On the modern military doctrine of Iran


The military doctrine of Iran is formed on the basis of the political aspirations of the country’s leadership, its perception of external threats and the desire to preserve the heritage of the Islamic revolution. At the same time, the preservation of the heritage of the Islamic revolution plays a key role in the Iranian military concept. The doctrine is based on the [Iran’s] own ideas about the features of modern wars and the principles of using the national armed forces, the directions of military construction, the choice of potential opponents, allies, etc.

The foundations of the military doctrinal views of the Iranian leadership were laid by Ayatollah Khomeini and his associates even before the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Based on the “Khomeini teaching”, the “Doctrine of the National Security of the Islamic Republic of Iran” was formulated and then adopted by the Parliament after the seizure of power by Shiite clerics. Its political component is based on the ideology of Khomeinism, which is imbued with the principle of export of the Islamic revolution. The Doctrine defines the unification of the Islamic world according to the Iranian model, the creation under the auspices of Iran of the “Islamic world community — Ummah” as the main goal of the Iranian leadership policy. This provision, the essence of which is officially enshrined in Art. 11 of the Iranian constitution is of a long-term nature.

Forming the political goals of the war, the Iranian leadership puts at the forefront the principle of the close relationship of politics and military action. In this regard, the strategic goals of the policy and the final goals of the war are virtually identical. According to Khomeini, «the goal of the great holy war is to overthrow all the tyrannical and pseudo-Muslim regimes imposed from the outside, first within the Muslim world, and then on a global scale, the liberation of the Muslim fatherland to create a world Islamic state».

The entire state machinery of the republic, including both military and civilian institutions, is called upon to implement the “policy of the religious leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran to export the Islamic revolution” in Iran’s model to other states. In practice, this is embodied by three methods: “peaceful”, which includes actively promoting the ideas of the Islamic revolution using various channels; “paramilitary”, which is carried out by conducting subversive and sabotage-terrorist activities in foreign countries in order to destabilize the domestic political situation there and create conditions for the start of Islamic revolutions; and «military».

The military method of exporting the Islamic revolution in the Iranian style since the development of doctrinal concepts by Ayatollah Khomeini was the main one. It was actively used in practice in the war against Iraq (1980-1981). At the same time, an objective analysis of the results and lessons of the Iran-Iraq war, the operations of the multinational forces against Iraq (1991 and 2003), Yugoslavia (1999) and in Afghanistan (since 2001), the conflict in Libya (2011), the course of armed conflicts in Syria and Yemen led the Iranian leadership to the understanding that the level of Iran’s military, economic and scientific potential does not correspond to the ambitious methods of export of the Islamic revolution, and, above all, the military [method], as well as intentions to achieve real leadership in the region . Therefore, the purely military method of implementing the policy of exporting the Islamic revolution has now faded into the background, giving way to a peaceful, and, of course, paramilitary.

Based on this objective fact, the current emphasis in military doctrinal views is on achieving more realistic goals in a probable war — defeating an invading armed aggressor and defending the country’s sovereignty, that is, the Shiite leadership of Iran was forced to define its military-political views as defensive. However, the military method is not completely discarded. This is evidenced by the Iranian participation in the Syrian civil war, military assistance to the Yemeni Houthi and the Lebanese «Hezbollah».

There are three levels of the long-term goals of Iran’s military policy, to the implementation of which the main efforts of the country’s leadership are directed. The first level of goals is associated with the transformation of Iran into an all-Muslim center of power. Its achievement should be viewed as a very remote perspective. The second level involves the transformation of Iran into a regional center of power through the achievement of military-political, military-economic and actually military leadership in the region. The third level involves solving intra-Iranian tasks, in particular, ensuring the military-political stability of the state, creating an independent economy, especially military industry, and building a powerful army.

The preamble to the Iranian constitution states that the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) “carry not only border security, but also fulfill a religious mission, namely, waging a “holy war” — jihad — in the name of God and the struggle to expand the rule of God law all over the world…”. This constitutional provision reflects Khomeini’s theory of the existence of two wars in Islam: jihad and defensive war in order to preserve the independence of the country and protect it from foreign aggressors. The political and military leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran constantly emphasize that “Iran’s military doctrine is defensive and based on the principle of deterrence. Iran will never be the initiator of the war, but if someone wants to take steps against us, he will face our decisive, powerful and devastating response”.

