Farhad Rezaei

Intensifying Sanctions Will Undermine the Islamic Republic and Weaken the IRGC

A confidential IRGC document suggests that loyalty within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) might be faltering due to recent protests. The document also hints at the possibility of worn-out Quds Force members, who have been engaging with Israeli forces at the Golan Heights, sharing sensitive information with Israel.

According to the leaked document, financial hardships faced by the Iranian regime could be contributing to the waning loyalty and disobedience observed among IRGC personnel. This development raises the possibility that further sanctions on the Islamic Republic might have a positive impact by weakening the Quds Force, ultimately affecting their ability to carry out military operations against Israel.

The leaked document that was published by Iran Wire includes statements from 45 top IRGC commanders during a meeting with the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on January 3rd and exposes significant apprehensions regarding diminished loyalty and disobedience within the Revolutionary Guards due to financial challenges and losing faith in the regime’s ideology.

Major General Gholam-Ali Rashid, commander of the IRGC’s Khatam Al-Anbiya Central Headquarters, told Ayatollah Khamenei about multiple instances of significant insubordination that occurred since the beginning of the protests in September 2022. This included abandoned plans to deploy artillery against specific targets in Tehran, such as Khamenei’s residence (Beyte Rahbari). The IRGC commanders attributed the members’ disobedience and waning loyalty largely to the financial difficulties that they are experiencing. General Rashid suggested that measures to enhance the living standards of the personnel were necessary, considering the escalating cost of living that impacted both their lives and allegiance to the regime.

The IRGC commanders also reported instances of personnel declining to use force against demonstrators, especially unveiled women, as well as cases of desertion due to the fact that they believed the protesters’ grievances were legitimate. In certain situations, the IRGC forces even aided protesters by giving incorrect information to operational units and directing them to erroneous locations. Colonel Ehsan Khorshidi, the coordinating deputy of the IRGC in Alborz Province, emphasized the empathetic sentiment towards protesters shared by both conscripts and high-ranking officers. Khorshidi noted that numerous family members of senior forces had participated in the protests, with some even facing arrest.

Brigadier General Yadullah Boali, the commander of the IRGC Fajr Corps in Fars province, stated that “over two thousand of IRGC forces in Fars province have resigned in the past three weeks due to financial issues and ideological disagreements with the IRGC.” Hojjat-ul-Islam Abdullah Haji Sadeghi, Khamenei’s representative in the IRGC, alluded to a bleaker scenario, stating that, based on his data and statistics, as many as sixty-eight percent of IRGC personnel have expressed opposition to the regime’s employment of violence against citizens.

Brigadier General Mohsen Karimi, commander of the IRGC Ruhollah Corps in the same Fars province, said more than half of his forces had lost faith in the current system and are preparing themselves for a possible regime change. Brigadier General Nematullah Bagheri, who serves as the deputy of the IRGC Vali-Asr Corps of Khuzestan, has also expressed concern about the military dissent, stating that it is a significant issue. As he put it, “the problem in the military is a serious problem.” Ali Saeedi, Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guards, also told Khamenei that in order to avoid further worsening of the situation, the personnel financial grievances must be addressed. Nonetheless, it remains uncertain how the regime will manage to allocate the required funds in light of the US sanctions.

The leaked document exposes that the disobedience extends beyond the IRGC’s domestic repressive forces. According to the IRGC top officials, members of the IRGC’s Quds Force have also grown tired of battling Israeli forces at the Golan Heights and are allegedly providing military intelligence to Israel. It also implies that Iran’s economic and political climate has driven IRGC forces to disclose information regarding Quds Force operations to Israel, which has reduced the Revolutionary Guards’ advantage over the Israeli military. Additionally, an increasing number of IRGC-QF elements are looking to abandon the battlefield in Syria and secure positions within Iran. Maj. Gen. Rahim No’i Aghdam, a senior IRGC-QF commander in Syria, said the Quds Force is encountering numerous challenges in the border regions of Israel and the Golan Heights. He cited Israel’s relentless bombings and the difficulty in quickly accessing supplies for IRGC-QF allied forces in the area as contributing factors. Additionally, economic hardships and ongoing protests have resulted in ideological disputes and family-related issues among the Quds Force’s ranks.

The loss of faith in the regime’s ideology and acts of disobedience have not only affected the military and security forces but also reached the Seminary clerics. Hojjat ol-Eslam Mahmoud Mohammadi-Shahroudi, who leads the Seminary’s Basij Militia, reported to Khamenei that over 5,000 seminary students have opted not to continue their studies, and a considerable number are declining to join the Basij militia.

The diminishing loyalty and disobedience among military and security personnel, combined with the selling of military intelligence to Israel, may lead to a weakening of the IRGC’s influence and effectiveness, both domestically and in the region. To restore loyalty and cohesion within its forces, the Islamic regime and the IRGC may try to take action to address their financial concerns. However, given the financial constraints that the regime is facing due to the US sanctions, it is unclear how the regime will be able to allocate the necessary resources to achieve this goal.

In the end, the leaked document suggests that heightened international financial pressure on the regime has been successful in undermining its authority, both within Iran and across the region. It is essential that the United States and European countries maintain their current sanctions on the regime and even contemplate imposing additional, more severe sanctions to further weaken the regime’s oppressive forces. As I have written elsewhere, more sanctions could potentially empower and support the protesters in their fight for change while simultaneously preventing the IRGC from regaining its ability to suppress dissent.

Farhad Rezaei is a senior fellow at the Philos Project.

About the Author
Farhad Rezaei is a senior research fellow at The Philos Project, where his work focuses on Iran and violations against religious minorities in the Middle East. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Iran’s foreign and defense policies. His writings have appeared in the prestigious journals, including the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Harvard Iran-Matters, Middle East Policy, the National Interest, Center for International Policy Studies (CIPS), Journal of International Affairs, the Hill, the Providence, and BESA Center among others. His latest project, "The Invisible Jihad: the treatment of Christians by Iran proxies," was published by the Philos Project.
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