The activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been overshadowed by the attention given to the Iranian nuclear program. However, for the last several decades the IRGC has been heavily involved in a highly coordinated campaign of covert operations that function not just in the Middle East but span the globe.
The Government of Iran uses the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and IRGC-QF to implement its foreign policy goals, including, but not limited to, seemingly legitimate activities that provide cover for intelligence operations and support to terrorist and insurgent groups. The IRGC-QF provides material, logistical assistance, training, and financial support to militants and terrorist operatives throughout the Middle East and South Asia. These activities include economic investment, reconstruction, and other types of aid to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon implemented by companies and institutions that act for, on behalf of, or are owned or controlled by the IRGC and the Iranian government.
Iran also uses the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force – and state-run social service organizations ─ to support terrorism under the guise of providing reconstruction and economic development assistance or social services. Iran's support for terrorism and terrorist organizations, including Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), and the Taliban. Iran is the primary funder of Hizballah and has long been recognized as the most active state sponsor of terrorism (treasury.gov/tg810.aspx).
Two years after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini established the “Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in the World,” led by Ayatollah Hussein Montazeri, who was entrusted with the role of creating a movement to establish radical Islamic states throughout the world based on the revolutionary template of Iran.28. With the cooperation of Syria, Iran established the Shaykh Abdallah Barracks of the Pasdaran, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, in the Baqa’a Valley to extend its influence over the Shi`i population of Lebanon. During the early 1980s, the Pasdaran committed as many as 2,000 of its Revolutionary Guards at its headquarters at Baalbek in southern Lebanon to assist in forming and training Hizballah.
According to its own official budget, during the mid-1990s Iran was reported to have devoted $500 million to supporting radical Islamic organizations that were sympathetic to its cause throughout the world. It was also reported to have established a network of terrorist cells that are “located in at least twenty states, including the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Pakistan.
More recently, Iran is reported to have organized Hizballah cells in Azerbaijani territory bordering on Iran. A council of fifteen inﬂuential Azerbaijani religious ﬁgures is said to organize the activities of the cells, whose responsibilities include forming “an army of God” to operate in Azerbaijan. One of the council members has also arranged for young Azerbaijanis to study at Iranian theological seminaries. In 2001, the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry arrested a group of individuals suspected of having contact with Hizballah in Calilabad. Through the IRGC and its subsidiary Hizballah Iran has extended its terror connections beyond the Middle East and the Islamic world.
In an effort to gain allies in its war against the West, during the early 1980s, the Iranian government and Hizballah made an effort to provide ﬁnancial assistance to Sinn Fein, the political section of the Irish Republican Army. Hadi Ghaffari, the president of Hizballah and the Iranian minister tasked with cooperating with the Hizballah movement in Lebanon,93 began to travel to Belfast, Ireland, in order to initiate contacts between his government and the Irish Republican Army. On one occasion, Ghaffari hosted members of Sinn Fein at a luncheon. To demonstrate his support for the IRA, Ghaffari told a 1980 rally in Tehran, “We are ready to blow up British factories and ships.”
In June 1982, IRA leaders secretly ﬂew to Tehran to attend the Conference of World Movements, an international conference of leading figures of international terrorist organizations including Hizballah, the Abu Nidal organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command, the Japanese Red Army, and ETA, the Basque separatist organization. At Fayruzi Palace in Tehran, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Muhsin Reza’i, met the leaders of the organizations.
The agenda of the conference was a plan by Iran to fund and arm a new “terrorist international” in exchange for the organizations’ making a commitment to launch attacks against Western targets in Europe to make them pay a price for supporting U.S. policies in the Middle East. In return, the Iranians sent an ofﬁcial delegation to Sinn Fein’s annual conference in Dublin (web.archive.org/ ). The IRGC’s activities are not operated entirely through proxies.
In 2016 it was noted that more than 300 members and officials of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran were assassinated outside of Iran by Iran's special Intelligence teams within a few years after the Iran -Iraq war ended. Two leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party, Dr. Abdol Rahman Ghassemlou and Sadegh Sharafkandi, along with other members and officials of the party, were killed by the Iranian regime in Austria and Germany.
Although Iran later pledged to the European Union it would stop the assassinations of Iranian dissidents in Europe, the news agency notes that history has shown that in order to achieve its goals, the Islamic Republic often does not abide by its international obligations (clarionproject.org/).