At the same time, given the changes in the military-political situation in the world and the region, the changes taking place in military affairs, the Iranian leadership does not rule out making adjustments to their military doctrinal guidelines. Thus, Iran can begin to implement an “offensive strategy” in the event of a threat to the national interests of the country and with the aim of opposing a possible aggression against Iran, said the head of the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, General M. Bageri on January 28, 2019. He is echoed by the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, A. Shahmani, who announced on March 13, 2019 that Iran could revise its defense strategy if regional powers continue to finance their nuclear programs, which «certainly creates new threats to the national security» of Iran.

The socio-political component of the military-doctrinal views of the Iranian leadership determines the main opponents of Iran, formulates the goals and objectives of the war, the ways to implement the policy of military construction in the country. Thus, the main opponents are the United States and Israel. With an eye to a military conflict with these countries, national military construction is underway. This means the development of missile weapons to strike at Israel, the development of the Navy and asymmetric methods of warfare to control the Strait of Hormuz, counteract the US Navy and possible counter-actions against the Arabian allies of America. The main opponents also include the “wrong Muslim regimes”, that is, the regimes of those Islamic countries, “whose rulers, transferring the experience of the West to Muslim soil, betray Islam, turn into apostates and supporters of imperialism”. At the same time, Tehran’s position on the “wrong Muslim regimes” is ambiguous. On the one hand, these regimes (mainly Arab countries) are the primary objects of export of the Islamic revolution «and only because of this they appear as the enemy», but on the other hand, Iran is objectively interested in normalizing relations with Arab states. However, since the beginning of the new century, the Islamic Republic has sharply intensified its military-political and subversive activities in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, etc.), which caused a sharply negative reaction in the Arab world, especially in Saudi Arabia.

Military doctrinal views do not exclude the possibility of coalition aggression against Iran, inspired by the United States and Israel, with the tacit support (or participation) of the «wrong Muslim regimes». From the point of view of Tehran, the military danger to the country can also come from neighboring Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as from the actions of Kurdish tribes in the north-west of the country. In recent years, Iran has another enemy — «the Islamic State» (ISIS, prohibited in the Russian Federation). «The ideologists of this terrorist group consider Iran to be one of the worst enemies, which additionally motivates Tehran to protect its interests in any foreign political and economic climate».

The Iranian military doctrine classifies Syria led by President B. Assad to friendly state, to which Tehran provides extensive military and other assistance in the struggle against opponents of the regime. The Shiite groupings are considered to be allies — the Lebanese «Hezbollah» and the Yemeni «Ansar Alla» (Houthi), as well as smaller Shiite groups in the region.

The general thrust of Iran’s military construction policy is to develop and implement a general line aimed at creating a special tool for solving global political and military tasks by means of armed violence — the national armed forces. Such a tool, according to Khomeini, should be the «20-millionth Islamic army». The process of its phased creation is the essence of the strategic focus of military construction in Iran.

The concept of the “20-millionth Islamic army” consists of a triune policy in the field of military construction, which involves (1) the Islamization of the cadre (former Shah) army; (2) the creation, development and strengthening of the role of the IRGC and its transformation into a regular armed formation; (3) the development of the Organization of Mobilization of the Iranian People (militia) — «Basij» Resistance Forces with a total non-military defense training of the entire population of the country.

Thanks to this concept, Iranian leaders in the most difficult conditions of the war with Iraq managed not only to reanimate the army, but also to create a fundamentally new system of the Armed Forces — the so-called Islamic armed forces, whose characteristics are: massive religious fanaticism; the combination of the regular forces of a professional army with a purely Islamic formation — the IRGC, and their combined combination with the irregular «Basij» forces.

Within the framework of this strategic concept, the state and military leadership of Iran is implementing step-by-step programs to increase the power of its armed forces. In particular, measures are being taken to improve the organizational structure and management system, improve the quality of the organization and the level of personnel training, primarily staff, improve combat and mobilization readiness, and improve the Armed Forces support system. The concept of «the 20-millionth Islamic army», constantly changing and adapting to the challenges of the time, continues to occupy an important place in the system of strategic concepts and military doctrinal views of the Iranian leadership.

The concept of priority offensive action. The military leadership of Iran considers the offensive to be the main type of combat. At the same time, defense is a forced type of hostilities and does not correspond to the political and military objectives of Iran in a war. Defensive actions are mainly used to disrupt the enemy’s offensive, defeat him throughout the front line and create conditions for the subsequent transition to the offensive. When building a defense, the focus is on the effective use of fire weapons, favorable terrain conditions and engineering barriers.

The command considers guerrilla-sabotage operations in the enemy’s rear, which are carried out with the aim of destroying manpower, military equipment and materiel, disrupting the command and control system, communications and rear operations, and retaining certain areas and objects as one of the main methods of combat operations.

