Iran’s military spending has witnessed the highest rate of increase under the government of “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani than under any other administration since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
The total official increase of its military budget under Rouhani has been nearly 65 percent: $9.29 billion in 2014, $12.02 billion in 2015, $14.5 billion in 2016 and $15.9 billion this year. Unofficial numbers are likely much higher.
The 2017 budget bill is approximately $106 billion, according to official numbers. Roughly a quarter of this is transferred directly into the military, ballistic missile and nuclear programs, despite Iran’s need to invest more in addressing high unemployment, increasing poverty, poor infrastructure, education and labor.
The single highest increase has been designated to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which rose from $4.52 billion in 2016 to $7.01 billion in 2017, an increase of approximately 55 percent.
Rouhani’s government has recommended that nearly $25 billion be allocated to various branches of Iran’s military and paramilitary groups. The IRGC and its elite Al-Quds Force — which was established to operate in foreign countries in order to advance Iran’s ideological, revolutionary and political interests — receive the highest amount.
Several other organizations that operate under the IRGC, promote its propaganda and benefit from this budget are the paramilitary Basij militia, Imam Hossein University, Malek Ashtar University, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative office in the IRGC.
The second-highest beneficiary of the increased budget is the Defense Ministry, which is now getting nearly $6.6 billion. Some connected institutions are the Armed Forces and ideological organizations connected to the Defense Ministry, whose increasing budget in the long term is ensured by a recent parliamentary bill.
According to Iran’s Tasnim news agency, the bill “requires the government to increase Iran’s defense capabilities as a regional power and preserve the country’s national security and interests by allocating at least 5 percent of the annual budget” to military issues.
The tactic of Iran’s moderates has been to lure the West with diplomacy and smiles, while benefiting the IRGC and Khamenei in private.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The third beneficiary of the increased budget is the Intelligence Ministry with nearly $3.3 billion. Other beneficiaries linked to Iran’s intelligence are the police and ideological offices of the supreme leader in all universities. The fourth beneficiary are charitable trusts that are either controlled by the IRGC or directly owned by Khamenei.
These statistics are based on the official budget that the government has made accessible to the public. A larger chunk of Iran’s revenues are not reported in the budget, but goes directly into the pockets of the supreme leader and the IRGC. They control a significant amount of the country’s wealth and economy. Their organizations are exempt from paying taxes.
Some of the institutions they own include the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam and the IRGC’s Khatam Al-Anbia, which according to Reuters controls “at least 812 affiliated companies worth billions of dollars and deemed by Washington ‘proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.’”
Based on the latest developments, the increasing budget and revenues for the Armed Forces has not moderated Tehran’s behavior, but has led to increasing exports of weapons to militias, as well as more military engagement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Iran has also ratcheted up its anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism.
Rouhani has constantly attempted to satisfy the IRGC’s and Khamenei’s desires in order to obtain their blessings to serve as president. The tactic of Iran’s “moderates” has been to lure the West with diplomacy and smiles, while benefiting the IRGC and Khamenei in private. On several occasions, the “moderates” have made clear that their goal is to serve the IRGC.
On Aug. 3, 2015, Rouhani told the state-run IRNA news agency: “There are those who claim our Cabinet is focused on the economy, bringing inflation under control, resolving depression, providing health care and foreign policy affairs, and fails to see to defense matters. I must say we have taken significant measures in strategic weapons and beefing up the defensive foundations. Such measures during the past two years equate to 80 percent of the past 10 years combined.”
Thanks to continued sanctions relief due to the nuclear deal, Iran’s military continues to get a huge boost financially. The more revenue Tehran obtains due to sanctions relief, appeasement policies, compromises and trades, the more militaristic, aggressive and interventionist its foreign policies.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.