In the Arena

Iran: Who funds the Revolutionary Guards?

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Ok. i don’t care that U.S. intelligence officers didn’t want to reveal their identities when discussing the Iranian munitions that have been used against our troops. I also believe that the munitions are Iranian, that various Iranians are trying to make life harder for us in Iraq and I know that Iranian leaders ever since Cyrus have coveted the Mesopotamian valleys, and occasionally ruled them.
But I don’t buy this:

The [U.S. intelligence] officials also asserted, without providing direct evidence, that Iranian leaders had authorized smuggling those weapons into Iraq for use against the Americans. The officials said such an assertion was an inference based on general intelligence assessments.

Why is this probably nonsense? Because the government of Iran is purposely murky. There is no box and line chart that lays out the authority structure–there are, in fact, all sorts of doppelganger agencies, some religious, some secular, that have similar functions. This is especially true of the military and intelligence services. There is the official Iranian military…and then there’s the semi-official Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has formal military operations like the Quds division, and less formal operations like Hizbollah.
Who funds the IRGC is also a mystery. U.S. intelligence sources–but apparently not the dudes who were giving the briefing–believe much of the IRGC’s money comes from the enormous semi-private charities called Bonyads that were the recipients of the Shah’s confiscated wealth. The Bonyads have close ties to the mullahs and also to the bazaaris. They can issue fatwas. They fund terrorist operations (I’m told they probably funded the Karine A, the ship full of munitions for the Palestinians captured en route in 2001.) They are a crucial nexus of power in Iran….

The point is, if we have “no clue about what’s going on inside Iran,” as several high-ranking diplomatic and intelligence sources in the Bush Administration have told me…how on earth do we know that the IEDs have been authorized by the Iranian leadership? The answer is, we don’t. The authorization could have come from Ahmedinejad (who has close ties to the IRGC), from the Supreme Leader, from the head of one of the Bonyads, from the military…or it could be a stand-alone bit of lethal entrepreneurship from the IRGC-Quds.

What this smells like is the Bush administration beating the war drums. As I said, it’s perfectly appropriate to display the ordance coming across the border from Iran, and to take action against IRGC operatives we find working in Iraq, but this Administration has a fabulously phony record when it comes to cooking intel and I’d say that (1) “inferences based on general intelligence assessments” just won’t cut it here and (2) if you’re going to implicate the Iranian leadership, I want to see satellite photos of Ayatollah Khamenei personally lugging the bombs across the border before I come to any conclusions.