Faezeh Rafsanjani – Tasnim News Agency, via Wikimedia Commons
“The only way the IRGC [ Guardians of the Islamic Revolution Corps] will be forced to go back to the barracks and stop its business activities is for it to remain in the sanctions list.”
These are not the words of some disgruntled Iranian expatriate outside Iran wishing for a regime change. Rather this was said on 17th April, during a group debate on the social media audio platform, Clubhouse, by Faezeh Rafsanjani, the daughter of a former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran who died in 2017. Her father, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, was not just a former president either; he was one of the main pillars and founders of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Moreover, he was also the very person who initiated the idea of involving the IRGC in business activities as a way to generate independent income. Over the years the IRGC now overwhelmingly dominate key sectors of Iran’s economy so that despite rampant inflation, a shortage of goods, and a descent into poverty by millions of Iranian, the leadership level of the IRGC has been able to flourish economically.
Today, Rafsanjani’s daughter, like many others in Iran, is calling for the IRGC to go back to the barracks and let go of its stranglehold on Iran’s economy. She specifically emphasized in the same event her utter disdain for the IRGC which she repeatedly urged be kept on the sanctions list, “I believe the removal of the IRGC from the list of sanctions would be very harmful to the interests of the Iranian people.”
The IRGC was created after the overthrow of Iran’s secular monarchy in 1979 in parallel to the regular Iranian army to protect the Islamic revolution. There is no mention of Iran in IRGC. IRGC stands for Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. An even more accurate translation would be The Guardians of the Islamic Revolution Corps. They were created to defend the Islamic Revolution not Iran.
Although the process of Islamification of the regular army after four decades of the Ayatollahs in power is well entrenched, the IRGC is still the more ideological, more loyal and trusted armed force for the Ayatollahs. But for the Iranian people, the IRGC is the prevalent symbol of corruption and repression. In 2019, by the order of President Donald Trump, the IRGC was put under the US FTO list, a decision that was recently supported publicly by top Pentagon Generals in testimony before Congress.
Still there are political appointees within the current Biden administration who seem desperately keen to resurrect Obama’s JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran. They proposed to Iran that terrorist designation on the IRGC be lifted but that it remain on the Quds Force. To anyone even remotely familiar with the Quds Forces, this option was ludicrous. The Quds Force is the elite unit of the IRGC for clandestine overseas operations. Other than a few top commanders, no one knows who is in the Qods Force.
U.S. sanctions against Iran only started after a group of mostly Islamic Revolutionary Guards masquerading as “students” took over the US embassy in Tehran and held its staff as hostages for 444 days. The US president at the time, Jimmy Carter, did everything to appease the new regime, as well as sending a letter to the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, calling him “Your excellency” and begging him to release the hostages. He also tried to send Ramsay Clark, who had supported Khomeini against the Shah, to mediate but he was not even allowed to enter Iranian airspace. Having run out of all options, the Carter administration froze the Iranian assets in the US and imposed sanctions against the new regime.
Six US administrations after Carter’s, the sand dunes of the Iranian revolutionary politics have shifted in such a way that today the daughter of a founding father of the revolution in Iran is calling for the military arm of the regime and a major sponsor of terrorism to remain in the sanctions list but the US administration’s lead Iran negotiator, Robert Malley—who was also the same advisor in the Obama Administration that negotiated the first JCPOA– is using all his imaginative creativity to find a way of delisting the IRGC to appease the Ayatollah regime. It’s also worth noting that the Iranian regime lobbyists who are helping Malley to overcome the IRGC sticking point are mostly second-generation Iranian Americans whose fathers were the courtiers of Iran’s ancien régime!
While the second-generation Iranian Americans who have become foot soldiers of the Islamic Republic’s de facto lobby in the US in organizations like National Iranian American Council [NIAC] are having fits over Trump’s designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), the daughter of one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic is intrepidly stating in public that “The IRGC’s activities are to the detriment of the nation!”
This gutsy woman, who has been jailed twice before, has also struck nerves amongst the ruling clerics in Iran by her vehement opposition against the mandatory hijab and standing up for the persecuted Bahai’i religious minority in Iran. She expressed support for President Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” policies as a way of changing Iran’s behavior.
Her latest statements addressing the Clubhouse virtual meeting has caused fierce backlash by the regime loyalists and those affiliated with the IRGC. “She has practically acted as America’s infantry inside Iran”, wrote Fars News Agency, affiliated with the IRGC.
Mohamad Javad Abtahi, a Supreme Leader loyalist politician, said “Imam Khomeini said if there was no Revolutionary Guards, there would be no Islamic Republic, and yet she is trying to destroy this same institution” and he continued “She is wielding her sword against Islam and the regime”.
It would be foolish to think Faezeh Rafsanjani is not aware of what the consequences of her words may be, but she seems undaunted by what may happen to her next.
“What the IRGC inflicts on the Iranian society is damaging and must be stopped somewhere” – says the daughter of Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who was once the most powerful man in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Meanwhile, Iran—with good reason—has come to believe that it need not compromise one whit or even appear to moderate its murderous policies in order to get its negotiating partners not to carry out their threats to walk away from the negotiating table. We counted at least 12 times in the past year in which U.S. officials were quoted as stating that the “window was now closing” or that “time has run out” only to walk back those vacuous threats the next day
So around 9 days ago, when a spate of articles began to appear that pronounced the obituary to the negotiations, what did Iran do? On the occasion of the Al-Qods Day rallies, the IRGC issued a statement that “Tel-Aviv is on its last breaths and will soon meet its demise”.
They also condemned Sadat’s “unforgivable treachery in making peace with the Zionist regime” and that the only solution to the Palestine problem for the Islamic Iran is the expulsion of the “occupiers and Zionists”
On the same day of the Al-Qods rallies, the head of the IRGC, Gen. Salaami, spoke live to a crowd of Palestinians alongside Hamas leaders in Gaza reiterating the annihilation of Israel. The IRGC also organized a similar demonstration in Lebanon by the IRGC’s primary terrorist subordinate force in which Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah openly declared the imminence of the genocide of the Jewish state. Yet, about one week after these incendiary threats and rallies made and organized by the IRGC, a European delegation was off to Iran to beg the Iranians not to break off negotiations.
It is obvious that the IRGC is in no hurry to compromise despite all the appeasement by Robert Malley. Perhaps he and fellow American negotiators should heed the words of Faezeh Rafsanjani, someone who has the courage to speak truth to power.
This column was originally published at The Investigative Project on Terrorism
The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.