Dissent in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards

The Mullahs can no longer trust the force tasked with keeping them in power.

A new documentary interviews four former members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps testifying that the regime’s top security force isn’t as united behind the regime as it may appear. Dissent in the IRGC poses a mortal threat to the regime, and a former member that spied for the CIA tells FrontPage that they can no longer by relied upon. The regime is finding itself unable to trust even its top operatives as one of the pillars holding it together starts to crumble.

Reza Kahlili, author of A Time to Betray, is a former member of the Revolutionary Guards that decided to spy for the CIA. He told FrontPage that the majority of the force’s members are “regular people” who originally joined because they were more religious and wanted to fight Iran’s enemies like Saddam Hussein. Today, large segments of it have grown disenchanted with the regime, particularly after witnessing the brutality since Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election last summer.

“Many of the commanders have been replaced by Mohammed Jafari, the chief commander. Some others have been arrested and some have even defected to other countries. The divide within the Guards and even the clerics and officials is the most intense ever since the revolution,” Kahlili said.

His comments come as it’s reported that a senior member of the Revolutionary Guards named Muhammed Hussein Torkaman defected six months ago. He was part of a special unit called the “Avengers of God” responsible for protecting the regime’s top leaders. A new documentary includes interviews with Torkaman and three other former members discussing the disillusionment inside the IRGC. In fact, one opposition leader in the U.S., Mohsen Sazegara, was one of the founders of the group. Akbar Ganji, the human rights activist who received international attention in 2005 when he went on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment, also served in the IRGC.

Over the past year, there have been signs of shocking dissent among the regime’s security forces. Shortly after last summer’s uprising began, 16 senior members of the IRGC were arrested after they were caught meeting with high-level members of the army to discuss switching sides. In July, after former Iranian President Rafsanjani became a critic of the regime, 36 army officers were arrested for planning on going to his sermon in military uniform. The next month, at least 30 to 40 soldiers in the army were arrested by the regime for their involvement in the unrest. There have been rumors that General Ali Fazli, the commander of the IRGC in Tehran, was arrested and/or fired for refusing to order attacks on protestors. He has denied these reports, although it’s possible that was done under pressure.

The regular military forces’ lack of loyalty is a major concern for the regime. On December 10, a statement signed by key figures in the military surfaced that warned the Revolutionary Guards that if they attack the Iranian people, the military will come to their aid.  Among those signing the document are members of the army’s aviation division, commanders of the chief of staff of the army, members of the army’s logistical training unit, commanders of the 31st artillery division of Isfahan, and professors that teach the army and air force at Imam Ali University and Shaid Satari University. The authenticity of the document has been confirmed by Afshin Ellian and Michael Ledeen trusts it as well, although not everyone does.

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.