Iranian Security Forces

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Iranian Security Forces are complex, reflecting the unusually complex mixed clerical and political government structure. They also provide for a check-and-balance by religiously loyal forces against the traditionally more secular and technical regular military, much as the Saudi Arabian National Guard does on the Saudi military, or, in other regimes, the German SS did on the Wehrmacht or the Soviet Organs of State Security did on the Red Army.

At the top of the structure is the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khameini, who is head of state. He is elected, reviewed, and can be deposed by the Assembly of Experts (Majles-Khebregan), a popularly elected body; he has final command authority over all security forces.

Control is exercised through a Supreme National Security Council, chaired by the President of Iran and head of government, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Three ministries have operational responsibility over most intelligence, military and paramilitary, and police organizations. There are also various quasi-independent forces reporting to various clerics.

Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and National Security

Known as MOIS in English and VEVAK in Farsi,[1] it has always been controlled by a cleric, and has stayed much more discreet than SAVAK, the intelligence and security system under Shah Reza Pahlevi. It has a more cosmopolitan and diverse workforce than other agencies, and the clerical control is seen as needed because such personnel are not as trusted as those in the more religious organizations.

Its human-source intelligence is reported to be strong in the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, but weak in the West. There is a lack of cultural and language skill, and operations have been mainly aimed at Iranian dissidents organizations and covert arms-procurement rings, with poor security and tradecraft. [2] Its personnel use both diplomatic and non-official cover, with the latter frequently using the foreign branches of banks, as well as Iran Air. [1]

The Associated Press reported that Ahminejad fired four senior officials, including the chief of counterespionage, a protege of Khatami, in a bid to take control of the ministry. "This purge is being seen as yet more evidence of the deepening split which has been developing between Ahmadinejad and some of his own conservative camp as well as within the Iranian Intelligence community itself." Ahmadinejad was reported to have IRGC support from two of its officials, Hossein Taeb and Ahmad Salek. He had fired the Minister of Intelligence, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, at the end of July, which was criticized; After that sacking, the 210 lawmakers in the parliament thanked Ejehi for his service in what was widely interpreted as being a criticism of Ahmadinejad, who took over responsibility for the Intelligence Ministry."[3]

Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics

See also: Iranian Defense Forces
See also: Soviet support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq War
See also: Iranian arms industry

Under a Joint Armed Forces General Staff are separate air, ground, and naval organizations under the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (Pasdaran) of 120,000 regulars plus a much larger number of irregulars and reserves, and regular military (Artesh) of 350,000 regulars.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports military spending at 2.5% of GDP.[4] Juan Cole states it is somewhat over $6 billion annually; "Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets... Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates."[5]

Before the 1979 revolution, weapons were primarily U.S. and U.K., although most are now unserviceable due to age and lack of spare parts. There was also some covert direct and satellite support for Iran by the Soviet Union, with the apparent strategic goal of damaging the United States by proxy. Iran, after the Western embargo of 1979, was motivated to expand its own manufacturing capability and to seek short-term, clandestine procurement of spares and replacements compatible with its Western equipment base. When it improved the Soviet position, it either shipped equipment through satellite states such as Bulgaria,Poland and Romania, or arranged for the satellites to ship from their own stocks or factories. Certainly, Soviet clients, such as Libya and Syria, were providing Soviet products to Iran, and the Soviets did not announce a general embargo on them. [6]

The Soviets were selective, as when they a proposed shipment of advanced naval mines from Libya to Iran, saying "opposed the unauthorized transfer of their military technology to a third country" indicates that some exports were tolerated. [7]"After American officials told Moscow of the deal, Soviet officials said they opposed the unauthorized transfer of their military technology to a third country and informed the United States that they had made this policy known to Tripoli," according to Administration officials.

The Soviet Union was also competing for influence with China. North Korea both shipped Soviet-designed weapons it made, as well as acting as a conduit for shipments directly from the Soviet Union and the PRC, even though China was a rival of the Soviets for Middle East influence.[8]

There is now a significant domestic arms industry, with technical assistance from North Korea and other states, although Iranian electronics may be superior to the Korean. Russia also provides current weapons.


Revolutionary Guard

For more information, see: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iranian Ministry of the Interior

This commands the Law Enforcement Forces of approximately 120,000 police.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS)/Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar (VEVAK), Globalsecurity
  2. Mahan Abedin (21 July 2007), "Iran's clerical spymasters", Asia Times
  3. Michael Cosgrove (10 August 2009), "Senior Iranian Intelligence officials fired by Ahmadinejad", Digital Journal
  4. , Iran, The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency
  5. Juan Cole (1 October 2009), "Top Things you Think You Know about Iran that are not True", Informed Consent
  6. National Intelligence Council, Iran: Current National Security Situation
  7. Sciolino, Elaine (September 11, 1987), "U.S. and Soviet Protest to Libya Over Iran Mines", New York Times
  8. Kenneth Timmerman, Chapter 9: Iran's new Soviet Arsenal, "Fanning the Flames: Guns, Greed & Geopolitics in the Gulf War", Iran Brief