The new session of Supreme Council of Commanders and Officials of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), on the eve of the death of Mahsa Amini, has received more attention than the previous sessions. In his August 17 meeting with the IRGC’s senior commanders, a year after one of the most unprecedented periods of protests in Iran, the 84-year-old Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, warned that “multiple crises” could lie ahead and told the commanders they must not be conceited over their achievements.
This was the first public gathering of IRGC commanders in four years, after the assassination of General Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the expeditionary Quds Force, by an American drone strike on him in Baghdad in January 2020. But unlike on previous occasions, and unexpectedly, Khamenei made just a passing reference to Soleimani in his statements. He did not even address specific major issues related to the IRGC and instead focused on its weaknesses and strengths in only general terms.
One of Khamenei’s major worries is the further spread of corruption in the IRGC – as well as leaks on this corruption by rival factions within the Guards. One example of this was the leak of an audio clip, in 2022, of a recording of IRGC commanders squabbling over embezzled cash from Tehran.
Khamenei is also worried about escalating tensions between the IRGC’s rival factions. His concern was illustrated during the last presidential elections, over the candidacy of Brigadier General Saeed Mohammad, the commander of IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters at the time, when General Yadollah Javani, head of the political bureau of the IRGC, opposed his candidacy and announced that General Mohammad had been dismissed from his command.
But the Supreme Leader meanwhile mentioned efforts in Europe to designate the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization only indirectly – when he called it “the largest counter-terrorist organization in the world”.
Following the outbreak of protests in 2022, extensive efforts were made to put the Revolutionary Guards on the European list of terrorist groups and, in January, the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution to include of the IRGC on the European Union’s list of terrorist groups.
But Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, meanwhile have said that there are no legal grounds to list Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist organization.
Efforts to do so nevertheless continue in the United Kingdom. Reports emerged recently that the UK Foreign Secretary is against such a move and believes in the necessity of keeping communication channels with the Islamic Republic open. On the other hand, the UK’s Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, and Minister of State for Security Thomas Tugendhat, support placing the IRGC on the list of terrorist organizations.
Khamenei did speak about subjects such as the economic activities of the IRGC, during the meeting, a subject that he has spoken about in the past few years as well, but this time around he also warned the commanders against “missteps”.
The Supreme Council of IRGC Commanders
This was the 24th session of the Supreme Council of Commanders and Officials of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. President Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, speaker of the parliament, were also present.
The council was formed after 1985 Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1985 order to organize the Revolutionary Guards’ forces in three branches; ground, air and sea. It was to meet once every two years and, since 1991, 20 sessions were held under the leadership of Ali Khamenei. The last meeting of this council was in 2019 and it took four years to meet again although, starting in 2021, Khamenei did meet with the commanders on various occasions.
One reason for this delay could be that the Revolutionary Guards have been busy after the November 2019 protests, including the 2021 presidential election. The delay could also have been the result of the change in the command of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization and other changes to command posts.
In the meetings of the Supreme Council of the IRGC Commanders, usually senior government officials, the minister of intelligence and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council also deliver speeches. There are also side meetings to provide information to commanders. Some of the meetings are about subjects that relate to the IRGC itself and others are about issues that concern the whole country.
Khamenei Sidesteps the “Woman, Life, Freedom” Protests
Although this session of the council was held on the eve of the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini and the protests that followed, the Supreme Leader sidestepped the protests. Nevertheless, he told the commanders that they must not become conceited because of their achievements and said that Western countries want to create successive crises for Iran. He added that Western countries create crises in Iran, “one day under the pretext of fuel [prices] and another day under the pretext of women,” a curt reference to 2019 and 2022 nationwide protests.
“This is not the day to become tired and lose hope; this is the day for enthusiasm, hope and action,” Khamenei told his audience.
The Supreme Leader may believe that, this year, the protests will not be as widespread as last year and that he must not bring up the subject himself. He may also not have wished the protests to cast a dark shadow over his speech to the commanders. And he has already made his views on the protests clear in a speech, in November 2022, at Imam Hassan Mojtaba Police Training and Officer University, in which he called the protesters “traitors”, “thugs”, “ruffians”, “garbage”, “foreigners’ lackeys” and “insects” but, at the same time, “insignificant”.
Also present at the meeting was Interior Minister Amad Vahidi, a former IRGC brigadier general who, along with the National Security Council, was responsible for the crackdown on last year’s protest. He may be a civilian now, but he attended the meeting in a military uniform.
A Repeat of 2019 Statements
Khamenei’s statements at this year’s meeting were similar to his statements at the last session four years ago. General Soleimani was in that meeting and, as it happens, sitting next to him was Jamaleddin Aberumand, chairman of the IRGC Cooperative Foundation. Aberumand’s name came up in a leaked recording of a meeting of IRGC commanders who discussed massive financial corruption during Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s tenure as mayor of Tehran involving the foundation and Yas Holding Company.
The contents of this audio clip showed that General Soleimani was unhappy with how the Yas Holding Company’s gang and Jamaleddin Aberumand had been dragged into the corruption scandal. In this year’s meeting a video clip of Soleimani at the 2019 meeting was displayed; but, as reported, Khamenei made only a passing reference to the him when he praised him and a couple of other IRGC “martyrs” as “everlasting” models, in brief sentences.
It was after the 2019 session that a series of momentous events took place– the November 2019 protests, the assassination of General Soleimani and the downing of the Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 by the IRGC Aerospace Force, killing all 176 civilians onboard. Khamenei largely did not mention these events and repeated some of what he had said in 2019. He also made no mention of what led to the 2022 dismissal of Hossein Taeb, head of the IRGC’ Intelligence Organization, after 13 years on the job.
“The first word of advice is that you should not allow the Guards to age and to become conservative. The Guards Corps should not age,” he said in 2019, and added: “Of course, there is growth and decay everywhere and the Guards Corps is not an exception, but the main point is to see if there are more cases of growth [than] decay. I would definitely say that in the case of the Guards Corps, victory belongs to the growth part in a clear manner. The movement was a movement towards growth, progress and transcendence.”
And this year, like in 2019, he also praised the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters and the social activities of the Revolutionary Guards.
The only new theme in Khamenei’s August 17 speech, perhaps, was perhaps his warning over missteps and complacency. “Everyone is prone to mis-stepping. All organizations are prone to missteps, to complacency, to pride and to various misguided tendencies like these. Everyone is like this, except the saints. We are all prone to these – all bosses, all managers, all leaders, all commanders – so we need self-protection. Above everything else, we need to guard ourselves. This self-protection is called ‘piety’ in the culture of the Quran.”
This statement by the Supreme Leader can be seen as a warning aimed at financial corruption in the IRGC in recent years. Years ago, in the 1990s, he had also warned the IRGC about this when it had started its economic activities but much less so in recent years.