On 2 October 2018, France accused Iran of plotting a terrorist attack on its soil. The alleged attempt was to bomb a People’s Mujahideen of Iran (MEK) rally in Paris – an organization comprised of Iranian opposition with a four-decade-long history of armed struggle and attacks within Iran. An Iranian-Belgian couple carrying an explosive device and materials was arrested in Belgium, followed by arrests of a number of Iranians in France and Germany – including an Iranian diplomat.
On 31 October 2018, Denmark accused Tehran of plotting an assassination against an opposition leader on its soil. Denmark’s intelligence service said the agency believed that Iran “was planning an attack in Denmark” against three activists – members of the separatist Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz (ASMLA) (fanack.com/).
In January of 2019 Iran was accused by the Dutch government of directing two political assassinations in the Netherlands. The two murders are alleged to have taken place in broad daylight in 2015 in Almere, a city east of Amsterdam, and in 2017 on a street close to the Dutch foreign ministry in The Hague (theguardian.comiran-behind-two-assassinations-in-netherlands-minister).
In May 2019 U.S officials accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of being directly responsible for attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates in what could be a foreshadowing of the conclusion of ongoing investigations into the incident (gulfnews.com/iran-directly-behind-tanker-attacks-off-uae-coast-us-says-1.64179304). Since the beginning of the Iraq insurgency, the activities of Iran have been widely known in regard to its support of Shia militias.
In the aftermath of the Iraq war and the fall of Saddam, Iran feared an easy victory so close to their borders. If Iraq became a stable democracy, it would leave the remaining American forces in the country available to divert their resources towards Iran. In an effort to curtail this, Iran conceived the idea that destabilizing Iraq with a strategy of supporting a vast insurgency movement and force the U.S. to direct its resources to combat it. The IRGC imported many weapons and trained numerous insurgents in the use of more sophisticated explosives and traps, particularly explosively formed penetrator (EFPs), that was shipped into Iraq by Iranian intelligence (O’hern, 2008). However, Iran’s insurgency strategy has been far more intricate than simply supporting Shia militias.
In his writings, noted strategic analyst H. John Poole asserts that some of the early Sunni insurgency was actually orchestrated by the IRGC. When discussing noted Sunni terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one-time Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan accused him of cooperating with Iran. The assumption was that either al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence were coordinating battlefield operations in Iraq or, far from being the head of an al-Qaeda faction in Iraq, Zarqawi was in actuality an Iranian operative.
In late 2004 there was evidence that Iran had been contributing fighters to the Fallujah violence. Brig. Sarkout Hassan Jalal, Sulaimanyah security director, noted that insurgents were being smuggled into Iraq from Iran and then driven to Fallujah. In addition, evidence suggested there were numerous recruits pouring into Fallujah from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. It’s been proven that Hezbollah played a bigger role in the insurgency of Fallujah than did al-Qaeda.
During this time a series of high-profile assassinations were carried out against Sunni leaders which served to further alienate the Sunni community from the greater political system and cause them to boycott upcoming elections. These assassinations were likely the work of Shiite militants and possibly directed by IRGC (Poole, 2005). The IRGC mission has played a bigger role in other global conflicts.
Iran was the main arms supplier to the Bosnian Muslim military forces during the 1992-1995 civil war, in violation of the United Nations arms embargo. Iran supplied two-thirds of the total weapons and ammunition received by the Bosnian Muslim forces during the 1992-95 civil war. From May 1994 to January 1996, Iran transported over 5,000 tons of weapons and military equipment to Bosnia.
Iran sent to Bosnia members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Pasdaran, 2,000 by 1995, Â who supervised the illegal arms shipments and who were incorporated into the Bosnian Muslim Army of Alija Izetbegovic, who made official state visits to Tehran in 1992 and 1993 to secure Iranian arms shipments and military and diplomatic support.
The Iranian Intelligence Agency (VEVAK) established branches and infrastructure in Bosnia. VEVAK had established links to Alija Izetbegovic’s radical, militant, and ultra-nationalist Islamic SDA party before the civil war started in 1992. Once the war started, VEVAK strengthened and expanded its ties to the Bosnian Muslim political leadership and the Bosnian Muslim secret police apparatus. Mohammed Taherian, Â, a top Iranian intelligence agent who had armed the Taliban and was suspected of arming Shiite guerrillas, was sent to Sarajevo as the Iranian Ambassador to Bosnia. Taherian had been the former Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan. This ultimately worked to make Iran stronger and which increased Iranian influence in Europe (serbianna.com/56).
