By Amir Taheri, Special to Gulf News
In Persian mythology, no warrior worth his salt would enter battle before a good dose of rajaz. Put simply, rajaz is translated as boasting. However, the term covers a broader range of meanings.
The hero steps into the battlefield, draws his sword, swirls several times and then stops to address the adversary who has likewise taken position. He might recite a qasida (ode) recalling the martial deeds of his ancestors. Or, he might declaim a satirical sonnet mocking the enemy. In the modern military lexicon, rajaz could be regarded as psychological warfare.
Against that background, recent statements by several key figures in the Khomeinist leadership could be seen as rajaz. These are people who appear to have bought into President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's theory that a limited war against the United States is inevitable and that, once it is fought, the Americans will run away, leaving Tehran to set the agenda for the Middle East and, perhaps, even beyond.
What is odd, however, is that Iran's top brass apparently do not share Ahmadinejad's belief that a duel with the US would be short and sweet, let alone that it would end with Tehran's victory.
The only senior IRCG commander to partially echo Ahmadinejad's rajaz, is Brigadier Mohammad Baqer Zulqadr, the Deputy Interior Minister for Security and the bete-noire of liberals in Tehran.
Why should IRGC commanders be anxious to distance themselves from Ahmadinejad? After all, the radical president, himself a former IRCG member, was their handpicked candidate in the presidential election of 2005.
Ahmadinejad's political rivals, including Hashemi Rafsanjani, claim that the IRCG filled the ballot boxes to ensure its candidate's victory.
Rafsanjani also claims that the IRGC engineered Ahmadinejad's victory to strengthen its hold on Iran's state-dominated economy. IRGC's commanders now account for a good part of Iran's entrepreneurial elite.
Some analysts believe that the IRGC has replaced the Shiite clergy as the wealthiest stratum of Iranian society.
Mohammad Khatami, the mullah who preceded Ahmadinejad as president, had prepared a massive privatisation programme aimed at transferring state-owned assets worth $18 billion to private companies controlled by mullahs and their partners in the bazaars.
The idea was to limit the IRGC's economic clout and restore the balance of economic power in favour of the clergy and the traditional merchant classes.
Ahmadinejad has redesigned the privatisation scheme to enable the IRCG to secure a major share. The IRGC is grateful for the favour but not to the point of endorsing Ahmadinejad's strategy of provoking war with the US.
The IRGC commanders prefer a strategy of low intensity operations and proxy wars against the US and its regional allies, notably Israel.
Low intensity operations and proxy wars sap the morale of the enemy without giving them a pretext for using their superior military might against the Islamic Republic. There is no guarantee that a full-scale war would not transmute into regime-change.
The IRGC has a more specific cause for concern. It knows that in case of a major war it would be the principal target of US attacks. The destruction of the IRGC could leave the mullahrchy defenceless and vulnerable to a power grab by the regular army in alliance with the political opponents of Khomeinism.
Iran might become another Iraq, as far as the US is concerned. But Ahmadinejad and his IRGC backers could end up where Saddam Hussain and his Baathist cohorts did.
We are faced with a paradox. The IRGC is behind almost all of the mischief that the Islamic Republic has done in the region in the past 25 years.
Right now, however, it is the key opponent of a full-scale war with the US. The question is whether the IRGC could act in time, perhaps by forcing Ahmadinejad's ouster, to prevent what it regards as the worst-case scenario for the regime.
Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.