Anti-protest tactics that worked in 2009 have a fatal flaw that Iranians failed to test

Iran’s generals have spent a great deal of time, money and practice on the assumption that what worked in 2009 should work even better next time in consequence. They have purchased more motorcycles, more shields and more tear gas. They are confident in their ability to “handle” demonstrators and let Iranians know it. Believing so, Iranians are slow to rebel. However, this assumption, shared by both sides, only holds until you look closely at Syria’s uprising and ask, “What isn’t there that used to be?” Assad originally employed Khamenei-style insurrection tactics but rarely does so now unless FSA presence is minimal. We need to ask why.


The Syrians PROVED that Khamenei’s favored counterinsurgency tactics can be undone by even a handful of determined and lightly armed defectors (aka People Protectors) . First because urban combat exacts a heavy toll on even elite and well-equipped troops and their armored vehicles let alone untrained paramilitary scum or unmotivated troops. Secondly it enables furtherl defections (always welcome) That partly explains why the regime relies on types with no scruples. Once deprived of a “freebie environment,” any thug astride a motorcycle may as wear a “Shoot me! Shoot me!” sign.

In 2009 Khamenei—unlike Assad–was never pushed by the opposition into tactics where his “superior” forces stand at a distance, pound a neighborhood to rubble and then move in to loot, smash up whatever remains and massacre surviving non-combattants. If Khamenei is forced into the same boomerang approach, I doubt the outside world will tolerate such behavior for long in Iran’s case thanks mostly to geographical and endless revenge motives.


Unless the Islamic Republic can end any uprising before defections start, it is a dead duck. By contrast, the opposition needs to keep things going until defectors manage to killl a few paramilitary thugs and drivie them off. That will require Syrian-style courage. Even one success could suffice to get the snowball in motion. Such momentum, once underway, can go in only one direction. Hence tiny victories are a big deal far beyond the relatively miniscule number of casualties inflicted. The news encourages others to defect, demoralizes a thrashed militia and emboldens the populace.


1. The initial outbreak must be spontaneous and unexpected (which is why the 2009 demonstrations actually worked at first).

2. Protests must be wide, nationwide and continuous, allowing regime forces no “tea breaks.” You don’t see Syria’s opposition making that big 2009 mistake. Surprise is always best.

3. Iranians too must rely BOTH on peaceful protests and a combat arm.

The effect of perceived weakness or vulnerability on this harsh regime is what one might expect if Khamenei were a hardened, tatooed convict and someone pushed a thin young inmate into his cell. The mistaken assumption that violence favors any regime so well-armed and unscrupulous is flawed by simplicity. Heavy weapons work best when employed against other conventional forces. If anything, they are counter-effective when employed against a hit-and-run insurrection. Even tanks are vulnerable. The regime weapons also require soldiers trained and motivated to use them. Who can be inspired by hated officers are vicious mullahs?


Yes. That’s why one should borrow what worked for Syrians and adjust for all variables, favorable or not. The good news for Iranians is that the former applies in this case. That should reduce the length, losses and destruction from the Second Iranian Revolution. I’ve pointed out why in several past posts. but will do so in a subpost here upon re

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