Qassem Soleimani’s death, the prospect of further 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.