The new Iranian defense minister has reiterated that he will continue to support the Quds Force and the “resistance front” and will only further enhance the country’s controversial missile program and other defense capabilities. “We will vigorously continue all-out support for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) the Islamic Republic of Iran Artesh (regular army), and law enforcement forces as well as in the fields of defense, missile, navy, border security and other important areas,” Fars News Agency quoted Brigadier General Amir Hatami as saying at the Defense Industry Day.
On the same occasion, the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces also cautioned in a statement that the “world arrogance” – a term Iranian leaders use for the United States and its allies – is “seeking to eradicate the country’s defense industry, particularly Iran’s missile power.”
Comment: Outlining his plans last week, Hatami told the Iranian Parliament that he would support General Qassem Soleimani, the chief commander of the country’s elite Quds Force, to counter U.S. policies and actions that undermine Iran’s regional interests. “You passed a legislation to counter U.S. sanctions,” he told lawmakers, “no doubt, support for the resistance front, which is the Quds Force and my brother Major General [Qassem] Soleimani, will continue in this regard. Hatami also emphasized that he will further develop Iran’s missile program, particularly ballistic and cruise missile capabilities, despite international pressure if he is approved for the post. Air defense capabilities and the Iranian ground forces’ deterrence power will also top the Defense Ministry’s agenda, he stressed. Hatami also pointed out that the Iranian armed forces possess 100 higher education institutions and 4,000 private companies. He pledged that he would expand their role and boost their effectiveness.
Hatami has served in several senior positions with Iran’s Defense Ministry and Artesh. He is the first defense minister in the Islamic Republic who is not an I.R.G.C. member. But Hatami’s comments show that Tehran’s controversial military programs – particularly the missile program which is a key reason for escalating tension between Iran and the United States – will not change under the new defense minister. Nor is Iran’s support for regional militant and terrorist groups is likely to go away under the second Rouhani administration.
While Iranian hardliners and reformists differ on many domestic and foreign policy issues, they are largely united in supporting the country’s missile program at any cost. At the first press conference after winning reelection, Rouhani said that the Islamic Republic would continue its ballistic missile program despite Washington’s concerns. “American authorities should know that whenever we need to test a missile for technical reasons, we will carry it out. And we will not wait for them or their permission,” he said defiantly after U.S. and Saudi leaders criticized Tehran’s regional policies at the Riyadh summit.
While the nuclear agreement does not address Iran’s missile program, the subsequent U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Iranian leaders argue that the country’s missiles are not designed to carry nuclear warheads, but U.S. officials say some of the missiles Iran has tested after the 2015 nuclear deal have been "inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons" and are "in defiance of" the U.N. resolution.