Iran’s Security Policy

Title:                  Iran’s Security Policy in the Post-Revolutionary Era

Author:                 Daniel Byman, et al.

Byman, Daniel (2001). Iran’s Security Policy in the Post-revolutionary Era. Santa Monica, CA : RAND

LCCN:    2001020486

UA853.I7 I72 2001


Date Updated:  February 25, 2016

This book is another excellent work from the Rand Corporation. Daniel L. Byman and his team produced a clear, concise study that explains in detail the changing nature of Iran’s security policy. They begin with the sources of Iran’s security policy, including ideological as well as internal and external factors. The team also examines Iran’s military institutions, the regular armed forces (the Artesh) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); and their agendas; and their positions in the decision making system. The authors detail these military institutions’ relationships and interactions with Iran’s informal, convoluted decision making system. Finally, the authors examine the actual policies produced to develop an understanding of the character of Iran’s security policy today and how Iran’s policies have changed over the last 20 years.

After conducting this exploration of Iran’s behavior, the Rand team shows that Iranian security policymakers have shifted from the adventurism of their early years to more cautious and prudent policies. The fervor of Islamic fundamentalism and Persian nationalism were the two primary drivers of Iran’s security policy. But their security policy has changed. The primary drivers today are geopolitics, ethnicity, and economies. As Byman and his team show, Iran’s behavior now is more aimed at preserving the state and the political regime than at exporting and invigorating a worldwide Islamic revolution.

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) is ranked by experts as one of the largest and most active intelligence agencies in the Middle East, having masterminded 450 black ops throughout the world since the 1980s. MOIS remains shrouded in so much mystery that apart from the occasional revelations by the Iranian Resistance, little has ever been made public about its operations and functions. Its secret budget and unchecked power have turned it into one of the key pillars of the Iranian theocracy.

MOIS is also one of the most secretive agencies in the world and its command structure is directly answerable to the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Intelligence Minister

The current Minister of Intelligence and Security, Hojatoleslam Ali Younesi, was appointed the Head of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran and later Head of the Politico-Ideological Bureau of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) soon after the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah. In 1982 Younesi was appointed Religious Judge of the Military Revolutionary Tribunals. He was one of the founders of MOIS. In 1986 he was appointed representative of the Supreme Leader to oversee the reconstruction of the Intelligence Directorate of the army upon the order of Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1987 he became the Representative of the Acting Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces at the Intelligence Directorate of the army, and was appointed a religious judge.

The summer of 1988 marked a turning-point in Younesi’s rise within the clerical regime’s hierarchy. As one of the religious judges charged with implementing Ayatollah Khomeini’s<em> fatwa</em> to execute all non-repentant political prisoners, Younesi made a name for himself by presiding over one of the most ruthless tribunals, dispatching prisoners to their deaths summarily after trials that barely lasted more than five minutes.

Younesi’s performance in 1988 led to his promotion to one of the top slots in the Iranian regime’s judicial system and he became the head of the Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces.

In 1999 another Shiite cleric, Dorri Najafabadi, needed to be replaced as Minister of Intelligence and Security in the wake of the disclosure of MOIS agents’ killing dozens of intellectuals and dissidents. Younesi was given the job.

Span of the Secret Network

MOIS is a ministry only in name, for it operates under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader. It is not accountable to either the cabinet or the parliament, has a secret budget, and stands above the law. Over the past two decades, it has grown into a huge machinery of political repression.

The Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as an adjunct to foreign policy has developed into an organized and professional activity over the last 25 years, masterminded by MOIS. It has been used as a lever to gain advantages from Western countries or to exert more pressure on surviving opponents of the regime. Many of Iran’s diplomats have a record of previous service with MOIS, the IRGC (Pasdaran or Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG), and other security agencies. The MOIS works in coordination with the Foreign Ministry in operations carried out abroad, making particular use of Iranian embassies worldwide as hubs for gathering intelligence and diplomatic passes for agents involved in terrorist activities.

Internally, agents of MOIS are rigorously tested before they are given security clearance and trusted enough to take part in operations which could potentially implicate the highest levels of the regime’s leadership to state corruption should someone decide to expose the agency. Many of the members, who themselves were handpicked from other security agencies inside the country, are first required to take part in the killing and torturing of dissidents, to ensure their loyalty to the regime and its Supreme Leader. Only the most loyal cadres are inducted into the organization.

Throughout the years, on a number of occasions, MOIS has gone through internal purges, whereby agents showing weakness conveniently disappeared or committed suicide. From 1997 to 1998, after a series of gruesome murders of Iranian dissidents by MOIS liquidators became public, the then-deputy Intelligence Minister Saeed Emami was jailed on conspiracy charges, and later was reported to have committed suicide in prison. The report of suicide convinced no one, and it was widely believe he was killed to prevent a leak of sensitive information about MOIS operations. Such a leak would have compromised the entire leadership of the Islamic Republic. Such internal purges and murders within MOIS sparked a feud at the highest levels of the agency, which landed top officials from the losing side in prison.

[See See also:]


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