Even though on the instructions of Iran’s leader ayatollah Khamenei the country’s military institutions and leaders expanded the domain of their activities in 1390, the passing year was a tough one for their commanders. The year began with Ahmadinejad’s “ungratefulness” and is ending with dark clouds of war. This was the year when the military’s own engineered elections turned into a nightmare and fears of public protests that followed the 2009 elections continued to haunt the military. This was also the year when differences among the leaders of the country intensified resulting in greater defections and desertions.
The First Three Months: A Bitter Spring
A year that looked promising to the military, soon turned bitter. Two weeks into the new year, ayatollah Khamenei announced on April 3 that “a good forward change has started” in the armed forces and asked them not to be “disheartened” because of problems” but to rejuvenate the body of the forces.
In the first month of the year, inspired by the labeling of the year by the leader, the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) called for a “security Jihad” in response to “economic Jihad.”
The official magazine of IRGC’s political office – Sobh Sadegh – wrote, “Even if we the Guards looked at our duties strictly in security and military terms, then too security would be the most important issue and tool for the goal of creating a sustainable and expanding economy. It is our duty to work on this more than before and remove the minor security lapses and lost economic opportunities.”
As reports of the foreign threat took a more serious tone, the commander of the army’s ground forces Ahmad-Reza Poordastan announced, “We are now facing new phase of threats which are very different from those of the past in type, form and size, and so we must embark on new appropriate changes in our military structure.”
Amid these winds, ayatollah Khamenei’s representative in the IRGC cleric Ali Saeedi acknowledged that the heads of “the sedition” (the term Iranian officials use for the Green Movement and those who protested the results of the rigged 2009 presidential elections) continued to have popular support. He confirmed the arrest of the leaders of the Green Movement, Mehdi Karoubi, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard and added, “This approach and putting the sedition leaders under house arrest is the best way to deal with them,” and confessed, “today the atmosphere is not right for clamping down on the leaders of the sedition.”
And even though he clearly tried not to reveal the inner problems of the IRGC, he did say, “In the IRGC, the burden is on some special people.”
By mid April, Guard commanders were experiencing unpleasant events. The differences between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and ayatollah over the removal and re-appointment of the minister of intelligence caused the force to call their chosen president “ungrateful” and disown him from being “ayatollah Khamenei’s son.”
Ahmadinejad stayed at home for 11 days to show his displeasure, but the generals issued a serious warning which lead to another revelation. Khamenei’s representative in the Guards expressly issued a veiled threat: “We have continuously been among the supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad and voted for him during both elections, but many wanted to knock the president out, but the leader stood firm and defended him.”
Spring turned into the color of Fall. Mohammad-Hossein Safar-Herandi, recognized as one of the founders of the political office of the IRGC and a current advisor to the Guard chief in Shiraz told a group of Guards and Basijis, “The supreme leader is unhappy with some candidates.”
By mid-May the commander of Tehran’s IRGC force Hossein Hamedani warned that the “deviant current” – a reference to Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff Rahim Mashaei – had been checked but not unseated and while labeling their gestures as a “soft threat” called on the Guards and the Basij to stop them from entering the “hard phase.”
Another Khamenei representative Mojtaba Zolnoor who also happens to be a faithful of extremist cleric Mesbah Yazdi announced said in no uncertain language that Ahmadinejad and his allies, “were planning to strike at the regime using state institutions. By about the middle of June, Zolnoor displayed the problems associated with getting rid of Ahmadinejad when he said, “For now, only the wings should be clipped because conditions in the country did not favor a suitable response.”
The Next Months: The Summer Nightmare
The creeping snake surfaced in summer and kept the generals engaged. Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative at the Tehran Guards revealed Ahmadinejad’s dangerous plans and said, “This group has two dangerous tasks on its agenda: they want to create an economic fever and moral corruption in the country.”
Mohammad Ali Jaafari, the top chief of the IRGC, and his brainchild Yadollah Javani made headlines when they rejected former president Khatami’s conditions to return to domestic politics. They accused the reformist chief executive of being a saboteur and the leader of the “sedition.” They also charged Ahmadinejad and his associates of planning to take over the Majlis and then send one of their own to the presidency.
After ayatollah Khamenei’s representative at the IRGC said “People had the right to elect,” Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, who had earlier in Spring declared, “There is no such thing as universal human rights,” qualified the leader’s statement and said, “Yes, people have the right to select but every selection was not right.” Then he went further and revealed that Basij’s policy for the elections was to enlighten people so they could choose the best candidates.
By this time, the magazine of the IRGC political office repeated its earlier claims that the “charcoal of the seditionist was still hot,” acknowledging that the reformers and Green Movement supporters were as alive as ever. As deserters from the Guards and the Basij grew, the commanders approached extremist ayatollah Yazdi to lend a hand and stop the fallout. “What is your problem?” was Yazdi’s call to the Guards during one of his lectures. “Why do you stay in touch with tricksters who are in touch with foreign elements and ask for their advise,” a reference to Guards and Basijis who continued to be sympathetic to the reform and Green movement leaders.
For the Basij to enlighten the masses, some 11,000 political messengers were across the four corners of the country to help drive the “good candidates” to the Majlis to strengthen the position of the velayatefagih (the rule of clerics) in Iran’s political system.
And just as Mohammad-Ali Jaafari announced the relegation of the responsibility of battling the “deviant current” to the IRGC, his deputy confirmed that arrest of some associates of Ahmadinejad and even spoke of their “confessions of financial and moral corruption.”
As international pressure over Iran reached new heights, Khamenei’s representative in the IRGVC ground forces warned of a shortage of soldiers in the armed forces and called for a rise in the country’s population as a solution.
