MESOPOTAMIA NEWS ANALYSIS : Iran’s Reserve  of Last Resort


Executive Summary – Qassem Soleimani’s death, the prospect of further

11 Febr 2020 – US-Iranian military escalation, and the reemergence of large protests in Iran in recent months raise the question of Iran’s capacity to conduct military operations beyond its borders while suppressing dissent within them. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces are Tehran’s reserve of last resort for both internal and external security challenges. They fought extensively in Syria in 2015–16  and could be used to crush domestic opposition in the last extreme, although they have not yet fully taken on that role. Their capabilities are limited by both their need to remain available to meet internal challenges to regime survival and their reliance on other paramilitary forces to fill out their ranks. They would likely be challenged to handle a large-scale regional conflict at the same time as major domestic unrest, potentially forcing the regime to choose between maintaining internal stability and continuing some external military operations.

  • The IRGC Ground Forces are organized around headquarters that are meant to coordinate the operations of Iranian paramilitary forces and support the Quds Force’s use of proxy groups such as Iraqi Shi’a militias abroad.
  • Their basing in Iran indicates a primary focus on suppressing internal unrest and waging irregular warfare in the rear of an invader rather than on defending against an invasion conventionally.
  • Their organizational structure and the pattern of their operations in Syria suggest that they might be challenged to coordinate large-scale (multi- division) operations abroad and possibly at home.
  • The fact that the Iranian leadership has not yet had to use them on a large scale to suppress growing domestic unrest suggests that the regime still has a potent reserve force to ensure its survival even if the unrest grows considerably, as long as it does not also face a requirement for large-scale military operations abroad.


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