Two clips, the first the assault on the Basij and the second from god knows where, to illustrate how much this already looks like a war. There’s nothing to be gained strategically by an unarmed mob attacking a single paramilitary station — except, of course, the pure, sweet justice that comes with revenge in the name of thousands of innocents these brownshirts have tormented for decades. Imagine the hate you’d have to feel to try to break into a building where men with machine guns are waiting for you. As a great man once said, if this be treason, make the most of it.
Don’t be fooled by the Iranian media blackout into thinking the protests are dwindling, either. Quite the contrary, as this new YouTube clip proves. In fact, the blackout isn’t even being enforced: Robert Fisk, to his credit, is on the streets of Tehran talking to the wounded and watching the confrontations. Even so, as inspiring as it all is, I can’t figure out how the movement could conceivably overthrow the real power in Iran, the Revolutionary Guard. Getting rid of Khamenei is easy and potentially even legal if Rafsanjani can round up enough mullah movers and shakers. Once he’s out, a new election could be ordered and Ahmadinejad would go too. But what about the Guard? They control … everything, basically:
This hostility overflowed during the 2005 presidential race, with the defeat of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a cleric widely considered corrupt, by Mr. Ahmadinejad, a former officer in the Revolutionary Guards.
In Mr. Ahmadinejad, the public saw a man who repudiated the profligacy of the clerical class, a man who was ascetic, humble and devout. And he capitalized on that image to consolidate power and to promote his brothers in arms. Fourteen of the 21 cabinet ministers he has appointed are former members of the guards or its associated paramilitary, the Basij. Several, including Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, are veterans of notorious units thought to have supported terrorist operations in the 1980s.
This creeping militarization has not been restricted to the central government: provincial governors, press commissars, film directors, intelligence officers and business leaders are increasingly former members of the guard. The elite force controls much of the economy either directly — the Basij has rights to oil extraction — or through proxy companies like Khatam al Anbiya, which dominates construction throughout Iran.
So powerful is the Guard that an Iranian expert writing at TNR speculates that if Khamenei is forced to call them out to suppress the protests, they might just remove him themselves and rule the country by Islamic military dictatorship a la Pakistan. How do the protesters deal with that? Their only hope is that the Iranian military (which is separate from, and parallel to, the IRGC) would side with them — which would mean an all-out civil war between the country’s two military pillars, with the nuclear program in Revolutionary Guard control speeding ahead. What could go wrong?
Curiously, Amir Taheri claims that the Guard has thus far refused orders to mobilize against the protesters, which makes no sense if they’re looking for an opportunity to expand their power within the regime. Either Taheri’s wrong or the IRGC is biding its time in hopes that the protests will dissipate or a new Supreme Leader will be installed and things can go back to normal. Exit question: If the Guard takes control or Iran ends up in civil war, what does The One do? He’ll have no one left to negotiate with.
Update: If I’m willing to post gossip plucked from Twitter, I guess I’m willing to post Debkafile items too. Big grain of salt:
Wednesday afternoon, June 17, armored convoys of Revolutionary Guard forces began rolling into Tehran from three directions to prevent supporters of the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi assembling on the fifth day after the disputed presidential election, DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report.
Special IRGC forces and police units are being flown in. Hundreds of opposition activities have been arrested, including some economic experts who criticized president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies in recent months, after three reformist politicians, including a former Vice President and adviser to former president Mohammed Khatami, were detained Tuesday…
DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report the confrontation between the regime and Iran’s protest movement is closer than ever to a bloody climax. Thursday, June 18, may be critical. This will depend on Mousavi proving able to call up masses of supporters in the face of ominous signs that large military forces are assembling in Tehran to shoot them down.