Following is an exclusive interview with the head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Mohammad Ali Jafari.
Q: Iran marked Basij Day with exercises and maneuvers of some eight million Basiji volunteers. What was the purpose of these exercises?
A: The idea behind this war game was to demonstrate the might, the power and the organizational
skill of the Basij - or as we like to call it, the 20 million-strong army. In the fall of 1979, some thirty years ago, a directive was issued by the Founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today we celebrated the anniversary of the establishment of such a mighty army. A lot of effort was put in the organization of that force. On such a day, as you said earlier, we mark the might of the Basij.
Q: Major General Jafari, last Friday, November 23rd, in a speech to worshipers before last week's Friday Congregational Prayers in Tehran, you warned enemies about plotting against Iran, saying the Iranian nation will respond to any military actions like a 'tsunami'. You told the worshipers at Tehran University campus that "The ocean of the Iranian nation may sometimes look calm but if it becomes stormy, it will create a tsunami." Will you elaborate on that?
A: On that day, we were marking the first day of Basij Week. I addressed our heroic people by
saying that the Basij is a popular force, it is a force which is always ready and it is armed with state-of-the-art weaponry and equipment. It is also armed with faith. Basij has a deep belief in defending our soil and also defending our Revolution and the Islamic Republic's system of government. The Basij reflects popular readiness. Keep in mind that this readiness has to allow for people everyday to go about their regular business and at the same time be ready to defend the country against any foreign threats.
Naturally, we are tranquil; we go about our own business as long as a directive is not issued by the eminent Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
But within, they are ready; that might not show itself. Those who are threatening this country have to understand that if they want to change their threats into actual danger, they will commit the same mistakes that our enemies committed during the Imposed War. They failed to understand this great
potential of the Iranian people.
I want to inform our enemy that they should not make such a mistake. They have to appreciate that beneath this tranquility, we are quite ready. If the threats come to pass, we will transform into a huge tsunami. A country which threatens a ready nation naturally should be ready to receive a crushing answer.
Q: When the US-led coalition invaded Iraq, the Iraqi defense forces seemed to crumble rather quickly ahead of the onslaught. What advantages does the Iranian army have? We won't see a repeat of this so quickly?
A: This is an important issue. I have given fair warning to our enemies in past days and weeks. We are talking about new methods of asymmetrical warfare. We believe that the Iraqi army back in 1991 made a big mistake. They faced the enemy using classic methods and for that reason in even less than one hour they were routed. But the same country, the same army, in 2003 opted for asymmetrical
warfare. They were able to withstand the American onslaught for close to 20 days. After 20 days, the American army routed them. They didn't have our experience. They had a classic army. They didn't have a popular army. They didn't take up this asymmetrical concept fully. That would be difficult for them. They were not able to implement what we call asymmetrical. To some extent, they took that up and for 20 days, they were able to stand up against the American army and its onslaught.
What we are depending on is first and foremost is our faith. In other words we are relying on a revolutionary, religious people who have their lives in their very hands. They are ready to defend the goals and the ideals of the Revolution. This constitutes a huge mass of people. This common goal is shared widely in this nation.
Let us talk about our geography. We have very mountainous regions and chains in this country. The geographical vantages, together with all of the
concepts I have shared with you, create a strong citadel. We fully believe that no American invader can penetrate that citadel. They might be able to make some headway, a few kilometers around the borders. Other than that, there will be many casualties and bodies of their soldiers which they will later have to collect and take back.
Q: In your speech on Friday, you also said "Enemies should know that our nation is being patient with their plots and pressures. This is the calm before the storm, because if the Supreme Leader gives orders to foil these plots, the Basij and the Iranian nation are ready to neutralize these plots as required." What are those plots you have talked about?
A: Our enemies know fully well that after the victory of the Islamic Revolution inside Iran, they started their enmity. They have threatened our country in various dimensions. From the very beginning, they imposed economic sanctions against us. A couple of years
later, they imposed the war on us. They encouraged Iraq to attack this country and imposed a military problem on us. Thirty years after the economic sanctions and threats, they are still working to create other insecurities. The war was waged by a neighboring country. We believe the main party which encouraged Iraq to start the war was the US. The war lasted for eight years.
