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“The nation will stun the world on the 22nd of Bahman.” Those were the exact words of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei giving a speech to the commanders, fighter-pilots, and personnel of the Air Force division of the Iranian Army on Sunday. What was more stunning to some was the ambiguity of support the Leader received from the Army, with parallels to the events of the last anti-authoritarian challenge in Iran.
Exactly 31 years ago, a fairly large number of the Imperial Iranian Air Force, Homafaran, defected and lent their support to Ayatollah Khomeini in the revolutionary days of Iran. That was a significant build up to the movement that toppled the Pahlavi Dynasty only three days later on February 11, 1979; a day which many believe changed the political dynamics of the Middle-East forever.
The Iranian Army has a history of neutrality when it comes to internal disputes, and has repeatedly refused to pick up arms against its own citizens. That culture and attitude is still alive today. The Iranian Army, which includes its own ground, air, and naval forces, is the only military wing of the armed forces of Iran that has stayed out of the post-election battle for power. Every other armed group including the police, commanded by the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has contributed support to the brutal post-election crack down inside Iran. Taking into account the sensitivity of the political arena in Iran today, a lack of clear support for Ayatollah Khamenei, the “Supreme Commander of Armed Forces” of Iran, is an audacious move by all accounts.
Contrary to the photographs printed in the hard-line media that suggest nothing but obedience to the Supreme Leader, the content of the report presented by the commander of the Air Force had no reference to the current political affairs of the Islamic Republic. According to the pro-government newspapers, the report only had a summary of military advancements in recent military exercises. Ayatollah Khamenei would have appreciated a more concrete support, especially during the symbolic period leading up to Feb. 11.
The Army has a reputation among Iranians for being a “sanctuary for the people” in difficult times. In an anonymous recent statement that circulated in the internet, many high ranking Army officers from across the country expressed outrage at the brutality of the IRGC and all the forces under its wing during the recent crackdowns. The statement specifically mentioned that even though the Army has taken an oath to stay away from politics, it will not be quiet against violence toward its own countrymen.
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