Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, has adopted two distinct approaches toward nationwide protests over the past six months.
On October 3, just over two weeks after the demonstrations began, he blamed US and Israeli spy agencies and policymakers for the wave of anger.
He claimed the protesters had been deceived by the enemy and expressed support for the law enforcement organizations and paramilitary Basij forces, resulting in numerous arrests and stiff sentences, including the death penalty.
But on January 4, during a meeting with "different classes of women,” Khamenei suddenly changed his stance.
He acknowledged that a significant portion of the population, including women with loose hijab, were “shedding tears.”
"I was on a provincial trip and people came out to welcome me,” Khamenei said. “I noticed that at least a third of the population, including women who weren't wearing a proper hijab, were shedding tears. It's not fair to label them as counter-revolutionary or anti-revolutionary. How can anyone criticize their enthusiasm and eagerness to participate in religious or revolutionary ceremonies?”
“They are our daughters,” he added.
After that, Khamenei ordered the suspension of death sentences, the release of many detainees and even allowed protesting artists and students to return to work and classes.
The sudden change in Khamenei's approach was explained by a secret report on a meeting he had with commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on January 3.
The IRCG’s Warning
IranWire has obtained a confidential report about the gathering, which coincided with the third anniversary of the killing of Qassem Suleimani, the late commander of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force.
During the meeting, held fourth months after the start of the protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death in custody, senior IRGC commanders gave Khamenei a concerned assessment of Iran's security situation.
They also expressed worries about the future of the Islamic Republic.
Some commanders confirmed that most of the forces under their command refused to stand against the Iranian people and rejected orders to shoot at civilians.
The commanders also warned Khamenei about a drop in troop morale and a rise in conflicts among rank-and-file IRGC officers.
While there is no mention of this meeting on the website of Khamenei’s office, it is confirmed that the IRGC commanders traveled to Tehran to participate in a ceremony marking Suleimani's assassination.
Pictures show the commanders in a mosque of the capital where President Ebrahim Raisi gave speech.
These commanders likely met with Khamenei either on the same day or the day before.
One of the topics discussed in the meeting was the role of Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of the supreme leader, in directing and controlling security and military forces during the protests.
Yadullah Boali, the commander of Fajr Fars Corps, said Mojtaba Khamenei and his forces had distorted the country's security structure, which he claimed could have “catastrophic consequences.”
Amid reports that some forces have refused to confront protesters, the IRGC's commanders told the meeting that "rebellion" has become a problem.
Gholamali Rashidi, the commander of the central headquarters of Khatam-ul-Anbiya, revealed he had witnessed at least three instances of disobedience to orders and arbitrary actions since the beginning of the protests.
He cited one incident that “involved an individual targeting the Supreme Leader’s residence with artillery.”
Hasan Hassanzadeh, the commander of the Mohammad Rasulullah Corps of Greater Tehran, acknowledged that some conscripts and even military personnel were just "looking at the street" during protests, refusing to carry out orders.
He also complained about the security institutions’ inability to predict the extent of the protests.
The commanders also discussed corruption and widespread misconduct among senior armed force personnel. As a result, disagreements and criticisms in the units have worsened.
The deputy commander of the IRGC force in Alborz, Ehsan Khorshidi, warned his colleagues about the high level of frustration among the troops under his command.
“Recently, we have witnessed instances of disruption and aid by armed forces towards civilians,” he said, adding that a week before the meeting, a group of conscripts and a lieutenant in the Alborz units had staged a theft from a military storage facility.
But “upon investigation, security forces concluded that there was no robbery, and the agents responsible for the transfer [of items] had distributed everything among the underprivileged neighborhoods of Karaj. The suspects are currently in custody, but we're unsure of how to proceed,” Khorshidi added.
Yadullah Boali, the commander of the Fajr Fars Corps, said that the Revolutionary Guards in the province were facing an ideological crisis.
He said he had “heard from the representative of the Intelligence Department that more than 2,000 people in the province have ideological problems with the Revolutionary Guards.”
Mohsen Karimi, the commander of the Ruhollah IRGC of Markazi province, pointed out that the level of belief in the system decreased by 50 percent in the Arak military force.
