A Revolutionary Guards Commander has threatened the US military, warning that if the US classifies Iran’s Guards as terrorists and introduces fresh sanctions, it would regard the move as a US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, making future engagement between the two countries impossible.
“The Guards will consider the American military all over the world, especially the Middle East, as equal to ISIS,” said General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards on Sunday, October 8.
Currently, the Guards are actively fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. These words by General Jafari, even if they are interpreted as merely a bluff or bravado, could potentially lead to heightened tensions between the two countries.
A report by Sepah News [Persian link], the Guards’ official website, emphasized that Jafari was talking to the Guard’s Strategic Council, and confirmed that the general was not expressing his personal view, but representing the view of the Guards.
“As we have announced in the past, if America's new law for sanctions is enforced, this country will have to move its regional bases outside the 2,000 km radius of the Iranian missiles' range”, he said. The Trump administration has made it clear that it wants Iran to change its overall behavior in the Middle East and stop supporting what it terms as “terrorist” organizations. But General Jafari said that Iran would not negotiate about its regional commitments. Iran, he said, “would solve the regional problems somewhere other than the negotiating table. There is nothing to talk about, he added.
“Diplomacy by itself cannot solve certain problems,” General Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the expeditionary Qods Force fighting in Iraq and Syria, said in July, “especially if they are important problems.”
The fact that both generals emphasized regional issues indicates an attempt to control the narrative about Trump and international relations ahead of any decision the US president makes in the coming days regarding the nuclear deal.
On August 2, President Trump signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which will incorporate strategies to “counter aggression by the governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea” into law.
According to Tasnim News Agency, Jafari said that if the US passed CAATSA, US regional bases would be moved out of reach of Iran’s missiles. He added that Iran considers “the implementation of CAATSA equal to America’s unilateral withdrawal” from the nuclear agreement (JCPOA). "We will use the opportunity of the stupid behavior of the Trump government to achieve a leap in defense, missile and regional programs," Jafari said. New US sanctions, he said, “will eliminate the chance of any engagement forever.”
By describing Trump’s policies as “stupid behavior” and referring to the end of engagement between the two countries “forever,” it appears that the commander of the Revolutionary Guards actually supports the nuclear agreement, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, his comments also suggest that he is worried that any renegotiation of the agreement could lead to changes that he does not feel would benefit the Guards, especially when it comes to regional conflicts.
Over the last decade, the Revolutionary Guards has commanded greater control over Iranian diplomacy in the Middle East, and General Soleimani has become the most important Iranian “diplomat” in the region. The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, has said that the Guards are the most decisive force in the Middle East. And the late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani commented that no Iranian ambassador in the region can be appointed without the Qods Force’s permission.
An example of the Revolutionary Guards’ dominance in Iranian regional diplomacy was evident during the recent referendum for independence in Iraqi Kurdistan. Before the controversial referendum, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, reported that General Soleimani had recently visited the region, and that he had talked to the general personally. The fact that Barzani failed to make any mention of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was conspicuous to say the least. When the former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani died early in October, Zarif traveled to Iraq to attend his funeral and laid a wreath on his coffin. But when it comes to Iraq and Syria, that is essentially all the Revolutionary Guards want from Iran’s official top diplomat.
Any negotiations between Iran and the US about Middle Eastern issues, if they ever occur, would naturally strengthen President Rouhani’s role in Iran’s regional policies, and would adversely affect the Guards’ position. So in an effort to prevent such an eventuality, the Guards have decided to reconfigure its power by threatening the US.