The Iran File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.
Law Enforcement Readies for Next Round of Anti-Regime Protests
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Forecast: The Iranian regime fears renewed massive and possibly more violent protests as the November 5 date for the reimposition of more U.S. sanctions and the anniversary of last year's widespread Dey Protests approach. It is militarizing the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) -- its main non-military means of controlling riots and protests -- in preparation for such demonstrations, but this effort could backfire. The regime has been trying to boost border security by up-gunning and reinforcing its border guards in the face of increasing cross-border attacks. It will likely continue to militarize the LEF with advanced and sophisticated military equipment partly under the cover of this border-protection effort. More heavy-handed and deadly LEF responses to popular, relatively non-violent protest movements could instead cause an escalatory spiral of violence, however. The regime will still focus on suppressing protests with non-lethal means but is preparing itself for more violent and threatening future protests. Its moves to militarize the LEF suggest both a lack of confidence in its ability to control protests peacefully and a willingness to kill protesters on a larger scale than in the past.
Iran is militarizing its domestic police forces with high-end military equipment in preparation for violent, anti-regime protests. The LEF serves as the regime’s front-line security force for internal security challenges. Iranian police have faced large, sometimes deadly protest movements since the outbreak of the Dey Protests in late December 2017. Those protests highlighted key security flaws, particularly within smaller towns and cities. The LEF may face a similar eruption of widespread, anti-regime demonstrations as the anniversary of the Dey Protests and the re-imposition of more American sanctions near. The LEF is pre-emptively preparing more lethal responses to any such demonstrations.
Parliament *increased the LEF budget for the current Persian Calendar year in March 2018 by 200 percent. Parliament also increased a budgetary line item related to the LEF’s “purchase of weapons, equipment, and strengthening of enforcement stamina” by 400 percent. The Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and the LEF signed a *cooperative agreement that same month. MODAFL *delivered 12 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and six helicopters to the LEF on October 9. Defense Minister Artesh Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami emphasized that MODAFL and Iran’s defense industries are prepared to support the LEF in their “dangerous and sensitive” operations and that the ministry was ready to deliver armaments, drones, helicopters, and electronic systems to the LEF.
The regime will also leverage additional funding ostensibly aimed at improving border security to suppress internal protests, especially among disenfranchised minorities in Iran’s border provinces. Parliament increased the LEF Border Guards Command budget when it increased the general LEF budget. The LEF Border Guards frequently clash with anti-regime insurgents based in Iraqi Kurdistan and Pakistan. The LEF Border Guards may also use its additional funds and equipment to suppress ethnic minority communities in restive Iranian border provinces such as Khuzestan and Kurdistan during future protests. Khuzestan Province, home to millions of socially- and economically-marginalized Iranian Arabs, has already seen a number of violent protests and could serve as a center of future widespread anti-regime protests. The regime will likely deliver more advanced weapon technologies and armored gear to local LEF units in Khuzestan and Kurdistan, such as armored-protected vehicles and drones, under the guise of boosting border security.
Increased border insecurity will stoke additional violence that could bleed into more violent anti-regime protests. The regime's fears for its border security are not misplaced. Iran’s border regions in western and southeastern Iran have experienced an increase in border violence. Anti-regime separatist groups linked to historically-marginalized Kurdish, Arab, and Sunni Baloch minorities, have claimed several attacks in recent months and will continue their attacks against regime assets. The "Army of Justice" active in Sistan and Baluchistan Province attacked Iranian security services in southwestern Iran and *kidnapped 14 Iranian armed forces members, including five border guards, on October 16. The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) claimed an *attack on October 14 in western Kermanshah Province near the Iran-Iraqi Kurdistan border. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) responded to recent border violence in northwestern Iran by launching ballistic missile strikes and drone operations into Iraqi Kurdistan. The regime may make a similar *response in Pakistan.
Escalatory violence between regime security forces and anti-regime groups may carry over into ongoing protest movements throughout Iran’s minority communities. The LEF’s use of more advanced weaponry against protesters may actually elicit more violence. Anti-regime insurgents -- who seek to capitalize on widespread discontent among Iranian minorities -- will try to exploit increased violence and more heavy-handed regime suppression of ethnically-composed protests to gain recruits and garner support within disaffected minority communities. The regime seems to be girding for a fight with its own people.