General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, is assisting the regime of Bashar Assad by helping manage the Syrian forces, according to a report by Zvi Bar’el at Haaretz.com. The presence of Suleimani in the Syrian military’s command center from which Assad’s forces attack “opposition forces” underscores the importance the Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s regime attaches to holding on to Syria as an ally and conduit to Lebanon.
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After all, the “liberation” of Zabadani, a Syrian city unfamiliar to many, may not mean much to most Westerners but the IRGC recalls that Zabadani was the jumping off point for the Revolutionary Guard’s deployment to Lebanon in 1982. The Guard later moved David Dodge, the president of American University of Beirut kidnapped by Hezbollah in 1983, through Zabadani on his way to Tehran. No, having Zabadani in hostile hands just doesn’t suit the IRGC.
Suleimani has received a lot of press lately. Ali Alfoneh of the AEI published an excellent piece on the Quds Force deputy commander, Esmail Qaani, in which Alfoneh speculated that Qaani may replace Suleimani as the Quds Force commander if (when?) Suleimani pursues a political career in anticipation of the 2013 Iranian presidential election. Then Suleimani spent a week or more in the headlines of Middle East papers such as Beirut’s Daily Star as politicians from Iraq and Lebanon complained of comments Suleimani made that suggested southern Lebanon was under Iran’s influence similar to what exists in Iraq.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that Iran’sshipment of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) (also known as explosively formed penetrators) into Afghanistan has slightly increased. The Washington Post quoted Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates,
Gates also warned of Iranian interference in Afghanistan, pointing to a slightly increased flow of weapons including components of lethal munitions known as “explosively formed projectiles.” He said Iran wants to “have it both ways,” seeking economic and diplomatic benefits of relations with Kabul while still attempting to impose “the highest possible costs” on U.S. and coalition troops.
Gates also noted that Iran has been busy in the western hemisphere.
Iranian activities have been troubling in other parts of the world, Gates said, including Latin America, where Iran is setting up “a lot of offices and a lot of fronts.”
Analysis: Iran’s supply of EFPs to the Taliban in Afghanistan is not new. A 2007 report by the Washington Post described an interception of EFPs and other weapons from Iran. As the current economic situation occupies the new Obama Administration and leaders in much of the world, Iran and the IRGC Qods Force, the primary Iranian group responsible for such intervention outside of Iran, continue to work largely unimpeded and even little noticed.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) uses two routes to supply its weapons to Hamas in Gaza, according to Times Online. Uzi Mahnaimi writes that the IRGC appears to be using two methods of smuggling weapons into Gaza that have been used since Iran supplied weapons to Yasser Arafat.
[T]he Iranians are attempting to smuggle munitions from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where the arms shipments are loaded onto commercial vessels. . . .
once in the Red Sea the cargo is taken on one of two routes. The first is to dock in Somalia and Sudan, where professional smugglers carry the cargo overland to Sinai. In Sinai, Bedouin specialists smuggle the shipment into Gaza through the notorious border tunnels.
Despite intensive Israeli bombing, some tunnels remain open. Palestinian sources in Rafah, the Gaza Strip’s southern town, estimate that 100 tunnels are still in action, about 20% of the pre-war total.
A second arms smuggling route into Gaza has also been used by Tehran, according to well briefed sources. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has sent shipments through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean to anchor off the Gaza coast, inside Egyptian territorial waters, where the Israeli navy is barred.
After dark, Iranian frogmen transfer weapons in sealed containers to Palestinian fishing boats. This can prove dangerous as the Israeli navy may open fire without warning, but according to the sources it has worked well in the past.
Analysis: Note the tunnel infrastructure available to Hamas — according to the article about 100 tunnels are still active out of approximately 500 tunnels that were open before the recent Israeli military action in Gaza. Also, the Times Online article reports that a U.S. Navy warship boarded a freighter for inspection and found weapons during its search. U.S. forces have a more active role in monitoring and deterring Iran’s supply of weapons to Hamas than is widely reported in the U.S. media.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards were killed in Gaza during the recent fighting reports The Bulletin (a Philadelphia based newspaper.) (UPDATE: The Bulletin has apparently ceased its web operations – you can find the story at this Behind the News in Israel web page.) David Bedein, Middle East Correspondent for The Bulletin writes that the IRGC was in Gaza to assist Hamas with firing rockets and building new, larger ones:
IRGC officers helped the Hamas regime and Islamic Jihad fire BM-21 Grad rockets from urban areas.
“We believe there were dozens of IRGC personnel in Gaza during the war,” an Israeli source said. “Some were killed; others went into hiding; and others escaped.”
Israeli intelligence sources IRGC sent officers to the Gaza Strip to help Hamas improve the range and accuracy of its rockets.