Iran has had a presence in Latin America for decades. However, its role in the region expanded and intensified after Hugo Chavez took the reins of the Venezuelan state in 1999. As such, the alliance between Venezuela and Iran has strong foundations. Hezbollah, the Iranian backed paramilitary, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have also established a presence in the region, training “soldiers of the revolution” in Venezuelan camps, and even helping to design and build the ALBA school, a military training camp in Bolivia. The school’s main purpose is to ideologically indoctrinate soldiers and strengthen the bonds between the armed forces and the new Latin American revolutions. The revolution promoted a civic-military alliance, a situation that has enabled the regime to survive. Venezuela’s own Vice President, Tarek Al Aissami, has been a key liaison between Venezuela and Iran.
Currently, Iran has a presence in 12 countries in the region including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Uruguay. Iran has sought to increase political alliances in the region for which Venezuela and its allies provided a great opportunity. It also sought a strategic position in the region to increase deterring capabilities against the U.S. Additionally, Iran has aspired to reach out to the Muslim community in Latin America.
Indeed, Iran has established a number of networks in the region with mosques and even a TV channel (HispanTV) in Spanish. (HispanTV has given wide coverage to groups that promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories). Iran also sought to use Latin American countries, particularly Venezuelan banks, to curb the effect of international sanctions. Venezuela issued passports to Iranians and Hezbollah members to facilitate their free travel around the region and the world. Likewise, several Caribbean countries that allied with Chavez established dangerous liaisons with Iran.
Guyana signed an agreement with Iran in which Iran would map Guyana’s mineral resources, including uranium. Dominica signed an agreement with Iran that enabled citizens of Iran, parts of the Middle East, and Central Asia to obtain a second citizenship and a passport. The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis have also sold passports to Iranians.
In 2007, a Hezbollah member stationed in Guyana attempted to carry out a terrorist attack at Kennedy Airport. Likewise, in 2011 Iran tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. Furthermore, sophisticated tunnels built along the U.S.-Mexican border have been designed in the image of the tunnels found along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Intelligence officials have raised the possibility that Hezbollah has been enlisted by drug cartels to design and improve the tunnels along America’s southern border (centerforsecuritypolicy.org/). In addition to an extensive covert campaign, the IRGC has managed to run a successful intelligence penetration of the U.S. intelligence community.
Monica Elfriede Witt, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist, has been charged with espionage on behalf of Iran in an indictment that also charges four Iranians with a cyber campaign targeting U.S. intelligence personnel. She is wanted for her alleged involvement in criminal activities to include espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage.
On February 8, 2019, a grand jury in the United States District Court, District of Columbia, indicted Witt and a federal arrest warrant was issued for her after she was charged with Conspiracy to Deliver National Defense Information to Representatives of a Foreign Government and Delivering National Defense Information to Representatives of a Foreign Government, specifically the Government of Iran (fbi.gov/monica-elfriede-witt). She is alleged to have revealed to Iran the existence of a highly classified intelligence collection program and the true identity of a U.S intelligence officer. She is currently still at large and suspected of being harbored by the Iranian government (Eye Spy).
The IRGC represents an important factor to Iran’s military strategy. The covert campaigns it has orchestrated throughout the world has allowed the Iranian regime a means to expand its influence without having to risk a direct confrontation with its enemies such as the United States.
The world is currently focused on Iran’s nuclear weapons development and what type of threat a weaponized Iran could be. However, even if Iran were to develop an arsenal, it is unlikely they would use it as any part of an overt military action. Instead, Iran will continue to pursue an indirect campaign as their means of operating militarily in the world and avoid any direct confrontation with stronger powers such as the U.S.
It will also continue to quietly expand its influence in the world with the IRGC reaching out to Islamic communities and working to support organizations and nation-states that have mutual security interests particularly against the United States. The U.S. needs to recognize that they are in a new cold war scenario and the threat of such groups as al-Qaeda and ISIS have long overshadowed the graver terror threats posed by the IRGC and its subsidiary Hizballah.
U.S. traitor identified: Iran penetration of U.S cyber networks continues, Eye Spy Magazine No. 120, 2019 p, 19.
Poole, H. John, Militant Tricks: Battlefield rules for the Islamic Insurgent. Posterity Press, Emerald Isle, NC, 2005.
O’hern, Steven K. The Intelligence Wars: Lessons from Baghdad.
Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 2008.