They did not give up, however. They continued with cultural onslaughts. They targeted the Iranian people by distorting and destroying our cultural foundation. They targeted our people's beliefs. These continued until 2001.
For some years now, they have waged campaigns around us in neighboring Islamic countries. These are plots and threats that are felt in different dimensions: security, military, economy. Some of these threats continue. On that day, I said our people are being tolerant. They see these plots and recognize them fully well. But for the time being, we have chosen to be
silent. If they increase, the Iranian people will become angry. The previous regime, the Shah's regime, experienced fully the wrath of the people. Any country that becomes our enemy, the Iranian nation will naturally respond at the appropriate time.
Q: Iran's Defense Minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar has told a gathering of high-ranking Iranian military officials in the northwestern city of Ardebil that "the Basij spirit and way of thinking is the main factor behind Iran's success." Defense Minister Najjar added: "The spirit can overcome any threat or sanction." Can you specify what is this spirit and way of thinking that Iran's success hinges upon?
A: There are a number of innate factors that we label faith, selflessness to secure a goal in the way of our beliefs. Whoever has such a spirit in Iran - praise the Almighty most Iranians have such a spirit - is a member of the Basij. This is equally true for young and old, men and women. It does
not make any difference. We all have such a spirit. To defend our ideals, we are ready to resist hardship, to give up our very lives. Whoever has such a spirit, we call them a person with a Basiji spirit and a revolutionary spirit. I'm pleased to say that this important factor is very readily available in Iran. That is why the Iranian people, without the support of any other country, gained victory in the Revolution and threw out eight years of war. Many countries in those days were supporting our enemy. Alone we managed to defend ourselves. These are the factors that build up the national might of Iran and emanate from our belief.
Q: Are there any other organizations that fulfill similar functions or can be compared to the Basij elsewhere in the Middle East?
A: A number of other countries, including the Zionist Regime, have popular forces that assist their armies. But as the Leader of the Islamic Revolution said, there is a great difference
between the Basij and the popular forces that exist in other countries. The difference lies in our belief and our spiritual might. There might be some similar forces that are enrolling to earn a living or to defend their territory and nothing more. But in Iran, the popular Basij force has been organized and mobilized to defend its beliefs and its religion. The system of governing in the Islamic Republic of Iran is a manifestation of our beliefs. There is no system standing between our system of government and our citizens.
Q: It seems Iran has begun to take the place of Iraq as a leading topic of interest in the early stages of the US presidential election campaign. Attention is shifting from the actual war that the US is waging in Iraq to scenarios for war with Iran, most of which involve military strikes at Iran's infrastructure and its nuclear facilities. How serious are these scenarios and how much is Iran prepared to respond to any military attack by
the US or possibly by Israel?
A: We believe there are many differences between Iran and Iraq, or Afghanistan. In the political system of Iran, there are a lot of differences with the system that used to be in Iraq or Afghanistan. The situation of the people and how they look at our government in Iran is very different from the situation of the Iraqi people under Saddam's regime. Iran's geographical composition is very different to that of Iraq. I previously referred to the resolve of the Iranian people. In their beliefs, the Iraqi people are very similar to us, but there are some differences.
These differences basically make Iran's power very different from that of Iraq. The Americans know these differences well because they used to live in this country in the past. They are clearly aware of Iran's geographical composition and the Iranian people's capabilities. They know that Iran is not Iraq. They have been talking about threats for some days. We
like to think this is mostly psychological warfare. For some time now, they have been engaging in this. Whenever they want to gain a point in international negotiations, they come up with a threat and through those threats they try to reach their goals.
We have had successes on our nuclear front in Iran and we have also achieved a lot on the international stage. I am specifically referring to the IAEA report on Iran's peaceful nuclear program. Naturally, they have no other way to go except threats.
Q: How advanced is the Iranian military, especially in the area of anti-missiles or ballistic missiles?
