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Thursday, June 25, 2009

U.S. Navy Hangs Back in Persian Gulf as Questions Mount About Defecting Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard are showing "discontent," according to the former crown prince of Iran, as the U.S. Navy sits back in "non-incident mode" in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Department of Defense is "on edge" over the turmoil in Iran, and has directed U.S. naval assets in the Persian Gulf to be, in layman's terms, in "non-incident mode," military officials told FOX News Monday.

Meanwhile, the former crown prince of Iran contended that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard are showing "discontent" and some are "contemplating the contingency" of defying the regime in the wake of the Islamic Republic's disputed presidential election.

U.S. military commanders are said to have been instructed to be alert to any possibility of a clash with Iranian naval assets, and to position themselves in such a way as to diminish the ability of Iran to stage an incident, however small, that could be used to rally the support of the Iranian people to the regime and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose backers are accused of voter fraud in the national election 10 days ago.

A Defense Department official told FOX News that U.S. Central Command has sent a message to all Navy service members in the Persian Gulf region that they are "expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner and to avoid any unnecessary escalation or confrontation" with Iranian ships or other military assets.

"Given the heightened sensitivities in Tehran we don't want to feed into what is already a very tense situation on their side," the official said.

Currently the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower in in the Northern Arabian Sea supporting Operation Enduring Freedom F-18 flight missions along with its battle group, which consists of multiple support ships. Roughly half a dozen Navy ships, including destroyers, are located in the Persian Gulf.

President Obama said in an interview broadcast Monday that he wants the U.S. to stand back so that it doesn't become "a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States.

"There should be no distractions from the fact that the Iranian people are seeking to let their voices be heard," he told CBS' "Early Show."

Elsewhere, Reza Pahlavi, whose father was the shah overthrown in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, called the Iranian regime a "sinking Titanic" and said that the Islamic system may not survive the piercing demands for democracy and human rights echoing on the streets.

Based on anecdotes, reports and conversations he claims to have had with those inside the Iranian establishment, Pahlavi said security forces are beginning to distance themselves from the regime.

"We're not going to wake up tomorrow and see that everybody from the Revolutionary Guard is now suddenly on the side of the people. It has to start trickling in. The good news is that it has already started," he said, during an emotional talk at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C.

He cited stories of security forces members who are putting on plain clothes after their shifts and joining the protests in the streets. He said one of the Guard's "higher echelon members" reportedly said he cannot "morally" stand by the current system.

"Many, many elements within the security forces, within the Revolutionary Guard are showing discontent," Pahlavi said. "There is an amazing reflection that is happening. ... This is a movement that has blown out of proportion."

But a well placed contact who cannot be identified because of a lack of authorization to speak publicly told FOX News that anecdotal reports of wavering among the security forces are seen as just that -- and until concrete evidence appears of members defecting or officers refusing to take their posts, it is difficult to have a high degree of confidence in such claims.

It's unclear whether such an internal uprising would or could come to fruition. Riot police were cracking down on hundreds of demonstrators Monday, as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, issued its toughest warning so far -- telling protesters to be prepared for a "revolutionary confrontation" with them and other forces, including a government-backed militia.

More significantly, the source who spoke to FOX News said the regime is attempting to break the momentum of the protests through threats and intimidation, such as pre-positioning troops on the streets and using tear gas to disperse the crowds. The regime understands that "dropping the hammer" will create more problems and may in fact embolden the protesters, the source said.

Even Pahlavi warned that the regime has a separate backup force on reserve in case it needs to employ it.

But Pahlavi said the demonstrations in Iran reveal "almost a revolutionary climate," and he urged the international community to continue to draw attention to the turmoil and express support for those protesting. He said he was satisfied with the statements made by Obama, though some U.S. lawmakers have criticized him as being too timid and passive in his support for the protesters.

Pahlavi said a loss for the demonstrators could be devastating and give rise to even more extremist elements in Iran. But he said the "movement" that bloomed after the election will not die, and represents far more than a challenge to one disputed election.

"It will not succeed immediately ... but let me assure you it will not die, because we will not let it die," Pahlavi said. He accused the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of blocking the moment but warned: "It will not stand. The citizens of Iran will not stand it. And in the end, he will not stand."

Pahlavi, who teared up as he discussed the deaths of Iranians in the wake of the government's crackdown, said the "movement" will not rest until there is "unfettered democracy and human rights in Iran."

But he said security forces, as well as opposition leaders like Mir Hossein Mousavi -- whose supporters have flooded the streets claiming Mousavi's election loss to Ahmadinejad was rigged -- will have to take a firm stand with or against the regime. He said people like Mousavi cannot claim to be for the people on the streets and at the same time support the current theocratic system.

"The moment of truth has arrived in Iran. Iranians need to know who stands with them and who stands against them," he said.'s Judson Berger and FOX News' Catherine Herridge, James Rosen, Jennifer Griffin and Justin Fishel contributed to this report.

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