Iran's Quds Force plays key role in power quest

JCPA study: Hizbullah chief Nasrallah coordinates his actions directly with the Iranian leadership.

nasrallah good 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
nasrallah good 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran has rejected US accusations that the highest levels of the Iranian leadership have armed insurgents in Iraq with armor-piercing roadside bombs. "Such accusations cannot be relied upon or be presented as evidence. The United States has a long history in fabricating evidence. Such charges are unacceptable," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Ali Hosseini told reporters. US military officials in Baghdad accuse Iran's leaders of arming Shi'ite gunmen in Iraq with the sophisticated bombs that have killed more than 200 troops from the American-led coalition. The deadly and highly sophisticated weapons the US military said it traced to Teheran are known as "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs. Three senior military officials in Baghdad said the "machining process" used in their construction had been traced to Iran. But Hosseini says Iran's top leaders were not intervening in Iraq and considered "any intervention in Iraq's internal affairs as a weakening of the popular Iraqi government, and we are opposed to that." A US military presentation in Baghdad last month said the arms supply operation began with Iran's Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, which they said reports directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The US officials in Baghdad say the EFPs, as well as Iranian-made mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades, have been supplied to "rogue elements" of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a key backer of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. US President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace have been unwilling to say the US had specific intelligence indicating that Quds (Jerusalem) Force operations in Iraq have been approved by the Iranian leadership. The debate over the nature of the Quds Force and its links to Teheran may benefit from an analysis of Israel's experience battling the Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force and Iranian proxies like Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whether in Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, or elsewhere. Senior Israeli military and intelligence officials have with a high degree of certainty linked Iran's senior leadership with direct involvement over the past 15 years in Quds Force operations against Israel. The Force carries out these types of attacks across the Middle East, in an attempt to export the Islamic revolution and to establish a Shi'ite crescent through which Iran can assert regional hegemony. The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini set up the Revolutionary Guards with a separate military command structure linked tightly to Iran's new Islamic leadership, whose loyalty to the revolution could not be in doubt. The Guards came to be entrusted with the regime's most sensitive forces and weapon systems, including weapons of mass destruction, Iran's ballistic missile program, and its foreign insurgency operations. The IDF identified a Quds Force presence near Baalbek, Lebanon, last summer, where there has been a Revolutionary Guards presence since it founded Hizbullah there in 1982. During the recent war, up to 250 Quds Force trainers were in Lebanon assisting Hizbullah. Since then, Iran has increased direct support for Hamas, pledging $250 million in October, including $100m. to pay Palestinian Authority salaries for six months. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members have been shuttled to Iran for training at Revolutionary Guards camps. The Quds Force has also reportedly set up training camps in the Gaza Strip. he debate in Washington still rages over whether the increasing use of armor-piercing bombs by Iraqi insurgents constitutes sufficient evidence to implicate Iran's top leadership. The debate has been sharpened by the January capture in Iraq of five Iranian members of the Quds Force, including a top commander. There is now no doubt that the Force is active in Iraq. The question being asked in Washington is whether these units are operating with the explicit approval of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. A difference of opinion has emerged within the Bush administration. On the one hand, three senior US intelligence analysts and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow have linked the Revolutionary Guards operations in Iraq directly to supreme leader Ali Khamenei and Iran's "senior government leadership." On the other hand, Bush and Gates, following the lead of Pace, have not been willing to say the US has specific intelligence indicating that Quds Force operations in Iraq have been approved by the top leaders in Teheran. This narrow distinction over exactly how high within the Iranian government hierarchy the US should point an accusatory