A common feature of Iranian security thinking is an emphasis on duality. Whereas Americans prefer to streamline chains of command to establish a clear hierarchy, Iranian security wings are often redundant, and deliberately so: By duplicating security and external operations entities, Iranian authorities can encourage their security wings to compete against each other and inform on each other, and the government can keep both in check by pitting one versus the other for funding. Such Iranian duality is best seen in the existence of both the regular Iranian military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but it is also evident in Iran’s external support of militias: During Operation Iraq Freedom, for example, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) supported two main proxies: the Badr Corps and the Jaysh al-Mahdi.

Iran’s intelligence ministry (MOIS) has always had an external affairs function—indeed, Kuwait implicated the MOIS in one 2010 terror plot even as it accused the IRGC of a separate terror plot. MOIS has long taken a back seat, however, to the Qods Force, the IRGC’s elite external affairs wing. Now, however, it appears that the Iranian government seeks to raise the profile and activity of the MOIS abroad. According to the Islamic Students News Agency, MOIS has promoted its Foreign Intelligence and Movements Directorate to an “Organization.”

Indeed, while many Western diplomats and, frankly, lazy journalists and analysts continue to describe Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a reformist or moderate, the promotion of the intelligence ministry is quickly becoming a hallmark of his tenure. While the IRGC rode his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure to unprecedented political power—at one point, more than half of all cabinet posts were held by IRGC veterans—Rouhani has promoted intelligence ministry veterans in their place. The promotion of the intelligence ministry’s external wing, however, suggests that even if Rouhani wants to check IRGC domestic political power, he remains as committed to Iranian terrorism abroad as were his predecessors.

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