Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has lauded the “good activities” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), even as the U.S. released a new report accusing Tehran of meddling in the 2020 presidential election.

The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Tehran “carried out a multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s re-election prospects—though without directly promoting his rival.”

Other nations accused of meddling to try and influence the result—whether for or against Trump—and divide American society were Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, as well as non-state actors like Lebanese Hezbollah; a close ally of the regime in Tehran.

U.S. intelligence officials have long warned of Iranian influence and hacking operations, including around major elections. The IRGC—a powerful guarantor of the theocratic regime—is believed to be at the forefront of such efforts, wielding its significant funds and know-how to undermine the U.S. in cyberspace.

In October, for example, Trump’s administration put new sanctions on the IRGC, the organization’s covert Quds Force, and the IRGC-aligned Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute “for having directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference” in the presidential race.

Khamenei on Wednesday celebrated the Guard Corps’ national day. “Greetings to all the guards,” the supreme leader wrote in a message as reported by the state-run Fars News Agency. “God willing, you will always be victorious. Continue your good activities with power.”

The IRGC has great influence within Iran, with a footprint in almost every sector of the country’s economy. Its income has been estimated to be more than $12 billion each year.

The IRGC also holds significant sway over Iran’s foreign policy. The Quds force is particularly influential, creating and organizing Tehran’s broad network of militia forces across the region.

Under former Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani, Tehran used these militias to drill deep into the bedrock of the Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese states.

Through President Hassan Rouhani’s two terms, the IRGC has been skeptical of engaging with the U.S. and often pushed back on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. It has also been at the forefront of suppressing popular protests against the regime amid the nation’s economic struggles.

Now, the IRGC is riding a wave of conservative momentum hoping to capture the presidency in June. With Rouhani’s term ending in June, his moderate government is set to be replaced by a more hardline successor.

Conservatives have been buoyed by Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign and swept last year’s parliamentary elections, though regime critics noted the historically low turnout. Conservatives in parliament have subsequently condemned Rouhani’s team for perceived weakness in the face of American pressure and have passed new measures to expand Iran’s nuclear program.

Khamenei has already said he wants the next president to be young and ideologically sound, i.e. committed to protecting the Islamic Republic and ensuring a smooth succession after the 81-year-old dies.

A host of IRGC candidates have already thrown their hats into the ring, as officials seek to assure voters that a military candidate is suitable for the job.

An IRGC president may change U.S. calculus regarding the JCPOA and broader engagement with Iran. Such a development might signal an Iranian pivot to a more combative government less interested in making a deal with President Joe Biden, or pushing for a deal more beneficial to Tehran.

Iran envoy Rob Malley has already said the Biden administration will not alter its plans despite the looming election. Malley told Axios earlier this month: “We don’t intend to base the pace of our discussions on the Iranian elections—the pace will be determined by how far we can get consistent with defending U.S. national security interests.”

Source » newsweek