He also mentioned that some of his forces were arrested and tried in court after holding protests.
Shiraz Fajr Corps’ commander Abbas Bani Khairabadi acknowledged that some of his forces considered the protests to be legitimate.
Abdullah Haji Sadeghi, the representative of the Supreme Leader in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, stated that there had been a drop of 12 percent to 68 per cent in different parts of the military force.
According to Mahmoud Mohammadi Shahroudi, the commander in charge of paramilitary Basij seminary students, around 5,000 members have left the organization in recent months.
The high-ranking officials and commanders also discussed the issues of corruption within the IRGC and the economic crisis in Iran.
Rahim Aghdam, who leads the Hazrat Zainab Quds Force’s base in Syria, warned about the impact of ideological issues on the operational and intelligence capacities of the Iranian forces.
He said that some Quds Force members may have sold information to Israel.
Nematullah Bagheri, the deputy commander of Hazrat Vali Asr Khuzestan Army, reported that the Ahvaz Army has witnessed seven protests, with two of them leading to clashes and arrests.
Zahedan Army commander Khodarahm Sarani drew attention to the economic crisis in the impoverished southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan and said that some IRGC members had engaged in financial corruption.
He cited the case of a Revolutionary Guard who owned the same expensive watch as the son of Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
“When forces under my command come to my office, show me the watch on the wrist of Mr. Shamkhani's son and tell me that the price of this watch represents four years of salary in the armed forces, I, the commander, cannot give an answer,” he said.
Ghadratullah Karimian, the deputy commander of the Amir al-Momineen Corps in Ilam province, criticized Shamkhani's instruction to "hit and calm" protesters, which he said was unacceptable.
He also wondered how they “could answer to God for such actions.”
Shamkhani, in response, accused the IRGC of financial corruption. He claimed that some commanders' children have monthly expenses exceeding 1 billion tomans.
He further revealed that according to a judiciary investigation, over 10,000 children of the country's managers, commanders and officials were involved in economic activities.
Army Commanders Considered Guilty
The IRGC commanders' complaints and warnings were not well received by some of the other attendees.
Mohammed Hossein Nejat, the deputy commander of the Sarullah Base, addressed the disaffected commanders, saying, "If a commander believes that his ability to command his forces has weakened or that the country's problems have created financial or ideological issues, he can submit a two-line resignation or use other means to deliver his message."
Awaz Shahabifar, the military adviser of the Quds Force in Iraq, said that “these conversations show that you object to the leadership.”
“We were supposed to stand by the leader's side in difficult times," he continued.
Khamenei addressed the meeting for 40 minutes, but the leaked document did not provide a detailed account of his response to the commanders. However, he did promise to address the economic problems the IRGC and Basij forces are facing.
Nearly a month later, it was announced that the annual budget for the IRGC, military and intelligence forces would be increased by 52 percent. An exemption of all ranks of the Basij from paying taxes for electricity, gas, water and income taxes was also decided.
During the meeting, Mahmoud Charaghabadi, who leads the Quds Force's missile base, expressed concern over the participation of IRGC family members in the protests.
"My forces become hesitant when they receive bad news about their families,” he said. “The arrest of their family members is particularly significant. How can my forces, who are on the frontline of the Islamic Republic against infidelity and falsehood, take precise actions when their spouses, sisters, brothers or fathers are in detention?"
Charaghabadi added, "My martyrdom-seeking forces have left the battlefields and are waiting for the release of their spouses from [Tehran’s] Evin Prison."
IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami called for the release of the IRGC members’ relatives, saying it could “reduce the anger” among the armed forces.
In response, Khamenei instructed the head of the judiciary to issue orders to facilitate the release of these relatives and expedite their cases.
Khamenei’s order was the prelude to an “amnesty” that freed some of those detainees during the protests.
This meeting had other consequences, including a softening of the Islamic Republic's hostility toward Saudi Arabia and a desire to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
And after the meeting, the leader of the Islamic Republic for the first time spoke publicly about a wave of poisonings at girls’ schools.
Related article: Exclusive: IRGC Commanders Warn Khamenei About Implosion