IRGC was also authorized to help establish facilities to produce the Grad and other extended-range Katyusha-class rockets in the Gaza Strip.
Israel expects Iran to expand the IRGC presence in the Gaza Strip amid the cease-fire. Iran is expected to build a Hamas arsenal of rockets with ranges of up to 50 miles, which would include the Fajr-3 and Fajr-4 rockets.
The IRGC presence was arranged in 2008 by the late Hamas Interior Minister Said Siyam, the sources said. Siyam was killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on Saturday, hours before the unilateral cease-fire began.
“Siyam’s death removes Hamas’ key liasion with Iran,” an Israeli source said. “But there are others who could fill his shoes.”
Analysis:It’s unlikely that the death of Said Siyam, the liaison between Hamas and the IRGC, was collateral damage in an attack against another target. Most likely, Siyam was targeted as evidenced by Israeli “sources” providing detailed information to various media sources about the IRGC assistance to Hamas.
The “Iranian Unit” of Hamas, composed of Hamas members trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been “destroyed” by the Israeli Defense Force, according to Haaretz.com. The website reported,
most of the unit’s members were killed in fighting in the Zeytun neighborhood, where they had been deployed by the military leadership of Hamas.
The unit numbered approximately 100 men who had traveled to Iran and Hezbollah camps, mostly in the Beka’a Valley, where they were trained in infantry fighting tactics. The militants were also trained in the use of anti-tank missiles, the detonation of explosives, among other skills.
They managed to return to the Gaza Strip through tunnels in the Rafah border area, although a few also crossed during one of the few times that Egypt agreed to open the border crossing as a gesture of good will to Hamas.
Analysis:Clearly, Israel has targeted Iranian supplied and trained forces during its ground operations in Gaza. Although such attacks on Hamas units trained by the IRGC degrade the abilities of such units to attack Israel, such action does not address the more persistent threat of the influence and capability Iran gains by recruiting, training, equipping, and guiding proxy forces in Gaza.
Con Coughlin analyzes the Israel-Gaza conflict as part of a larger continuing attack by Iran upon Israel in The Telegraph.
Israel’s relentless offensive to crush the radical Palestinian Hamas movement in Gaza is the opening salvo of the country’s wider campaign to confront the mounting threat posed by Iran to the survival of the Jewish state.
While the Israeli military’s immediate focus is to destroy Hamas’s ability to terrorise Israel’s southern border, the military campaign should be seen within the wider context of Israel’s growing resolve to deal with the combined danger of Iran’s continuing support for Islamic terrorist groups and its controversial uranium enrichment programme. The Israeli government sees both of these as direct threats to the country’s existence.
So far as Israel is concerned, 2009 is the year that, given Iran’s current rate of progress with uranium enrichment, will decide whether the mullahs succeed in their dream of becoming a nuclear power. Given the repeated statements President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has made about destroying Israel, the Israelis are rightly concerned that a nuclear-armed Iran would constitute a grave threat to its future survival.
At the same time the Israeli authorities are deeply alarmed by Iran’s continued support for radical Islamic groups located on the country’s northern and southern borders, both of which are committed to Israel’s ultimate destruction. Both the radical Shia Hizbollah militia in southern Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza are funded and equipped by the Iranian regime, whose Revolutionary Guards travel regularly to the region to brief the groups on strategy.
Even more detail is provided by a recent article in The Cutting Edge News.
Those 40 km missiles Hamas is unleashing against Israeli cities are certainly not “amateur rockets… nagging the residents” of Israeli cities, as a Palestinian journalist recently wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
The press calls the rockets “Grads” or “Katyushas,” the Russian name given several generations ago to the original Soviet-made surface-to-surface missiles. Today, it would be more correct to label some of the missiles by their real name, the “Arash,” the name given to them by their Iranian manufacturers. The long-range 120 mm mortars raining down on Israel are also Iranian in origin. The mortars are equipped with auxiliary motors to increase their range from six to ten kilometers.
The longest range “Grads” were manufactured in China and but (sic) many of these too were smuggled to Hamas via Iran. Visitors to Sderot’s rocket heap museum of spent missiles can view Iranian-made weapons for themselves.
Analysis:Most of the media is focusing on the death and destruction suffered by Gazans, many of whom are not guilty of any actions against Israel. But that focus benefits Iran as it continues to orchestrate a swirling maelstrom around Israel while continuing progress on the enrichment of Uranium. As both the Telegraph and The Cutting Edge News note, Israel recognizes the larger threat posed by this plan. The challenge for Israel is to find an effective strategy to counter Hamas in Gaza while retaining sufficient credibility to convince allies of the Iranian encirclement (threats from Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, and, in the future, nuclear armed rockets) strategy.
