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Business News/ Politics / News/  Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: Role, organisation and strength of Iran's elite force explained
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Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: Role, organisation and strength of Iran's elite force explained

With an estimated strength of 125,000 personnel, the IRGC- believed to be behind the drone attack on Israel - is today considered one of the most powerful paramilitary organisations in the Middle East.

Individuals and entities associated with the IRGC are already on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the organization as a whole is not. Photo: Reuters (Reuters)Premium
Individuals and entities associated with the IRGC are already on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the organization as a whole is not. Photo: Reuters (Reuters)

Iran launched hundreds of aerial drones and missiles at Israel, on Saturday night, in what is being called first direct clash between the two enemy nations engaged in a shadow war for years. Until now, Iran had been involved in the war through its proxies.

Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) said the attack was aimed at specific targets.’ Earlier, country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had vowed to ‘retaliate’ after an alleged Israeli strike on April 1 on its consulate in Damascus, Syria  killed seven IRGC officers, including a top commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

Israel neither confirmed nor denied its role in the Damascus strike.

Follow all live updates on Iran-Israel tension Here

So, IRGC is at the center of the fresh escalation in the crisis in Middle East. What is the IRGC, when was it formed and how big is the organisation, LiveMint tries to answer some of the key questions about the elite force.

What is IRGC?

IRGC is a multi-service primary branch of the Iranian Armed Forces different from country's traditional Army. While the Iranian Army protects the country's sovereignty, IRGC is largely aimed at defending the Islamic Republic of Iran against internal and external threats. 

Over the years, the corps has gained an outsize role in executing Iran’s foreign policy and it wields control over vast segments of the country’s economy, according to US think tank, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). 

In 2019, the then US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC a terrorist organization. This was for the first time that the US had ever designated another government’s department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

When was IRGC formed?

The IRGC, or the Sepah-e-Pasdaran, was set up by by Ruhollah Khomeini soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran largely to protect the the Shia Muslim clerical ruling system of Iran and provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces, according to a report in Reuters. 

Also Read: With its latest assasination, Israel is testing Iran

IRGC reports directly to the country’s supreme leader.

How big is IRGC?

The IRGC is today considered one of the most powerful paramilitary organisations in the Middle East. In the past, the force is known to have aided Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Syria, and Yemen.

Today, IRGC has an estimated strength between 125,000- 190,000 personnel with army, navy and air units, according to the many reports.  

To explain how big the numbers are, for an area of 3.287 million sq km, India has 1,237,117 active army personnel. But for 1.648 million sq km area, Iran has 125,000 strong IRGC personnel. And remember, this is apart from the traditional Iranian army. 

The Israeli military has about 170,000 active personnel and 465,000 reservists.

IRGC also comprises of Basij militia, a volunteer paramilitary force loyal to the clerical establishment of the country. This militia is often used to crack down on anti-government protests.

What is Quds Force?

IRGC’s ties with region’s armed groups such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Hamas in the Palestinian territories, has helped Iran project influence and power. The force has in the past played a key role in domestic politics with many senior officials having passed through its ranks, the CFR report says. 

Also Read: Israel Under Attack by Iran as Mideast in Perilous New Phase

Quds Force, the secret wing of IRGC, is responsible for its international operations.  Mohammad Reza Zahedi, killed in Damascus on April was a senior commander in the Quds Force.

All eight units of IRGC operate under the leadership of the IRGC commander-in-chief Major General Hossein Salami and his deputy, Ali Fadavi. But the Quds Force’s commander effectively operates within a parallel structure and reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei

The US Army’s Iraq War General Stanley McChrystal had famously described the Quds Force an organisation which is “a combination of the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the United States."

Also Read: Israel-Iran Crisis: Benjamin Netanyahu says ready to respond, US moves troops to Middle East & more | Top 10 Updates

US air strike killed Qassem Soleimani, the then chief of the Quds Force on January 3, 2020. Soleimani was replaced by Esmail Qaani to head the Quds Force.

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Published: 14 Apr 2024, 06:19 PM IST
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