finger over involvement in Iraq has triggered a wave of media reaction questioning the credibility of the administration's assessments regarding the Revolutionary Guards, the Quds Force, and Iran's role in Iraq in general. A recent New York Times analysis by Scott Shane suggested that the Quds Force might be a rogue operation disconnected from the Iranian leadership. A February 15 Newsweek article called US evidence on the Force questionable, confused and ambiguous, and instead proposed a far-reaching interpretation of Iranian activity in Iraq as part of a diplomatic mission to assist the Iraqi government in its relations with the Shi'ite militias. The most forgiving report came from CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who said: "All the other embassies around the world have their cultural, diplomatic, scientific, educational and military attaches. I'm told members of the Quds Force are operational and officially sanctioned in many, many places in such a way." This analysis makes the Quds Force appear as a group of relatively innocuous junior diplomats. Evidence of Iranian export of terror The Quds Force was set up as a special unit of the Revolutionary Guards in the late 1980s to export the Islamic revolution beyond Iran's borders. From that point, when the Guards operated abroad, it did so through the Quds Force. There is compelling evidence linking the Iranian leadership to foreign terrorism throughout the 1990s. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, foreign minister Ali-Akbar Velayati, and intelligence minister Ali Fallahiyan were implicated by a German court in 1997 for the 1992 murder of four Iranian Kurdish leaders at the Mykonos caf in Berlin. There is also conclusive evidence of direct linkage between the Iranian leadership and the Quds Force in the 1994 terror bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Argentina that killed 85 people and wounded 151. On October 25, 2006, Argentina's state prosecutor issued international arrest warrants for Rafsanjani, Velayati and Fallahiyan, as well as former Guards commander Mohsen Rezai, head of the Quds special operations unit Ahmad Vahidi, and Imad Fayaz Moughnieh, who headed the external security service of Iran's proxy Hizbullah, which was found to be directly responsible for the attack. The Argentine indictment also asserted that the AMIA terror attack was approved by Khamenei. There is also strong evidence of close cooperation between the Iranian leadership and the Guards in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US servicemen and wounded 372. Ahmadinejad oversees the presentation of Guards plans for operations outside Iran's borders to Khamenei for final approval. The Quds Force in the Hizbullah war The Quds Force posed a formidable challenge to Israel during and after the second Lebanon war due to its use of sophisticated and deceptive methods to disguise its terrorist activities. High-ranking IDF sources say the Force, under the command of Qassem Suleimani, has been responsible for Iranian military activity and for directing Palestinian terrorist organizations in Syria and throughout the region. Iranian support for Hizbullah through the Quds Force includes $100m. to $200m. annually, training in Lebanon and Iran, and the supply of advanced weapons and intelligence on Israel. Quds Force members also frequently work as Iranian diplomats and use the Iranian embassy in Damascus as a covert logistics base and to coordinate weapons smuggling and other terrorist activities. Iranian dissident sources also say the Quds Force uses Iranian embassies, cultural and economic institutions, charities, companies and other fronts to hide their operations. Hizbullah, like the Revolutionary Guards, does not operate as an independent actor. Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah is Khamenei's personal emissary and coordinates his actions directly with the senior Iranian leadership. Operatively, Hizbullah coordinates terror actions with the Iranian leadership via Revolutionary Guards Brig.-Gen. Suleimani, head of all Quds operations and a special adviser to Khamenei on Iraq. Imad Moughnieh, Hizbullah's chief of international operations, maintains strong ties to Iranian military intelligence and was named by senior IDF Military Intelligence figures as a main interlocutor with Iran during the 2006 summer war. Moughnieh's long-standing links to the Iranian leadership are clear. He carried out the 1994 bombing of the Argentinean Jewish Community Center under direct instructions of Khamenei and Iranian intelligence. In 2002, Moughnieh was instructed by Khamenei to purchase the Karine A weapons ship that Khamenei himself ordered to sail to Gaza but which was intercepted by the IDF. In view of the massive funding and direction received by Hizbullah from Teheran, it is unlikely that Hizbullah's ambush-kidnapping of two Israeli reservists on July 12 and the subsequent rocket attacks on Israel would have been carried out without permission from the senior Iranian leadership. According to the IDF, Quds Force operatives in Lebanon launched an Iranianmanufactured copy of a Chinese C802 radar-guided missile that hit the INS Hanit on July 14, killing four crew members. Since 2004, Iran has trained around 3,000 Hizbullah fighters in Revolutionary Guards training bases in Teheran, Isfahan, Mashhad and Ahvaz, including nearly all its mid- and senior-level officers. According to Iranian news reports, hundreds of Iranian engineers and technicians were brought into Lebanon during last summer's war in the guise of domestic servants for local Iranian diplomats. They and Revolutionary Guards operatives built ammunition storerooms that also held large numbers of missiles. Iran also supplied medium-range rockets to Hizbullah including Iranian-manufactured, 250-kilometerrange Zelzal rockets. Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, currently director of Iran's Headquarters for Palestinian Intifada Support and former Iranian Ambassador to Syria, confirmed the Iranian delivery of Zelzal rockets to Hizbullah. According to IDF sources, the Quds Force in Lebanon had operational control over Hizbullah's medium-range missile launchers. Iran also supplied other highly sophisticated weaponry including a generous supply of anti-tank ordinance. Since the war, Iran has continued to send weapons to Hizbullah via Damascus International Airport. Iranian authorities have also reportedly supplied Hizbullah with Iranian-made NOOR radar-guided anti-ship cruise missiles and Chinese QW1 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Iranian cooperation with Palestinian terror ince the second Lebanon war, the Quds Force has reportedly set up training camps in the Gaza Strip modeled after the Murabitun Revolutionary Guards training centers in Iran. Khamenei met personally with Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah on the sidelines of a 2002 conference in Teheran in support of the intifada and "promised to increase Iran's funding for for the organization by 70 percent to cover the expense of recruiting young Palestinians for suicide operations." Since Ahmadinejad's election, Iran has tightened its cooperation with Palestinian terrorist groups to create Iranian terror platforms in Gaza and in the West Bank. PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh referred to Iran as Hamas's strategic depth upon his return to Gaza from Teheran with $35m. in cash packed into suitcases. Israeli security officials have noted substantial increases in the supply of Iranian weaponry, training, and financing to the Palestinians since Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in September 2005. Israel's interception of the Iranian Karine A arms ship in 2002 is perhaps the clearest illustration of direct involvement of the Iranian leadership in terrorism against Israel. The decision to dispatch the ship with 50 tons of weaponry was taken jointly by Khamenei and PA chairman Yassir Arafat, while the Quds Force was responsible for packing and loading the weapons on to the Iranian-owned vessel. The Iranians have been working through the Revolutionary Guards, Hizbullah and Hamas to recreate in Gaza the Jihad al-Bina system they established in Lebanon to infiltrate the civil affairs infrastructure and to create what is in essence another Iranian province where every major Iranian ministry maintains a branch office. Iran even offered the PA a substantial discount on Karine A weaponry in return for being able to run a hospital and other social welfare organizations in Gaza to build grassroots support among the Palestinian public. For Iran, Gaza is now a ripe opportunity to gain a humanitarian foothold as a cover for Revolutionary Guards and intelligence operations, as well as to funnel aid directly to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Today, Iran is trying to build in Sunni Gaza a model similar to Shi'ite southern Lebanon. It is understandable why Bush may have been reluctant to publicly link Quds Force operations in Iraq with senior Iranian leaders Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. The administration's failure to stabilize Iraq has created credibility problems for US policy on Iran. Moreover, connecting the Quds Force to Iran's senior leadership places Washington on the path to a possible military conflict with the regime. Despite the risks, the administration must not obscure the fact that the Revolutionary Guards and its Quds Force serve as the regime leadership's personal "human weaponry" - one essential in enabling Ahmadinejad and Khamenei to impose the revolution on Iran and to export it to the rest of the Muslim world, and to the West. Destabilizing Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and Israel are all integral parts of Iran's apocalyptically-driven drive to achieve regional hegemony under a nuclear umbrella. Washington and its allies still have a chance to stop this. Daniel Diker is a foreign and defense policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is editor of the new policy study: Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas and Global Jihad: A New Conflict Paradigm for the West.