The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) appeared in front of the media this week to clarify that Iran has no plans to expand its ballistic missile programme – but the ferocity of Tehran’s rhetoric has left many unclear as to the true intentions of the Iranian regime.
On Tuesday, Major General Mohammed Ali Jafari said that Iran has “the scientific ability to increase our missile range but it is not our current policy since most of the enemies’ strategic targets are already within this 2,000 km range. This range is enough to protect the Islamic Republic,” as quoted by the Tasnim news agency.
Jafari is making the case that Iran has no need to expand its ballistic missile programme as it is dedicated purely to defensive purposes. This argument would curry far more favour were it not for Iran’s ongoing foreign policy to aggressively intervene in cross-border conflicts and to undermine the stability of foreign governments via subversives and the IRGC’s Qud Force special intelligence operatives.
While these practices certainly exist in Iran’s international sphere of influence, there is one key reason for not taking the country’s public stance on armament seriously: the violent rhetoric of the regime.
The development of Iran’s ballistic missile programme was a primary factor in the decision made by the Trump Administration to withdraw its support from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal). In the very same statement made by Jafari, he referred to moderates within Iran seeking to re-open diplomatic channels with the US as “traitors and anti-revolutionaries.”
Seemingly seeking to prove his country’s revolutionary credentials, Jafari also responded negatively to journalists who suggested that Iran could follow the path of North Korea, a country that could until recently have never called itself friendly towards the United States. Jafari rejected the idea, instead saying that “the North Korean leader was a revolutionary but a communist, not an Islamic one. That is why he surrendered, but we will not do the same.”
This is the leader of Iran’s military forces in one breath calling on other countries to end their criticism of Iran’s “defensive” weapons programmes, while in the next outlining exactly why Iran deserves to be considered a more radical state than the isolationist nuclear-armed North Korea.
The United States, on the other hand, seems to be in the market for a summit with Iran’s leaders. In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that such a meeting could be possible. “If anyone, especially the leaders of Iran, doubts the President’s sincerity or his vision,” Pompeo said, “let them look at our diplomacy with North Korea.”
But, as in the case of its malign involvement in the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts in which it supports forces fighting US allies, Iran appears content in turning away diplomatic opportunities with its aggressive and unstable rhetoric.
Earlier this month, Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted that Iran’s “stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken. #Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.”
With words such as these coming directly from Iran’s leadership, aimed directly at America’s closest ally in the region, why would anyone trust the empty speeches they deliver promising that Iran’s weapons exist only to protect its own borders?