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Almost one-third of the 5,000 police officers in Tehran have been fired because of a tightening budget and opposition to the regime among them. During times of exceptional tension, they are replaced by poor civilians from elsewhere eager to receive money and food. Iranian police officers have told the media of their anger over the violence and arrests of demonstrators, and there are frequent reports of police officers refusing to arrest protestors and even battling away violent members of the Basiji militia. Members of the Basiji often disguise their faces now and the security forces that show up have to be paid handsomely.
The regime’s survival depends upon preventing the accumulation of a mass of protestors that can cause the security forces to dissolve. If the Revolutionary Guards are told to massacre the crowd, the backlash could topple the regime. In 1994, an IRGC unit was told to attack demonstrators in Qazvin. They refused and the opposition to the regime has quickly grown since then. When Reza Kahlili was asked by FrontPage what would happen if the Revolutionary Guards were ordered to put down a mass uprising, he said it could spell the end of the regime.
“If they use the regular [IRGC] forces, many will not carry out the orders and it could result in mass desertion or even joining the people. I believe if it comes anything close to a massacre, the regime will collapse,” Kahlili said. He said the regime would have to use the Al-Quds Force of the IRGC, known for its role in international terrorism, to violently put down an uprising. Foreign fighters and Basiji members would have to be used.
He said the regime actually came “very close” to falling during demonstrations in December. At that time, a senior IRGC commander in Tehran actually came out and said that his forces would greet protestors with flowers.
“The assessment from various Guard commanders was that if it had continued a few more days and if the uprising had picked up a bit more the Islamic government would have been overthrown,” he said.
The unmistakable signs of fear among the regime’s officials substantiate the words of Kahlili and the four former IRGC members featured in the documentary. On June 9, a top IRGC strategist, Hassan Abbasi, openly complained that “we cannot count on many of the establishment’s own who were blessed by Khomeini and senior officials because sometimes their hands might actually be joined with the enemy’s.”
The IRGC defector, Muhammed Hussein Torkaman, said that Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad had a plane on alert to fly them to Syria during last summer’s enormous protests. Another report claimed that the plane was to go to Russia, but that is beside the point. Torkaman says that Khamenei has formed his own intelligence unit to spy on the top security services and he is rumored to be switching his bodyguards every single day.
One member of the security forces plainly told The Los Angeles Times that he and many others at his base would refuse to follow orders to attack protestors during an uprising. “I would never do it. Maybe someone would, but I would never fire on any of these people myself,” he said.
The strength of the Iranian regime must not be overestimated. If the Revolutionary Guards cannot be replied upon, then causing the regime’s collapse is a viable policy option. Immediate action must be taken to weaken the elements of the Revolutionary Guards, specifically the Al-Quds Force and Basiji militia that are the last defenders of the regime. The regime’s legs are shaking, and the West cannot afford to miss this opportunity.
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