From an ex-CIA spy: US must exploit new split in Iran's Revolutionary Guard

A serious split is developing within Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard. The West must leverage that split in support of regime change before the Islamic Republic successfully tests nuclear weapons.

AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
Members of Iran's paramilitary Basij force, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, attend a rally in front of the former US Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 25, 2011.

A serious split is developing within Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, with one faction favoring the overthrow of the dictatorial regime. This presents a window of opportunity for the West to support regime change before the Islamic Republic successfully tests nuclear weapons. Once the regime has those nuclear bombs, that opening will be much narrower. 

Iran has tried hard to show strength in the face of sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran to quit its suspected nuclear-bomb and missile development programs. Iranian leaders are now flexing their military muscles in the strategic waterway, the Strait of Hormuz, threatening to shut it down and choking off a major part of the world’s oil supply.

The regime has long tried to scare the West from taking any action against it, by threatening the world’s security and stability. However, behind its mask of strength and unity, big cracks are beginning to show.

Ever since entering politics, the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been a vengeful politician who rarely trusts anyone. Sources reveal that after the Nov. 12 explosions at the Guard's base west of Tehran, many Guard members, including commanders and even officers at the supreme leader’s office, have been arrested and are under investigation.

On that day, Mr. Khamenei, along with many other high-ranking Iranian officials, was supposed to be present at a ceremony at the explosion site. The massive blast not only rattled Tehran more than 20 miles away but shocked the regime’s hierarchy, which saw it as a covert operation to take out the supreme leader and his cronies.

The regime now worries about the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2. First, there is the possibility of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s faction taking control of parliament, creating problems for Khamenei and his allies, as a growing rift has appeared between Mr. Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader. But the regime also worries about the possibility of another uprising by the people of Iran, as the majority of Iranians resent the totalitarian regime.

Just days ago, Ahmadi Moghadam, the top police commander of the regime, announced the “readiness” of security forces to confront possible unrest on election day for the ninth Majlis (parliament).

However, the mullahs’ biggest worry is the Revolutionary Guard themselves, the very force that has been the regime’s pillar of support ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. A letter written by one of its commanders to Mohammad Nourizad, a conservative journalist who himself continues to criticize Khamenei and the regime despite being jailed, beaten, and threatened, was recently published on Mr. Nourizad's blog.

The commander, whose name was withheld for security purposes, states that, “Like many millions of suffering Iranians, myself and hundreds of freedom-loving and free-thinking commanders of the Revolutionary Guard do think about the devastation" that Khamenei has forced on the country.

The commander continues, “I can positively assure you and announce to the dear people of Iran that a collective majority of the Revolutionary Guard absolutely despise the regime leadership, but they are stuck in an exceedingly cruel and bloodthirsty system. This authority does not tolerate an alternative approach by the so-called insiders, and so they orchestrate military courts in order to label members of the Revolutionary Guard as traitors and send them to the gallows.”

The Revolutionary Guard are human too, the commander says, and contrary to their military facade, they also have democratic views and are waiting on more favorable conditions so that they can join the people in opposing the regime. He assures the Iranians that the majority of the Guard forces will not participate in any suppression of the people, and the brutality that the people have witnessed is due to those vicious members who fall under the jurisdiction of the Basij auxiliary and security forces.

In criticizing the supreme leader, the commander says that Khamenei is behind the terror machine of the Quds Forces with their assassination and terrorist activities outside the country and the Basij forces as a military and oppressive force inside the country.

The commander brazenly declares, “Without a shadow of a doubt and based on documentation and proof, many of which will be produced and presented in time, the assassinations of Kazem Rajavi, Shahpour Bakhtiar, Dr. [Abdul Rahman] Ghassemlou and the heinous murders of Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar and many other opposition figures inside and outside of Iran were carried out under the supervision of the Guard Corps and the Intelligence Ministry.”

The commander says the nation is suffering from an epidemic of hopelessness and that the possibility of an uprising like the one of 2009 is not great. He believes that now the only possibility for regime change is an attack from outside, such as the one that toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but it would be highly costly for Iran and Iranians.

In a stern warning to Iranians and the world, the commander states that if the regime is not overthrown, it will soon test its first nuclear bomb, becoming essentially untouchable. It will then suppress anyone opposing it just as Stalin did in the Soviet Union.

There are steps the West, particularly the US, can take to exploit this split in the Guard and encourage regime change. It must voice support for Iranians in their aspirations for freedom and democracy. It should condemn the Iranian leaders for crimes against humanity and move to arrest and try them in international courts. It must confront the Revolutionary Guard with its terrorist activities abroad. And the West must expand its economic sanctions to the Iranian Central Bank and Iranian oil immediately.

Today the West has many allies in Iran to help bring about regime change and save the world from a dark future, but it must be aware that the window is closing.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the author of the award winning book, A Time to Betray. He is a senior Fellow with EMPact America and teaches at the US Department of Defense’s Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy (JCITA).

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