The concept of «two wars». The theory of Ayatollah Khomeini speaks of the existence of two wars in Islam: jihad and defensive. At the same time, Khomeini believes that jihad is a war of conquest. It is assumed that after the creation of a truly Islamic state under the leadership of a religious leader, the latter will instruct all male persons who have reached majority who are not suffering from physical flaws to be ready to take part in the war in order to spread Islam to other countries of the world.

It should be noted that Khomeini’s teaching on war, regarding jihad as a war of conquest aimed at conquering nations with the aim of spreading Islam, tries to present it as a “humane war” that “heals the society from decay”.

Another type of war, which according to Khomeini’s theory is inherent in Islam, is “defensive war”. It is conducted in the interests of preserving the country’s independence and protection from foreign aggressors. Defensive are also those wars whose purpose is to liberate oppressed Muslims of other countries. Unlike jihad, the conduct of a defensive war is not due to the presence of a special decree of the Shiite leader. In addition, the entire population of the country, including women, old people and children, should take part in it.

The concept of priority of the human factor. Iranian military experts believe that in a positional, protracted war of attrition, the main advantage of Iran is human resources. The mobilization capabilities of the Iranian Armed Forces are estimated at 7-10 million people. Hence the desire of the Iranian leadership to take advantage of this, which clearly fits into the framework of the theory of «holy war», where the main source of victory will be the masses of faithful fighters who are fanatically devoted to Islam — the Mujahideen who are ready to die for the «true faith» while becoming martyrs. An example of this was the tactics of combat operations of the Armed Forces of Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, when priority was given to the «tactics of human waves».

The concept of the priority of the «policy of self-sufficiency» (the policy of «hodke-fayi»). The main slogan of the Islamic revolution in Iran was and remains the slogan “Na sharghi, na gar-bi — engelyabi eslami!” — “Neither East nor West — Islamic revolution!”, which defines the essence of the policy of the clerical leadership — self-reliance. This fully applies to military construction in general and to the material and technical support of the Armed Forces. A huge amount of work has been done in this direction in the country, however, Iran is still not able to provide for itself all the needs for weapons and military equipment. That is why military-economic ties with other countries continue to occupy an important place in the system of technical equipment of the country’s armed forces.

The concept of «asymmetric war». The essence of this concept is that the Iranian leadership is well aware of the inability of its armed forces in their current state to withstand the enemy equipped with high-tech weapons and military equipment (USA, Israel). In this regard, the main efforts to combat the aggressor in the «asymmetric war» are given to «Basij» resistance forces, law enforcement forces and «Kods» special forces. The Iranian military claims that “an asymmetric war is our strategy when dealing with large enemy forces”. Also, the Iranian command is counting on the massive use of various types of rocket weapons. The main goal of this war is to preserve the national armed forces in a state of combat readiness for a crushing resistance to the aggressor.

Until recently, Tehran stubbornly continued the implementation of a national nuclear program. At the same time, the deteriorating socio-economic situation demanded the lifting of international economic sanctions caused by Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. In 2015, Iran and the “six” international mediators reached an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. Moreover, Iran has fulfilled all its commitments to reduce the scale of the nuclear program, which was confirmed by the IAEA, after which the process of phased lifting of international and unilateral sanctions against Iran related to the implementation [of the program] was launched. However, the United States soon introduced new, “ballistic” sanctions against a number of individuals and organizations associated with the Iranian missile program. Tehran has responded to this quite clearly, saying that the country will continue to increase its missile potential. The situation escalated sharply after the US under the administration of D. Trump withdrawal in 2018 from the Iranian nuclear deal and the introduction of new, very tough US sanctions against Iran.

It should be noted that a number of politicians and scientists express doubt in Iran’s complete refusal to implement a nuclear program, which for a long period was one of the main factors for the development of the state’s military potential.

Surrounding Iran with the military bases of the United States and their allies, assigning Iran to the so-called axis of evil, Washington’s constant threats to use force against Tehran may in the foreseeable future be an impetus for the resumption of the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran.

Thus, the expansionist “pan-Islamic neo-schism of Ayatollah Khomeini” remains the basis of the military-doctrinal views of Iran’s leadership, although more realistic moments can be traced in it in recent years. The activities being carried out in the defense sphere indicate the seriousness of Tehran’s approaches to preparing the country and the army to repel possible external military threats. The tough international, especially American sanctions imposed on Iran remain a significant obstacle on this path.

Institute of the Middle East.

On the changes in the military-political situation in the Middle East and North Africa (April 15-21, 2019 + April 22-28, 2019). Annex.




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