Beyond Borders: The Expansionist Ideology of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

February 4, 2020

Weapon Program: 

  • Military

Author: 

Kasra Aarabi

Publication: 

Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

Related Country: 

  • Lebanon

Unlike the Iranian army that protects Iran’s borders, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is mandated by Iran’s constitution to pursue “an ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is extending sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world.” Since the inception of this paramilitary force in 1979, the Guard has emerged as the principal organisation driving the Iranian regime’s revolutionary Shia Islamist ideology, within and beyond the regime’s borders. Over these 40 years, it has been linked to terrorist attacks, hostage-takings, maritime piracy, political assassinations, human rights violations and the crushing of domestic dissent across Iran, most recently with the bloodshed on the Iranian streets in November 2019, leaving 1,500 people dead in less than two weeks.

Today, the IRGC remains Lebanese Hizbullah’s prime benefactor, with the Guard known to be providing arms, training and funding to sustain the group’s hostile presence against Israel and its grip on Lebanese society, and key operational assistance that has resulted in attacks on civilians stretching from Argentina, Bulgaria to Thailand. Modelled on its support for Hizbullah, the IRGC has prepared an estimated 200,000 fighters–from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan–to rise in support of a cause that is built on a perceived existential threat to the Shia Muslim identity and a hostility towards global powers and their allies.

There is no shortage of concern about the growing influence and operational capacity the IRGC now represents, although its goals are long standing and consistent. Drawing from internal IRGC documents used to train an incoming generation of Guardsmen, this report lays out the Guard’s core objectives and the key aspects of its well-established worldview, placing the IRGC’s current activities in the Middle East region into much-needed context. The findings of this report show that within the IRGC ranks alone, the Iranian regime has prepared and invested in an elaborate programme of indoctrination that first set and then defined its course of action, long before the Guard’s actions gained momentum as it has today. First published in 2011, these documents have been subsequently reprinted, and the latest, published between 2012 and 2016, form the basis of this report.

Read the full report at the Institute for Global Change.