in Iran.
Since coming to power in 2013, the moderate President Hassan Rouhani has cautiously pushed back against the military-industrial complex but has otherwise primarily engaged in overtures to co-opt the IRGC leadership for his vision for the future. Rouhani’s pitch, which he defines as a “win-win” formula, is simple: The IRGC bosses should accept change and, in return, they will not be excluded from post-sanction economic opportunities. But IRGC generals remain wary of both Rouhani and his vision for Iran’s future. And they have proven time and again that they are willing to take on the president and his team if they feel threatened.
To the outside world, the IRGC’s undermining of the elected Rouhani government is readily discernable. From its periodic war games and firing off missiles as a show of strength, to the IRGC intelligence arm’s willfully arresting Iranian dual nationals to embarrass the president, the corps barely hides its intention to expose the limits of Rouhani’s power.
Meanwhile, much of Iran’s hardline media, which is in the hands of the IRGC, constantly reruns veiled remarks that Rouhani and his team are nofoozi or infiltrators bent on transforming the revolutionary character of the state from within. The lines for this spiteful battle were drawn shortly after Rouhani ascended to the presidency in 2013 and urged the IRGC generals to stay out of politics and economics.
A fuming head of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari, soon countered that some inside the regime “do not show their true faces,” a jab raising questions about Rouhani’s allegiance to the Islamic Republic. Rouhani, a man who has