There's a common delusion out there that when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fires off ballistic missiles or kidnaps sailors it's either hardline elements trying to embarrass moderates, or rogue actors. It may be a comforting conceit to believe that any element of the Iranian government is on "our side" but evidence suggests that at best, the Islamic Republic is playing a game of good cop-bad cop, and that outrages such as taking American sailors hostage are welcome, not rogue actions.
Let's put aside the fact that Article 110 of the Iranian constitution (backed by practice and the statue of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) makes the Supreme Leader the "supreme commander of the armed forces" with the power to appoint and dismiss the chief of the general staff, IRGC commanders, and the commanders of the army, navy, and air force. In other words, if Supreme Leader wanted to make heads roll in response to such provocations, he could.
- In 1989, for example, there was the Ghassemlou assassination, when Iranian officials — meeting an Iranian Kurdish leader and his aides to negotiate an end to strife between Iranian Kurds and the central government — ended up assassinating the Kurdish team at an apartment in downtown Vienna.
- Then, in 1992, after the German foreign minister announced a policy to re-integrate Iran into the global community and increase trade, the Iranian government responded by assassinating another Kurdish delegation at a restaurant in Berlin.
- In 1994, an Iranian terrorist team blew up the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
- Beginning in 2003, the IRGC (despite the promises of then UN ambassador and now Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif) began infiltrating Iraq and equipping militias to murder American soldiers.
- And, finally, in 2007, there was the case of British sailors seized by the IRGC.
In each case, Western diplomats sought to deny Iranian government responsibility. What they did not realize until later was that in each case, the gunman or chief planner ended up with a promotion. Mohammad Jaafari Sahraroudi, for example, the man behind Abdol-Rahman Ghassemlou's murder, subsequently became a brigadier-general in the Qods Force and was placed in charge of its intelligence directorate. Ahmad Vahidi, the mastermind of the 1994 Buenos Aires bombing, became President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's defense minister. Hassan Kazemi Qomi, a Qods Force operating serving as 'ambassador' to Iraq later won promotion to the Supreme Leader's office, and Col. Amangah, the commander of the operation that seized the British sailors, later was decorated as soldier of the year. Promotions are hardly the punishment one would expect if the Iranian behavior really was not blessed, encouraged, and supported from the very top.
It's time to stop deluding ourselves, and to judge Iran by what its actions are rather than what we would wish them to be.