A: I never said that these capabilities in technology or finance can increase our might. We have the capabilities to give them shattering responses. We should keep in mind that they are stationed near the Iranian border and they are within the range of our weapons. If they attack our installations, this means that they have started war
and we have the right to defend ourselves. We never start a war, but we respond well. They have air and missile capabilities, but we have been working on our anti-aircraft. These are mobile and have been installed to safeguard our various facilities around the country. When I say we have the capability to respond, I am not talking about our missile or air capability. We have other capabilities and it is our right to use them throughout the region as well as around the world. It is our right to retaliate. We have made some good headway regarding anti-aircraft weaponry. From this point of view we can nullify their capability.
Q: The White House has recently announced new unilateral sanctions against Iran. The sanctions specifically target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The US has accused the IRGC of spreading weapons of mass destruction. Washington has also labeled the IRGC's Quds Force a supporter of terrorism. What's your response to the accusations
and the effect of sanctions?
A: We are accustomed to these allegations. They have been repeating these allegations for some years. I think most people around the world know that Iran is opposed to terrorism. We have been a victim of terrorism and continue to be while the Zionist Regime openly and officially supports terrorism. Israel and the US are obviously allies. Such allegations of terrorism first and foremost have to be leveled against them. Today there is a terrorist organization inside Iraq [Mujahedin Khalq Organization] which is protected by the American army.
In Islam generally and in the Shia school specifically, you can not kill an innocent man. It is a cardinal sin. The killer will be immediately banished to hell. How can a nation with such ideas be accused of these acts?
Q: The Americans also say the IRGC is operating an oil cartel. Are you in the oil business and running an oil cartel?
A: No. This is
not correct; it is more a rumor and I deny it. The IRGC participates in some economic construction and infrastructural projects. I have heard some Western media say that a part of the Iranian economy is handled by the IRGC. The Iranian economy is very extensive and the IRGC does not have the capability to control even a small part of it. The IRGC is also prohibited from having a hand in oil. But when it comes to reconstruction and development projects, we have an extensive presence.
Q: Several days ago, US Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech to a hawkish pro-Israel think-tank, the Washington Institute for Near Policy, warned Tehran of 'serious consequences' if it did not freeze its nuclear program.
In addition to the harsher rhetoric, Congressional analysts noticed the insertion of an US $88 million request in the $200 billion 2007 supplemental defense bill to modify B-2 Stealth bombers so that they can drop a 'Massive Ordnance Penetrator', a
conventional 'bunker-busting' bomb designed to destroy targets that are buried deep underground, in response to 'an urgent operational need from theater commanders'. According to some defense analysts, the only logical target for such a weapon in the current geostrategic climate, would be Iran's nuclear sites. What are your comments on Vice President Cheney's threat and possible use of 'bunker-busting' bombs?
A: The material capabilities that our enemies - the Israelis and the Americans - have were used in Lebanon's 33-day war. We all saw that the Shia people of southern Lebanon opted for and used the Basij philosophy. There are religious and cultural commonalities between our two communities. They stood against these bunker-busting bombs and other military capabilities. All the people around the world came to see that a revolutionary army with spiritual beliefs and the Basij philosophy can stand against the best army in the world. They resisted for thirty
days and the invasion failed. We can use the same philosophy and strategies used by Hezbollah to nullify their military superiority.
Q: The top advisor to the Supreme Leader on military affairs and the former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Commander, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi has said the United States is 'highly unlikely' to launch a military strike against Iran. However, he said the Iranian armed forces don't underestimate a possible attack by the US and are prepared to counter any possible threat against the country. How close do you see the prospect of a US war against Iran?
A: I think General Safavi was correct. The possibility of a military attack on our country, especially on land, is a very remote possibility. The Americans know they can not land here because they will not go back. But there is the possibility of a limited air campaign which targets a number of special sites. If our enemies are wise at all, they will not even
do that. As the US President is approaching his eight-year limit and the election campaign really kicks off, they will not be in a position to do so. They might think that a limited air campaign against Iran can be done and later announce it has been carried out. We will end the game ourselves. Once they start, they can not say it's ended.