Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards by Afshon Ostovar - review by Michael Burleigh

Michael Burleigh

Army of God

Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards


Oxford University Press 306pp £22.99 order from our bookshop

The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) often figures prominently in Western demonisations of Iran, much of which is thinly adapted Israeli, Saudi and UAE propaganda. The IRGC is the directing hand behind an alleged Shia ‘fifth column’ operating in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, while its client, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is the main threat to Israel. In this view, the IRGC has been the main instrument of Iran’s bid for regional hegemony in the years since the US destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

This makes Afshon Ostovar’s deeply knowledgeable and well-written history of the IRGC most timely. He is a senior analyst at the CNA research centre in Washington, DC, and an assistant professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. Were President Trump to want a war with Iran, naval incidents in the Persian Gulf would be one pretext for starting it, though he is more likely to license an Israeli attack on Hezbollah to curb Iran’s ambitions.

The IRGC was born amid the turmoil of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the shah. After his return from exile, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini trusted neither the regular armed forces (artesh), some of whom were loyal to the exiled shah, nor the various leftist and leftist-Islamist militias over whom the provisional

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