Last week I quoted from a book by Reza Kahlili, A Time to Betray. This week I had a chance to speak with Mr. Kahlili by phone, and ask him about the Iran crisis. As a former CIA operative who worked inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, he understands the strengths and weaknesses of the Islamic Republic. He knows the Islamist mindset, and the errors that plague U.S. policy.
I asked Mr. Kahlili whether he thought a preemptive strike against Iran was a good idea. “The question is complex,” he answered. “You should never have allowed Iran to become what it is today. You have missed opportunity after opportunity.”
Perhaps it is no accident we are in such a difficult position today. Reza Kahlili is not alone in suggesting that the West has used bad judgment and shown poor leadership regarding Iran. To survive intact, our civilization must do better. We have deluded ourselves long enough. We have refused to accept that our enemies are enemies, that they intend our destruction. The hour is late, and time is running out.
To truly appreciate the political standing of Iran’s regular armed forces in today’s Islamic Republic, the key is to take into account the impact of the ongoing and unparalleled internal feud in the top ranks of the regime. The feud, pitching the factions of Supreme Leader Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad against one another in a bitter contest for power, has turned the Artesh into an inescapable entity that neither faction can afford to ignore. Given, however, that Ayatollah Khamenei is the ultimate Commander-in-Chief in Iran’s constitutional setup, he appears to be succeeding in his attempts to shape the Artesh with the aim of further consolidating his grip on power in Iran.
As Khamenei has set out to appeal to Artesh commanders, as well as the rank-and-file, two developments are evident. First, the Artesh is increasingly idealized by the state-controlled media. This is a noticeable trend because the Islamist regime has largely sought to ignore or sideline the regular armed forces in the course of the 32-year history of the Islamic Republic. Instead, the Artesh is now periodically put in the front position when the regime in Tehran seeks to brandish its self-declared military capabilities. In contrast, up until recently the Artesh was rarely if ever given the chance to outshine the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its politically-favored military counterweight.
Second, there are now a growing number of joint Artesh-IRGC military exercises and operations. This development in particular suggests that Khamenei’s efforts to bring the Artesh under his tutelage might go beyond merely rhetoric and public relations campaigns at the hands of state-run media.