An unlikely dissident in Iran


“The only way the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] forced to return to barracks and cease trading is to remain on the sanctions list.”

These are not the words of a disgruntled Iranian exile outside of Iran who wants regime change. Rather, this was said on April 17 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, wasn’t just a former president either; he was one of the main pillars and founders of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. In fact, he was the very person who initiated the idea of ​​involving the IRGC in business activities in order to generate an independent income.

Over the years, the IRGC has overwhelmingly dominated key sectors of Iran’s economy, allowing IRGC leadership to prosper economically despite runaway inflation, commodity shortages and millions of Iranians falling into poverty.

Today, Rafsanjani’s daughter, like many others in Iran, is calling on the IRGC to return to barracks and release its stranglehold on the Iranian economy. She expressed at the same event her utter contempt for the IRGC, which she has repeatedly called for to remain on the sanctions list, saying, “I believe removing the IRGC from the sanctions list would be very damaging to the interests of the Iranian people.”

The IRGC was established alongside Iran’s regular army after the fall of Iran’s secular monarchy in 1979 to protect the Islamic Revolution. Iran is not mentioned in the IRGC. 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 Islamization of the regular army is entrenched after four decades of the ayatollahs in power, the IRGC is still the more ideological, loyal and trustworthy military force for the ayatollahs. But for the Iranian people, the IRGC is the dominant symbol of corruption and oppression. In 2019, the IRGC was installed by order of former President Donald Trump US foreign terrorist organizations (“FTO”) list, a decision recently supported by top Pentagon generals in testimony before Congress and in a public statement open letter.

Still, politicians in the current Biden administration seem desperate to revive Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. They proposed Iran to de-designate the IRGC as a terrorist – leaving it only with the Quds Force. To anyone even remotely familiar with the Quds forces, that option seemed ridiculous. The Quds Force is the IRGC’s elite clandestine foreign operations force. Except for a few top commanders, no one knows what that is.

Faezeh Rafsanjani, daughter of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. Photo credit: Terrorism Investigation Project.

US sanctions against Iran only began after a group of mainly Islamic Revolutionary Guardsmen masquerading as “students” took over the US embassy in Tehran and held its staff hostage for 444 days. Then-US President Jimmy Carter did everything he could to placate the new regime, sending a letter to the revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, calling him “Your Excellency” and asking him to release the hostages. Carter also attempted to send former Attorney General Ramsay Clark, who had backed Khomeini against the Shah, to mediate, but he was not even allowed into Iranian airspace. After running out of options, the Carter administration froze Iranian assets in the United States and imposed sanctions on the new regime.

Six US administrations since Carter’s, the sand dunes of Iranian politics have shifted such that the daughter of a founding father of the revolution is now demanding that the regime’s military arm and a major sponsor of terrorism be left off the sanctions list. The US government’s top Iran negotiator, Robert Malley, who was also the same adviser in the Obama administration who negotiated the first deal, is using his imaginative creativity to find a way to delist the IRGC, to appease the ayatollah regime. It’s also worth noting that the Iranian regime lobbyists who are helping Malley get past the IRGC sticking point are mostly second-generation Iranian-Americans whose fathers were the courtiers of Iran’s Ancien Regime!

While the second-generation Iranian-Americans who have become foot soldiers of the Islamic Republic’s de facto lobby in the United States in organizations like the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) are still having fits over Trump’s designation of the IRGC as an FTO, the daughter of one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic, undaunted, publicly declares that “the activities of the IRGC are detrimental to the nation.”

The courageous woman, who has been jailed twice before, has also angered Iran’s ruling clergy with her vehement opposition to the compulsory hijab and her standing up for Iran’s persecuted Baha’i religious minority. She expressed support for Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” campaign to change Iran’s behavior.

Her recent statements ahead of the virtual clubhouse meeting have sparked fierce backlash from regime loyalists and IRGC officials. “They effectively functioned as American infantry in Iran,” he wrote Far’s News Agencyaffiliated with the IRGC.

Mohamad Javad Abtahi, a loyalist politician to the Supreme Leader, stated: “Imam Khomeini said that if there were no Revolutionary Guards there would be no Islamic Republic and yet it is trying to destroy the same institution. She swings her sword against Islam and the regime.”

It would be foolish to think that Faezeh Rafsanjani is unaware of the consequences of her words, and yet she seems undaunted about what might happen to her next.

“What the IRGC is doing to Iranian society is harmful and must be stopped somewhere,” says the daughter of Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, once the Islamic Republic of Iran’s most powerful man.

Iran has now come to the conclusion – with good reason – that it need not compromise or even appear to moderate its murderous policies in order to persuade its negotiating partners to back down on their threats to walk away from the negotiating table . We have counted at least 12 times in the past year that US officials have been quoted as saying that “the window is now closing” or that “time is up” only to withdraw those empty threats the next day.

So what was Iran doing when a spate of articles proclaiming the obituary of the negotiations appeared a few weeks ago? On the occasion of the Al-Quds Day (“Jerusalem Day”) rallies, the IRGC issued a statement that “Tel Aviv is on its last breath and will soon face its demise”.

They also condemned the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s “unpardonable betrayal” in making peace with the Zionist regime and that the only solution to the Palestine problem for Islamic Iran was to expel the “occupiers and Zionists”.

On the same day of the rallies, IRGC head General Hossein Salami, along with Hamas leaders in Gaza, addressed a crowd of Palestinians live and reiterated the annihilation of Israel. The IRGC organized a similar demonstration in Lebanon by the IRGC’s primary terrorist sub-unit, Hezbollah, at which leader Hassan Nasrallah openly declared the imminence of the genocide of the Jewish state. But about a week after these inflammatory threats, a European delegation went to Iran to ask the Iranians not to break off negotiations.

It is evident that the IRGC is in no hurry to compromise, despite all efforts at reassurance by Malley and others. Perhaps he and his American counterparts should heed the words of Faezeh Rafsanjani, someone who has the courage to speak the truth to those in power.

IPT Senior Fellow Potkin Azarmehr is an Iranian-born, London-based investigative journalist, business intelligence analyst and television documentarian. He regularly writes for several newspapers and TV channels on news about Iran and the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter @potkazar.

Steven Emerson is Managing Director of Research Project on TerrorismAuthor of eight books on national security and terrorism, producer of two documentaries and author of hundreds of articles in national and international publications.


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