President Hassan Rouhani’s nominee for the post of defense minister told the Iranian Parliament today that he will support the country’s elite Quds Force commander to counter U.S. policies and actions that undermine Iran’s regional interests. “You passed a legislation to counter U.S. sanctions,” Brigadier General Amir Hatami said on Thursday while outlining his plans for the ministry. “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.
Comment: Hatami has served in several senior positions with Iran’s Defense Ministry and Artesh [Iran’s regular army]. If confirmed by the parliament, he will be the first Iranian defense minister who is not a member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.). But Hatami’s comments dash any hope that Tehran will seek to defuse tension with Washington and its allies regarding the Islamic Republic’s controversial missile program or support for regional proxies under Soleimani’s leadership.
Iran’s missile activity has been a constant source of tension between Washington and Tehran in recent years. Although the Trump administration has warned Iran to halt its missile program and has imposed new sanctions on the country’s entities associated with the program, Tehran has only accelerated its drive to upgrade its missile capabilities.
Last month, Iran launched its most advanced satellite-carrying rocket into the orbit, a move condemned by the United States, France, Germany and Britain, all signatories of the Iran nuclear deal. They described Iran’s launch as “inconsistent” with a U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear accord.
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.
Hatami's remarks also demonstrate that he will continue to assign most of the Defense Ministry's projects to companies owned by or affiliated with the I.R.G.C.