As international sanctions began to bite, Basij commanders positioned their “military-security units in mosques and rural bases to confront the “economic fever” and prevent the state from being hurt by the state’s own institutions. Soon, a large number of IRGC commanders and cadre left the force through self-retirement or resignations to join the Majlis to combat Ahmadinejad and his allies from working to get into the parliament.
The problems of the IRGC were revealed again when Guards colonel Fakhrali Gholizadeh from Orumieh said, “We cannot expect the first generation Guards to think like the second generation,” and then added, “We have not succeeded in creating the climate where these two generations would exchange ideas, views and culture, and talk to each other.”
As the clouds of war continued to gather over the skies of the region, Iran’s long-time neighbor Turkey announced that it would welcome the installation of NATO anti-ballistic sites on its soil. What followed was yet another threat by the Khatam-al Anbia air base who yelled during a Friday prayer, “If our enemies turn stupid and imagine attacking this holy land, Iran would turn into an air, ground and sea hell form them.”
The Third Quarter’s Drumbeats of War
To calm the agitated and petrified, a former Guards commander Rahim Safavi, who happens to be a current military advisor to Khamenei announced, “From my perspective a war cannot be imagined over Iran in the near future.” But a general of the joint chief of staff sang a different tune when he said, “If God-unwilling a new war breaks out, our forces shall be better organized than before.”
As planning and campaigning for the March elections appeared over the horizon, the Basij commander who had envisioned the force to be active in enlightening the masses, now turned to the task of “providing security for the ballot boxes.”
But even without the foreign war, another battle was already in full swing on Iran’s borders. It was announced that a large number of Guards had been killed in Mianeh (Iran’s Kurdistan) in a battle with the Kurdish PJAK group. A look at the killed guards indicated that the “mosaic plan” of the IRGC to establish self-containing units in each province had failed as the dead included guards from far way places such as Qom.
When Israel tested its new ballistic missile, Firoozabadi responded by saying, “We are prepared to punish an aggressor.” The deputy commander of the IRGC also announced that “the enemy had embarked on a dangerous policy against the Islamic republic and was implementing its plans,” prompting the separation of the IRGC forces in Tehran to Karaj, and thus forming yet another IRGC provincial force.
Alarmed at the support that reformists and dissidents still enjoyed around the country, ayatollah Khamenei’s representative in the Guards called protestors “nuts” and called on the Basij and the IRGC to not be lenient in crushing them.
By the end of Fall, another of the ayatollah’s generals spoke about war. Mohammad-Bagheri, the deputy for intelligence and operations in the joint chiefs of staff went to the Majlis to speak about the possibility of war and an air and ground campaign against the country. “The fate of a war will be decided on the ground and that belongs to the Iranian nation. They [foreign states] know this and thus engage in psychological warfare, but have no guts to even engage in an air battle.”
As election campaigning began and the Basij entered the game to protect the ballot boxes against Ahmadinejad and his allies who were now free from the rivalry of the reformists who had boycotted the elections altogether, ayatollah Khamenei issued his decree licensing the military to participate in the elections and by saying “The Basij has always had a bright presence in all spheres including defense and politics,” and, “The Basij was political but not politicized,” gave the green light to the force to take events into its own hands if the need be.
Herandi immediately translated the words of the leader and said, “Ahmadinejad has lost some of his costly friends and instead has gained the support of a deviant current.”
The Last Quarter
Winter was definitely the harshest month for the commanders. Military threats reached still higher levels and the approaching anniversary of the 2009 and 2010 protests brought fear and insecurity to their hearts and minds.
Ali Saeedi, Khamenei’s representative in the Guards openly spoke of the IRGC getting in to the Majlis to give it “a powerful force and position for important decisions.”
And just as he had said in Spring that the arrested leaders of the Green Movement enjoyed public support, he said the situation had not changed as far they were concerned. He said they still had “space and supporters.”
General Attalla Salami, the commander of the army announced ayatollah Khamenei’s new defense posture, on the eve naval exercises in the Persian Gulf and threatened the US Navy. Britain responded by sending its most advanced warship to the region to support the US flotilla.
And as EU’s oil sanctions began, Iran’s generals again launched their threats that if Iran’s oil was boycotted, they would shut the Straits of Hormuz and no oil would then leave it altogether. But the US Navy along with some British warships ignored the threats and sailed their ships through the straits and positioned them in the Persian Gulf.
The Iranian generals retreated and defense minister Ahmad Valid said, “We did not say we would shut the Straits of Hormuz.” The IRGC naval exercises that were planned and had been announced for weeks were cancelled.
As the 1979 anniversary of the founding of the Islamic republic approached, which coincided with the anniversary of the house arrest of the leaders of the Green Movement, the generals sent a million and a half of their men to Tehran from all over the country just in case.
The growing number and intensity of military threats forced the generals to enlarge the “strategic depth and defense of the country from the resistance fronts in Lebanon and Syria” to the “southern provinces of the country.” Jaafari in this regard said, “The enemy does not have the slightest ability to attack our dear country, let alone attack the central plains. Still, the southern provinces of Fars, Yazd, Khuzestan, Kerman and Hormozegan are our strategic depths against the enemy.”
Despite all the external threats, differences inside the armed forces still continue. Cleric Mohammad Kazem Bahrami spoke of the dangers of “dissent and division” during a seminar organized by the military police. “Espionage and regime overthrow are not the only security threats to the country. Differences definitely have a greater destructive effect,” he warned revealingly.
And as the March 2 elections passed, the generals continued to display their concern for Ahmadinejad’s possible plans to “stand against the regime.” This was of course in addition to the threats from outside, and the discontent amongst themselves and inside the forces.