FPI / February 27, 2019
By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, Global Information System / Defense & Foreign Affairs
In late April, Iranian military delegations led by senior commanders traveled overseas. Navy Commander Rear-Adm. Hossein Khanzadi led a delegation to Beijing, and Iranian Defense Minister Brig.-Gen. Amir Hatami to Moscow.
Hatami discussed the expansion of military cooperation and invited the Russians to joint naval maneuvers at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. “Based on negotiations with the Russian Navy, the force will dispatch a fleet to the southern regions of Iran this year,” Khanzadi announced upon his return from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). No date was set. The maneuvers would take place in an area with frequent US Navy presence.
Meanwhile, Iran has escalated and expedited preparations for regional confrontation with the Gulf States, both in al-Jazira and in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as with Israel, in accordance with the long-term doctrine adopted in early 2019. Iran committed to ultimately dominating the Muslim world, consolidating control over the Lebanon-Syria-Iraq region, and actively containing Israel. Tenets of this doctrine were first aired publicly during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution between mid-February and mid-March 2019.
Historically, most important is the triumph of Shi’ite Islam over Sunni Islam.
“The Imam [Khomeini] successfully melded the Islamic and Iranian civilizations,” explained former IRGC Commander Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi. “Today, the heart of Islamic culture and civilization beats in Iran, and Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia and al-Azhar in Egypt cannot dominate the Islamic World.” This development has tangible consequences. “Today, a united Islamic army has been created in Syria. Today, we have succeeded in reaching the Mediterranean by using our ideological strength.”
IRGC Aerospace Force Commander Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh concurred that the Islamic Revolution’s “doctrine is expanding to the farthest corners of the world, and in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. At one time the enemies attacked and we were on the defense. But today we attack and they are on the defense.”
The IRGC’s Quds Forces Commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani was more pragmatic. “Today, if the Islamic World feels that it has deterrence and significant power, and an enemy like the Zionist regime does not dare attack the Islamic [Republic], it is thanks to the existence of the Hizbullah stream in Lebanon and Islamic streams such as Hamas in Palestine. And they, as clarified by the great architect of the Revolution [Imam Khomeini], are an outcome of the Islamic Revolution.” The ultimate objective of the new doctrine was to transform the entire Muslim world and put it under Iran’s influence.
In early April, Teheran concluded that the time was ripe to move to the next phase of the campaign to control the greater Middle East, first as part of “the Middle Eastern Entente”1 and, ultimately, by itself.
In this context, Teheran decided to gradually start escalating the protracted wars-by-proxy with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan-Pakistan, etc.) into a direct confrontation aimed to destroy the House of al-Saud.
The first step would bring Saudi Arabia’s oil exports “down to zero” through sabotage and strikes by the Quds Force and Saudi-Shi’ite jihadists. As well, Iran escalated the effort to encircle and contain Israel through the use of Lebanese and Palestinian proxies so that Israel could not intervene and attempt to prevent the collapse of the regional order to its detriment. The key caveat in the decision to implement the new doctrine was for Iranian Intelligence to ascertain that the US would either not intervene at all to protect Saudi Arabia from Iran or that US intervention would be symbolic at best. In mid-April, the Iranian intelligence assessments were that the US would abandon Saudi Arabia, and Tehran resolved to accelerate the preparations for the next phase of the regional ascent.
On April 21, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamene‘i announced the nomination of Maj.-Gen. Hossein Salami as the new IRGC Commander, replacing Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari after 12 years in office. Salami was the Commander of the IRGC Air Force (2005-2009), responsible for Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missiles program, and then Deputy Commander of the IRGC (2009-2019). He is known as a close ally of Soleimani.
The change of command took place on April 24, with only a few senior officers and officials in attendance. Salami outlined the coming missions of the IRGC. “The Quds Force, led by a brave commander, could advance to the east of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to end the U.S.’ domination,” he explained. In the process, Iran “should convert Islam’s sovereignty into a civilization and [the] IRGC should become ready to play its rôle to reach this goal. … We must expand our influence sphere from the region to the world to leave no secure region for the enemy across the globe.”
Teheran seized the strategic initiative. Senior commanders started articulating the new strategy in closed meetings.
On April 29, Soleimani addressed a closed forum of senior security and police officers in Tehran. He ruled out the possibility of a diplomatic engagement with the U.S. and stressed the importance of a region-wide strategy as the only viable option for Iran.
“The enemies seek to hit a blow and damage us and our country’s security through pressures and economic sanctions, and they use all their capacities to this end. But today, [the] enemy’s costs go higher to the very same degree that it poses threats,” Soleimani explained. “The enemy wants to make us sit to the negotiating table by economic pressures and such a negotiation is an instance of surrendering, but our people are vigilant and wise and believe that negotiation with the enemy under the present circumstances means complete surrendering and we will definitely not accept this humiliation.”
Soleimani explained that the key to victory was in regional dynamics. In contrast with Iran’s network of loyal streams (proxies), “the U.S. and its allies do not have any powerful stream in the West and East Asia” and they therefore “rely on illegitimate governments” to further their interests in the region. The enemies would not withstand a clash with Iran. Consequently, Soleimani concluded: “Iran is now a powerful country at high levels of maturity in military and security fields.”
On April 30, Hatami stressed that Teheran was not rushing to react to Washington. “The U.S. move will not affect the Islamic Republic and IRGC’s strategy in the region at all,” he stated. There was no reason to act in haste. “We enjoy the power to safeguard our vital interests in the Strait and [will] take necessary decisions in due time.” In principle, Iran was already prepared for any escalation. “We have other powers too, including missile power among too many others, and we can adopt the necessary decisions promptly and implement them,” Hatami noted.
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