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Iran's Revolutionary Guards Prepare For The Worst With USA; Rafsanjani Is Heads AoF:.

*** Tehran's Pincer Against Israel Is Projected As A Mere Deterrent, To Prevent An Attack On Iran's Underground Nuke Installations

*** But The Assad Regime May Not Like A Resultant Prospect Of Being Tied Up To A Strategy In Which It May Potentially Be Marginalised By Supremacists Who Have Little Interest In A Policy That Could End Up Having A Peace Deal With The Jewish State

*** This Is Because Tehran Wants To Freeze Hizbullah Operations For As Long As The US & Israel Are Being Deterred

*** Zawahiri's Call For Alliance With 'The Deprived' Has Been Adopted By Shi'ite Leaders

TEHRAN - Two developments here and one in southern Iraq present the Shi'ite theocracy of Iran with major challenges. All three will have serious implications for the Middle East. (1) A change of command for Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the US intends to designate as a terrorist organisation. (2) The election of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as head of the Assembly of Experts (AoE), which is the highest authority in the theocracy. (3) The beginning of British military withdrawal from the oil-rich south of Iraq, which is predominantly Shi'ite and where the theocracy is being tempted to fill a resulting power vacuum.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sept. 2 appointed Gen Mohammad-Ali Ja'fari as commander of the IRGC to succeed Gen Yahya Rahim Safavi. Ja'fari, 50, commanded the IRGC's land forces for 13 years and headed its strategic centre for the past three years. He is believed not to have had any involvement in IRGC's external operations arm, the Quds Brigade, which the US alleges has supplied components for powerful roadside bombs to Shi'ite insurgent groups in Iraq and the Neo-Salafi Taliban in Afghanistan.

Ja'fari's role as a commander during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and the injuries he suffered won him popularity and respect among the IRGC's rank and file. A highly-placed APS source says his appointed to the top job has the dual purpose of partly restructuring the IRGC under a new plan to prepare for any US attack against Iran - be that under the Bush administration or under a post-January 2009 successor - and to change IRGC's socio-economic operations inside Iran and abroad.

The IRGC is already the subject of UNSC sanctions, which call on member-states to freeze the assets of some commanders and affiliated organisations as part of the international effort to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme.

Unlike his predecessor Safavi, who now is an adviser to the supreme leader, Ja'fari is not on the list of IRGC commanders who are subject to UNSC sanctions. The US is considering designating the 125,000-150,000 strong force, which is a third of the size of the regular armed forces, a "terrorist" group, allowing Washington to target its bases and extensive business operations. Iran's different political groups, including reformists, have condemned such moves and supported the IRGC.

The IRGC is part of Iran's armed forces and calling it "terrorist" is like declaring war on Iran. Preparing for any attack - by the US, Israel or both - means creating new combat units and merging others to make the IRGC more flexible in its operations both in Iran and abroad.

The theocracy's constitution gives authority to the supreme leader to appoint and dismiss commanders of the IRGC and the conventional army. Each appointment usually lasts for five years. Usually Khamenei has not retained anyone in a post for more than 10 years. Safavi served as IRGC commander for 10 years.

The election of Rafsanjani as head of the AoE on Sept. 4 has boosted the chances of the pragmatic wing of the theocracy to gain the upper hand in the system during the March 2008 parliamentary elections. This would help towards marginalising the hardline supremacist wing to which must of the IRGC command belongs (see overleaf).

The beginning of the UK's military withdrawal from southern Iraq (see sbme3-Iraq-US-UKSep10-07) comes at a time when Iran is building up in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip two arms of a lethal pincer which the theocracy can use against Israel in the event of a broader conflict. The first arm is being built up within an enclave which the theocracy's Lebanon offshoot, Hizbullah, is establishing all the way from the northern bank of the Litani River to the Syrian border - on the western side of the Beqa' plateau. The second arm, in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, will feature a move there from Iraq by Neo-Salafi groups under al-Qaeda.

An alliance between Shi'ite supremacists and Neo-Salafis, the latter

being the most violent strain in Sunnism, is being worked out by al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Date:Sep 10, 2007
Previous Article:The US Move On IRGC.
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