The announcement last month that elements from Iran’s conventional Military, the Artesh, had deployed to Syria marked a fundamental shift in the Artesh’s constitutionally-defined mission of defending Iran’s borders. Tehran’s other military service, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has historically been responsible for executing the regime’s missions abroad.
At first glance, the decision to deploy Artesh troops appeared to be driven in part by the casualties taken by the IRGC in Syria. However, a deeper dive suggests that the Iranian regime has decided to fundamentally re-posture elements of Iran’s Regular Military to support Tehran’s expeditionary capabilities.
Cooperation between the Guards and the Artesh has been limited by an institutionalized rivalry between the two organizations that dates back to the early days of the Islamic Republic. After the 1979 revolution, the new regime purged the Artesh out of fear that the officer corps harbored loyalties to the Shah. To serve as a loyal counterbalance to the regular military, the revolutionary leadership formed the IRGC. In the years since, the Guards have managed to overshadow the Artesh thanks to greater access to decision-makers and the regime’s financial resources.
It appears that the Artesh’s marginalization may be drawing to an end.
It appears that the Artesh’s marginalization may be drawing to an end. Recent reporting on the Artesh’s operations suggests that its Special Forces are integrated within the larger IRGC command structure in Syria. The ability to place Artesh troops under the IRGC demonstrates a capability on the part of the Guards to manage inter-service friction between the two organizations. It also represents the natural development of recent efforts by the regime’s leadership to elevate the role of the Artesh in the armed forces, probably in an attempt to consolidate its force structure in the face of growing regional threats. Artesh commanders are likely more than willing to accept missions alongside the IRGC in order to prove their relevance to regime leaders.
The rhetoric from the Artesh leadership indicates that the Artesh may be undergoing a larger transformation towards supporting Tehran’s missions abroad. The deputy Artesh commander, for example, recently suggested the regular military has come to redefine its previous defensive posture to include deployments abroad as part of a preemptive doctrine to protect Iran’s borders. The fact that the Artesh recently announced the formation of quick response units designed to mobilize rapidly to counter threats in the region provides further evidence that the Artesh is pivoting away from its mission of static defense.
The IRGC is likely facing manpower constraints as it juggles operations in several theaters from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The Guards have also just suffered their first significant setback in the defeat at Khan Tuman south of Aleppo. If Tehran continues developing the ability to integrate Artesh units within the IRGC’s missions abroad, it would constitute a dramatic increase in the number of forces that could be sent to support the IRGC’s expeditionary deployments.
Source: New AEI Feed
Is Iran’s regular military pivoting to force projection?