Discontent over Iran's plummeting economy, the regime's handling of the coronavirus crisis, rampant unemployment, water shortages and rolling blackouts has fueled protests across Iran in recent months.
As Iranians take to the streets to demonstrate for their rights and press for their demands to be met, the regime's security apparatus has mobilised to suppress the protests and forcibly assert its authority.
Protests that erupted nationwide in November 2019 after a sudden, drastic hike in fuel prices saw the regime imposing control only via a ruthless crackdown that left at least 304 people dead, according to Amnesty International.
More recently, security forces fatally shot at least four people during protests in Khuzestan on July 15, which spread to Tehran, Karaj, Tabriz and Esfahan, along with smaller protests in a few other cities.
In response to the protests, the regime deployed special riot police and used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to suppress demonstrators.
During recent and past protests, the regime has relied heavily on the IRGC, as well as on the IRGC-affiliated paramilitary Basij Resistance Forces, to crack down on popular dissent.
Yet observers have noted that the IRGC is under increasing strain, with its overseas arm -- the Quds Force (IRGC-QF) -- stretched almost to a breaking point in pursuit of the Iranian regime's expansionist policies.
As it attempts to further the regime's agenda in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and beyond, the IRGC-QF is grappling with funding shortfalls that have left it unable to pay fighters with affiliated militias competitive salaries -- if at all.
Meanwhile, analysts have questioned the efficacy of Tehran's military strategy and the overall preparedness of the Iranian armed forces, describing its approach to military funding as "problematic".
Parallel military organisations
Further complicating the situation is Iran's insistence on maintaining two parallel military organisations -- the conventional military and the IRGC, formed from militias that fought in the 1979 revolution in support of Rouhollah Khomeini.
The regime pays very little attention and minimal respect to the traditional armed forces, known as Artesh, and the budget allocated to these forces is much lower than that of the IRGC, especially the IRGC-QF. That budget has been shrinking even more over the past decade.
There are built-in tensions between the IRGC and the conventional military, in addition to the disparity in funding, which is becoming more pronounced as Iran's economy falters.
According to a former Iranian navy analyst who did not wish to be named, the regime is "effectively trying to fund two militaries".
"This means the conventional military is underfunded in all areas: training, equipment, weapons and hardware," he said.
Earlier this year, it came to light that Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, the speaker of Iran's parliament (Majles), and several other senior figures had secretly tampered with Iran's annual budget.
As a result of the budget tampering, hundreds of millions of dollars went to the IRGC and allied institutions that function directly under Iranian leader Ali Khamenei.
Even without the additional funds, the Iranian regime's preference for the IRGC has seen the force claiming the lion's share of the country's military budget, at the expense of the Iranian people.
The public has been grappling with economic woes such as unemployment and the regime's failure to help Iranians with their financial needs amid the constant worsening of the pandemic, as well as stagflation and the free fall of the Iranian rial.
The rial's exchange rate was 70 per $1 in 1979 and for a short period after the Islamic Revolution. Now, it is 280,000 IRR per $1 on the black market.
Observers say this has kicked off a vicious cycle, in which the people grow poorer and discontent rises as a result of the regime's misplaced priorities.
Unless something changes, this cycle of dissent and repression will continue, they added, wearing down the IRGC and eroding its ability to maintain order.
Ultimately, they added, this could destabilise or even topple the Iranian regime.