Has Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps intervened to shut down the protests in the streets of Tehran and dozens of other cities? Or did their military commander simply make an aspirational declaration as a dire warning? The BBC and other media outlets picked up on this statement from Gen. Ali Jafari that insists that the “sedition” in the streets has ended:

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has declared the defeat of the “sedition” in the country, referring to a wave of anti-government protests.

Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari made the announcement as tens of thousands of people attended pro-government rallies called to counter the unrest. …

Gen Jafari said: “Today, we can say that this is the end of the 96 sedition,” referring to the current year – 1396 – in the Persian calendar.

Jafari laid the blame for the uprising on a rather surprising source. He took aim at the Great Satan, but v44.1 rather than v45:

The general blamed anti-revolutionary agents, pro-monarchists and forces which he said had been “announced by [US-ex Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton to create riot, anarchy, insecurity and intrigue in Iran”.

Perhaps Jafari wanted to troll Donald Trump, who has been cheering the protestors from Twitter, or perhaps he’s just out of touch with US news for, um … five years? I’m putting my bet on “trolling.”

Does Jafari’s declaration have any better basis in reality than his analysis? Actually, yes:

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have deployed forces to three provinces to put down an eruption of anti-government unrest, their commander said on Wednesday, after six days of protests that have left 21 people dead. …

But, in a sign of official concern about the resilience of the protests, the Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said he had dispatched forces to Isfahan, Lorestan and Hamadan provinces to tackle “the new sedition”.

Most of the casualties among protesters have occurred in those regions. The Revolutionary Guards, the sword and shield of Iran’s Shi‘ite theocracy, were instrumental in suppressing the 2009 uprising, killing dozens of protesters then.

The mullahs apparently didn’t want to wait to see whether its Astroturf protests would turn things around for them. Interestingly, they’re aiming the crackdown outside of Tehran and Qom, the two most significant cities for the ruling mullahs, and probably the most accessible to outside journalists. They want to quell the uprising outside of the view of the world, but more importantly, outside the view of other Iranians to the greatest extent possible.

This becomes the critical point of the uprising. The mullahs needed to act before the spirit of revolution infected the IRGC, but also before it got too far among the population. If the latter is true, an armed response to demonstrations might provoke an even wider rebellion that could overwhelm the IRGC. That’s why the mullahs waited this long before ordering their palace guards to open fire on the regime’s subjects. If they’ve mistimed the crackdown, it might be an end to the mullahs’ run of 7th-century rule by 21st-century technology.

At this point, however, the mullahs have given an opening for international intervention, including the reapplication of sanctions that the deal with Barack Obama ended. Donald Trump has been itching to reinstate those sanctions but has been held off by both the deal and our Western allies, who wanted to consider the matter closed. If the IRGC is opening fire on unarmed Iranians for dissent, they will have no choice but to take action, and it might even force Russia and China to allow for emergency action from the UN Security Council. That will make the economic situation even worse, which will prompt more protests — and perhaps disincentivize the IRGC rank and file in the longer run.

Watch for reports from dissenters about the status of the protests. They’re still unfolding in other provinces, such as Semnan, northeast of Tehran, with a clear message to the mullahs:

If the street action continues, the race will be on to see which side can outlast the other — and whether the international media will report on massacres in the streets if it comes down to that.