Experts from the Tony Blair Institute have created a model to assess the threat posed by Iran’s revolutionary guard under the new presidency of Ebrahim Raisi.
Analysts Saeid Golkar and Kasra Aarabi have examined the hierarchy and internal feuding in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to help foreign powers to assess its power and influence under the incoming regime.
Mr Raisi will assume Iran’s presidency on Thursday, having been elected with a low turnout in June from a small field of predominantly conservative politicians.
He has previously been identified as a central figure in the “death committees” that sentenced thousands of regime critics to death in 1988 at the end of the Iran-Iraq war for their political and religious views.
The institute’s paper, The IRGC in the Age of Ebrahim Raisi: Decision-Making and Factionalism in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, was published on Monday.
It explores his relationship with the IRGC and predicts its members will be given key ministerial roles.
“The IRGC’s enthusiastic reaction to Raisi’s presidency further underlines that the Guard will form the engine and foundation of his administration,” it says.
“It is for this reason that understanding the IRGC’s decision-making and inner workings is more important than ever before.”
It says the IRGC is pivotal to Mr Raisi’s ambitions to eventually replace his 82-year-old mentor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic and describes the group as the “kingmaker”.
“Raisi’s election as president was a de facto appointment by Khamenei,” the report says.
“Raisi is fully aware that if he is to become the next supreme leader, he will need the IRGC’s backing more than ever before – not least because anti-regime dissent is surging in Iran and the IRGC is Khamenei’s iron fist.
“Critically for Khamenei and his successor, the IRGC will play a vital role in smoothing the transition to the next supreme leader. In short, the Guard can be the kingmaker.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the Islamic Republic is the IRGC.”
It explains the IRGC is divided into three strands – economic, political and security – and that monitoring which section is given the most positions by Mr Raisi will help governments to assess future risks.
“Because the IRGC is not a monothetic organisation, there is competition among the economic, political and security-intelligence centres of power, which sometimes becomes clear despite the regime’s attempts to show it is a unified ideological armed force,” it says.
“It is not yet clear which of these three power centres will have the upper hand during the Raisi administration and occupy the majority of political positions.
“Based on the new model presented in this paper, the centre of power with the most members in the administration gives an indication to policymakers as to the policy priorities Raisi’s government is likely to pursue. Competition and collaboration among the Guard’s factions and elites will shape the future stability of the regime.
“The model presented here enables governments and decision-makers to recognise these intra-elite dynamics so as to identify emerging threats, challenges and opportunities – and produce effective policy responses.”
Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, who wrote a groundbreaking report on the 1988 Iranian prison massacres, has predicted Mr Raisi will be a stay-at-home President of Iran because of the threat of arrest and prosecution owing to his role in the killings.
“We now have an international criminal as president of the state of Iran,” Mr Robertson said after Mr Raisi’s election victory.
“If he ever ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled under universal jurisdiction to arrest him and put him on trial.”
Mr Raisi is expected to resume talks on the 2015 nuclear deal but has previously said he will not meet US president Joe Biden.
The Iranian president is presently the subject of US sanctions for human rights abuses including a brutal crackdown on Iran’s Green Movement protests in 2009.