The IRGC is so concerned about the danger posed by the free exchange of information available on the internet and via text messaging, that it seeks to dominate Iranian net-thought with a force of 10,000 bloggers. Blogger Hamid Tehrani has posted an interesting and well written post in the Internet & Democracy blog.
Tehrani describes the effort:
IRGC’s official press organ, Sobh Sadegh, writes that it considered the Internet and other digital devices including SMS as a threat to be controlled. It announced that the 10,000 blogs will promote revolutionary ideas. IRGC considers the Internet as an instrument for a “velvet revolution” and warned that foreign countries have invested in this tool to topple the Islamic Regime.
As Tehrani notes, the Iranian government (i.e. the IRGC, as the Supreme Leader’s tool) already controls all “old media” – newspapers, radio, and television. But the internet, filled with blogs by anonymous Iranians presents a real threat. For that reason, the IRGC seeks to have the Basij raise a force of 10,000 bloggers.
Analysis: Iran’s clerics and the IRGC know that Iranians are thirsty for objective news and information. The lesson from Iraq is not lost on Iran’s rulers. Iraq’s people, as soon as they were unshackled from Saddam Hussein’s restrictions, purchased satellite dishes and cell phones by the ton. Internet cafes sprang up in many neighborhoods. Once a repressed people have experienced unrestricted access to information, they are loathe to return to big brother’s (or Supreme Leader’s) version of the news.
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran is profiled as a likely opponent to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the Boston Globe. The article describes Ghalibaf as a more modern, gentler replacement for Ahmadinejad:
As mayor of a city where Calvin Klein ads compete with portraits of war heroes and clerics, [Ghalibaf] is fashioning himself as a candidate of gradual change, who can appeal to younger voters while retaining enough conservative bona fides from his days as soldier to satisfy the powerful religious elite.
The reference to his days as a soldier is a bit misleading. As the article mentions, Ghalibaf was more than a soldier. Ghalibaf served not in the Iranian Army but instead with the IRGC. His last assignment: leader of the IRGC Air Force.
Analysis: Articles like the Boston Globe profile of Ghalibaf promote a false understanding of Iranian governance. Power in Iran resides with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the IRGC. The Supreme Leader’s power includes control over the IRGC and the authority to determine which candidates are eligible to stand for election. The anticipated contest in the June 12, 2009 election between the “progressive” Tehran mayor and the confrontational president would not be a chance for a new day in Iran. An election featuring Ghalibaf as the principal opponent to Ahmadinejad would ensure that a senior IRGC leader would remain as Iran’s President. The same IRGC controls Iran’s rocket force and the nuclear program that many fear seek to equip those rockets with nuclear weapons.
Additionally, Ghalibaf may have competition in his quest to replace Ahmadinejad. Although Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has stated he will not run in the June 12 election, other candidates have already announced their intention to run and some speculate that Mohammad Khatami will run as a reformist candidate.
The FARS News Agency, the semi-official house organ of the Iranian regime, announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed introduction of a parliamentary bill to investigate the wealth of senior officials in Iran. The proposal results from criticism of Sadeq Mahsouli, President Ahmadinejad’s nominee for the position of interior minister, who won a vote of confidence on earlier this week on November 18, 2008.
Mahsouli is reportedly one of the ten wealthiest people in Iran, having accumulated his fortune from property development according to FARS. But the forty-nine year old Mahsouli is also an IRGC veteran and previously served in provincial government posts and as deputy defense minister.
The Iranian Parliament approved Mahsouli as the new interior minister following the impeachment of former minister, Ali Kordan, over his forged Oxford University degree.
Analysis:Ahmadinejad’s call to investigate the source of wealth for former IRGC officers calls to mind the statement of Renault, the Vichy French police officer in the movie Casablanca, who declared “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” There is no secret to the accumulation of wealth in Iran – IRGC veterans dominate many key industries and the importation of goods into Iran.
The New York Times reported this week that an IRGC Qods Force officer was arrested at the Baghdad International Airport. The U.S. military announced that the man was arrested because of his involvement in smuggling weapons into Iraq. The Qods Force officer worked for “an organization within the Quds Force involved in the construction and repair of religious sites in Iraq.” The NYT also reported the man was carrying cocaine.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 23, 2008 – DETAINEE RELEASED: Reuters reported that the Qods Force officer, identified as “Nader Qorbani, the deputy head of the headquarters for reconstructing religious sites in Iraq,” had been released. Reuters also quoted Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abbawi regarding the inappropriate arrest by US forces, “The Americans detained him. We called them and asked them to release him and we can confirm that the arrest was unlawful,” Abbawi told Reuters. “He’s working here on a contract and he’s been working here for some time.”
Analysis:The IRGC, of which the Qods Force is a part, operates numerous companies which conduct legitimate business while also providing fronts for operational activity such as intelligence gathering and weapons smuggling.