Iran, October 4, 2019—“You are my dear children,” Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Iranian regime, said on Wednesday to a convention of commanders of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
Khamenei’s praise for the terrorist-designated IRGC, which accounted for most of his remarks, comes at a time that his regime is faced with an existential crisis. And like all crises that the regime has faced in the past four decades, its go-to solution is to ratchet up domestic suppression and foreign terrorism, both of which are the exclusive domain of the IRGC.
Under such circumstances, Khamenei needs to lift the spirits of the IRGC commanders, who are becoming increasingly disillusioned about the grim situation of the Iranian regime.
Praising the IRGC’s destructive activities
There’s no doubt that the IRGC is one of the most-hated—if not the most hated—institutions of the Iranian regime.
The outrage of the Iranian people toward the Revolutionary Guards manifested itself during the 2017-2018 nationwide protests that spread to more than 140 cities, as well as ongoing demonstrations in every corner of Iran. Every day, workers, teachers, farmers, truckers and members of all segments of the Iranian society criticize the IRGC for squandering their national resources on building missile and nuclear weapons and sending funds and weapons to proxy terrorist groups in the region.
Ironically, in his speech, Khamenei encouraged his commanders to ratchet up the very activities that have made IRGC such a hated body. In his recommendations, Khamenei said, “We must not contend to our country and abandon the threats beyond our borders. The vast perspective beyond our borders is the responsibility of IRGC, and this is our pure strategy, and sometimes, it is one of our most important tasks.”
So why does Khamenei need to make such remarks? The truth is that the IRGC and its brutal military and political clout is the only thing that has kept Khamenei’s regime upright in the past decades. But at the moment, the IRGC is giving in to its own wear and tear and is faced with the threat of imploding and collapsing.
The IRGC’s faltering power
Khamenei’s remarks run in parallel to prior comments he made after the U.S. State Department designated the IRGC as a terrorist entity in April, where he tried to lift their spirits and praised them to rub off the devastating effects of the terror label.
Presently, the IRGC’s ranks are losing their spirits under the crushing weight of sanctions and the political developments in the Middle East region and across the globe. But even more devastating for the IRGC is the increasing momentum of nationwide protests and the expanding activities of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) inside Iran and abroad.
The IRGC’s morale is so low that Khamenei had to admit in his remarks to “defects” within the Guards’ ranks. “Defects and growth can be seen everywhere, and the Revolutionary Guards are no exception. But which is stronger, the defects or the growth? In my opinion, with respect to the IRGC, growth had the upper hand.”
The mere fact that Khamenei admits this hints at a crisis in the IRGC. One very stark example is Mohammad Ali Jafari, the former chief commander of the IRGC, who was relieved of his post shortly after the terrorist designation of the IRGC.
Therefore, if as Khamenei says, the IRGC’s growth has been more than its losses, then he would have to be able to provide stats and concrete facts instead of sufficing to say “In my opinion.”
Jafari himself had previously admitted in public remarks, “One of the worries of the supreme leader is the internal situation of the IRGC.”
Even if none of these things had happened, Khamenei’s public praise for the much-hated IRGC would not be a rational move, especially with anti-government protests continuing in many cities.
But equally notable is that while the English edition of Khamenei’s website focused on his remarks about his regime’s continued breach of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, there was no trace of his comments about holding the ranks of IRGC together.
The regime’s intensifying crises
Khamenei’s remarks can also be examined in the context of the many crises his regime has been dealing with in the past months. Aside from the terrorist designation of the IRGC and the intensifying sanctions against the IRGC’s financial resources, the regime has tasted defeat on several fronts:
- The attack against the oil facilities of Saudi oil giant Aramco and the international backlash against the regime
- The failure of regime president Hassan Rouhani in his trip to New York for the annual UN General Assembly meeting
- The recent statement by three European powers pertaining to taking firm measures against the regime if it continues to breach its commitments, and promising that they too will step away from the nuclear deal (JCPOA)
- The prospects that continued tensions with the international community will place Iran under article 7 of the UN Security Council charter, and pave the way for more stringent measures against the mullahs’ regime
Looking at these developments, it becomes clear why Khamenei desperately needs to prop up the most important pillar of his regime at all costs.
What does Khamenei mean by “great incidents”?
Also notable in Khamenei’s remarks was his reference to “great incidents.” To his commanders, Khamenei said, “Stay prepared for great incidents,” while later adding, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy. No matter how strong and great the enemy is, don’t be afraid.”
What does Khamenei mean by “great incidents”? Is he referring to a military conflict? Certainly not. Khamenei himself has time and again reiterated that there will be no war. In fact, the reason that he ordered the IRGC to attack the Saudi oil facilities was that he was sure that there would be no military retaliation. Senior IRGC commanders have also stipulated that their evaluation is that there will be no military confrontation.
Meanwhile, Khamenei and his top lieutenants have warned time and again that the real threat to the regime comes from inside Iran. Khamenei himself has said on several occasions that if his troops don’t take the war beyond Iran’s borders, into Iraq and Syria, they would have to fight their wars in Kermanshah, Isfahan, and Tehran.
As Khamenei said during his speech on Wednesday, “The vast perspective beyond our borders is the responsibility of IRGC and this is our pure strategy, and sometimes, it is one of our most important tasks.”
He also expressed his ire of the slogan “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, my life for Iran,” which has become very popular among the protesting Iranians who are fed up with the regime spending the country’s wealth on its foreign agendas. Khamenei called those slogans “Speaking on behalf the enemy” and called on the IRGC commanders to not tone down their meddling in the region.
Without providing any roadmap or explanation on how he will solve the exacerbating problems of the country, Khamenei promised that if the IRGC persists on its destructive agendas and policies, “the livelihoods of the people will eventually improve.”
But every day, more and more protesters are calling on the regime to end its warmongering policies and to think about the economic woes of the people.
And therein lies Khamenei’s unsolvable paradox: On the one hand he needs the IRGC to continue its terrorist activities, but on the other hand he has no solution to the backlash that these measures will have inside Iran, especially as the Iranian opposition is ready to counter the regime at every corner and undermine its plans to extend its life. As the noose tightens around his regime and his ranks falter, Khamenei’s remarks and attempts to put up a show of power are losing their luster and consistency.