Foreign Policy Blogs

A Unique Perspective Indeed

There are not many people out there who can write about a life spend as both a Revolutionary Guard and a CIA Agent, but Reza Kahlili (a pseudonym) can. He has recently written a book, A Time to Betray, where he reveals the inner workings of the infamous Revolutionary Guards. As the book’s website states, in the book,

Reza Kahlili documents scenes from history with heart-wrenching clarity, as he supplies vital information from the Iran-Iraq War, the Marine barracks bombings in Beirut, the catastrophes of Pan Am Flight 103, the scandal of the Iran-Contra affair, and more.

This indeed is a very interesting memoir and no doubt written by a brave man. But at the same time, I do feel uneasy about this memoir. CIA’s role in Iran (and for that matter in many Latin American and African countries) has been notorious to say the least. People in Iran have not forgotten CIA’s role in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh. This fear has been exploited by current regime too where they have accused the Green Movement’s protesters as being part of a foreign conspiracy. Did we really need proof that there are CIA agents working in Iran?

Here is an excerpt of an interview conducted by Reza Aslan for the Daily Beast with Reza Khalil:

DB: As you know, here in the United States, very few people know exactly what the Revolutionary Guard is. It is an organization clouded in mystery and secrecy. How is the Guard structured? And how much do they speak with a single voice, would you say?

RK: The leadership of the Revolutionary Guard speaks with one single voice. The leadership is in line and under the control of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Understand that there are many other people behind the scenes who are controlling the Revolutionary Guard. Such as [radical hardline cleric] Ayatollah Jannati or Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi [a fanatical cleric who is also Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor].

The top clerics who are connected to Ayatollah Khamenei, they all have a say. The leaders of the Revolutionary Guard, individually they could be changed overnight. The majority of the forces are true believers-common people with not much education. And these are mostly from the poorer population. I was among them. I saw them. I lived with them. We went to the front [in the Iran-Iraq War] together. These are very simple-minded people. They are religious people, and a lot of them are not fanatics. They believe in Islam, they believe in Allah, they believe that this Islamic government is righteous. But when they see [the government doing] wrong, they recognize it. And then you’ve got the specially trained forces-the Quds Force-which are much more radical, much more hardline. They take orders from the leadership of the Guards.

DB: The role of the Revolutionary Guard in Iranian society has changed since the days of the Islamic republic’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini. In fact, some Iran analysts say they’ve begun to act increasingly like an independent agent, as though they don’t take orders from anybody anymore. What do you say to that?

RK: Well, you see, there’s been some misconception about the leadership infrastructure of Iran. And the best analysts in the media continuously keep on doing that. They don’t know how much power the supreme leader holds. And now they think that the Revolutionary Guard is running the country independently and not even taking orders from the supreme leader.

My opinion is that this is not correct. The leadership has always been in the hands of the more fanatical clerics. The Guard’s leaders cannot survive independently if the clerics do not support them. Both need each other. The Guard is under full control of the clerics. So in my opinion-and I don’t claim to know everything just because I was a Revolutionary Guard member-in my opinion, the focus should be on the main figures of the clerical regime who are running the show. This focus on the Revolutionary Guard as a separate entity and a force who will be able to govern on their own, in my opinion, is wrong.

DB: What would you say is the relationship between the Revolutionary Guard and Ahmadinejad?

RK: The reason Ahmadinejad is there to begin with is because Ayatollah Khamenei, Jannati, and Mesbah-Yazdi want him there. You see, there are two separate opinions in the clerical leadership. One favors a very drastic and harsh foreign-policy approach, and one wants a more moderate approach. But both are in union with the fact that the country should move ahead with the nuclear project and that the country should support Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the rest, and expand its power throughout the Middle East. But [the difference between the two is that] one believes that you have to go full force ahead, not give a damn about what the world thinks, and one is saying, ‘no, that’s not the way.’ I believe that Ahmadinejad is among the group that believes that we shouldn’t give a damn about the world and just move full speed ahead. That’s the group that is in power now.

For the full interview, click here.



Sahar Zubairy

Sahar Zubairy recently graduated from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin with Masters in Global Policy Studies. She graduated from Texas A&M University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. In Summer 2008, she was the Southwest Asia/Gulf Intern at the Henry L. Stimson Center, where she researched Iran and the Persian Gulf. She was also a member of a research team that helped develop a website investigating the possible effects of closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf by Iran.