Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
Type of Organization:
Military, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Islamist, Khomeinist, Shiite, state actor
Place of Origin:
Year of Origin:
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Places of Operation:
Afghanistan, Europe, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, South America, Syria
Also Known As:
- Islamic Revolutionary Guards
- Pasdaran (“Guards”)
- Revolutionary Guards
- Sepah (“Corps”)
- Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Eslami (“Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”)
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is tasked with preserving the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ideals of the 1979 revolution. The IRGC combines traditional military roles with a relentless focus on supposed domestic enemies. The IRGC is Iran’s primary instrument for exporting the ideology of the Islamic Revolution worldwide. It is rigidly loyal to Iran’s clerical elite. The IRGC is Iran’s main link to its terrorist proxies, which the regime uses to boost Iran’s global influence.
Within the IRGC are the Basij militia and the Quds Force (IRGC-QF). The Basij, literally “mobilization,” is a paramilitary organization charged with channeling popular support for the Iranian regime. The Basij is famous for its recruitment of volunteers, many of them teenage children, for human wave attacks during the Iran-Iraq war. Today, the Basij has two missions: to provide defensive military training to protect the regime against foreign invasion, and to suppress domestic anti-regime activity through street violence and intimidation. After the contested 2009 Iranian presidential elections, for example, the Basij brutally quashed protests and attacked student dormitories.
The IRGC’s Quds Force specializes in foreign missions, providing training, funding and weapons to extremist groups, including Iraqi insurgents, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The Quds Force allegedly participated in the 1994 suicide bombing of an Argentine Jewish community center, killing more than 80 and wounding about 300. In the years since, the Quds Force has armed anti-government militants in Bahrain, and assisted in a 2011 assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. The Quds Force also plays a key role in support of Syrian regime forces in that country’s civil war.
The IRGC is an Iranian government agency tasked with defending the regime against internal and external threats. Espousing a radical ideology and a paranoid worldview, the IRGC uses secret police methods against its opponents within Iran, and terrorist tactics against its enemies abroad.
Iranian law defines the IRGC as “an institution commanded by the Supreme Leader whose purpose is to protect the Islamic Revolution of Iran and its accomplishments, while striving continuously . . . to spread the sovereignty of God’s law.”
In the first months after the 1979 Iranian revolution, before its existence was enshrined in law, the IRGC operated as a network of militant activists loyal to revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini. In this role, the IRGC helped to stamp out dissident currents within the revolutionary movement. The IRGC views its task as preserving the “Islamic republican” form of government created by Khomeini, and faithfully implementing the instructions of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini after the latter’s death in 1989. Ahead of Iran’s June 2013 presidential elections, IRGC commanders reportedly made clear through public statements that they would only confirm a president who is loyal to Khamenei.
The IRGC today enjoys the power of a government agency, while still maintaining the zeal and fanaticism of an ideologically motivated terrorist group. The IRGC’s mission combines traditional military roles with a relentless focus on pursuing supposed domestic enemies. According to the Ministry of Defense, the IRGC’s role is to “protect [Iran’s] independence, territorial integrity, and national and revolutionary ideals, under the shadow of the orders given by the Commander in Chief, the Grand Ayatollah Imam Khamenei.” Political beliefs considered inconsistent with “revolutionary ideals” are treated as military threats. Then-IRGC commander Jafari stated in 2014: “today’s war is not fought on land or sea, it is fought at the level of belief, and the enemy is investing efforts to gain influence inside the Islamic Republican system.”
The IRGC’s doctrine combines rigid loyalty to Iran’s clerical elite with deep paranoia about the outside world. In IRGC publications, Iran is portrayed as threatened by American and “Zionist” plots, which are said to be capable of exerting great influence within Iran. Allegations of foreign meddling in Iran provide the justification for terrorism abroad, fueling the high-profile international conflicts that provide the basis for ever harsher crackdowns on internal dissent.
Over time, domestic repression has come to overshadow traditional military missions, as the IRGC’s influence has spread into every aspect of Iranian life. In 2007, following the formal incorporation of the Basij militia into the IRGC, IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said, “The new strategic guidelines of the IRGC have been changed by the directives of the Leader of the Revolution [i.e., Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei]. The main mission of the IRGC from now on is to deal with the threats from the internal enemies. [The number-two priority of the corps] is to help the military in case of foreign threats.”
The IRGC considers its loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei a religious imperative. At times, the organization’s devotion to Khamenei slips into hero-worship: deputy IRGC commander Mohammad Hejazi recently credited Khamenei with overruling the objections of scientific experts to direct research towards increased accuracy in ballistic missiles, “resulting in proud accomplishments in this field.”
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
By law, the power to appoint and remove the commander of the IRGC is given to the supreme leader. The supreme leader also appoints clerical representatives to the various units of the IRGC whose guidance and instructions are binding on commanders. Iranian law makes “belief and practical obedience to the principle of clerical rule” a condition of membership in the IRGC, further establishing absolute loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the IRGC’s guiding principle.
Efforts to normalize the IRGC’s extraordinary role in Iran over the years have resulted in a complex organization chart. Administratively, the IRGC falls under the Joint Armed Forces General Staff, part of the Ministry of Defense. But these layers of oversight do not give Iran’s nominally elected civilian authorities real control over the IRGC, as the entire military remains subordinate to the Supreme National Security Council, which in turn answers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Scholars who study the IRGC have concluded that “individuals appear to matter more than institutions when considering national security decision[-]making.” Consequently, scholars have identified personal networks, often based on ties of family, friendship, or joint service in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War as the key factors in IRGC leadership. The opacity of the IRGC’s real command structure helps make Iran an erratic and therefore especially dangerous player in regional affairs.
The Basij militia, whose name means “mobilization,” is a paramilitary organization tasked with channeling popular support for the Islamic Republican regime. The Basij is most famous for its recruitment of volunteers, many of them teenage children, for human wave attacks on Iraqi forces during the Iran-Iraq War in which thousands died. Today, the Basij has two missions: giving military training to regime supporters to prepare them to resist foreign invasion, and helping suppress domestic opposition to the regime through street violence and intimidation.
The Basij presents itself as a popular volunteer association, although it is very much an organ of the state. The group’s “regular members,” said to number more than ten million, are unpaid volunteers motivated by ideological zeal or the hopes of advancement. Its “active members,” whose exact number is unknown, receive salaries and work full time to organize the volunteer members. The group has been nominally subordinate to the IRGC since the early 1980s, and organizational changes in recent years have increased the IRGC’s direct control over the Basij, apparently to better manage the two groups’ repression of internal dissent.
Created in 1989, Iran’s Khatam al-Anbia (KAA) is an IRGC-controlled engineering firm that acts as the organization’s construction arm. KAA maintains more than 800 subsidiaries, collectively employing more than 40,000 people. Approximately 70 percent of the firm’s business is believed to be military-related. KAA has played a role in building Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including the country’s nuclear facilities at Qom and Fordow.
The company has won more than 17,000 no-bid contracts from the government. For example, in December 2012, KAA was reportedly set to begin construction of the “world’s tallest dam” in Iran after the government canceled a $2 billion contract with a Chinese firm and turned the project over to the IRGC. According to United Against Nuclear Iran, “Through Khatam al-Anbia, the IRGC has succeeded in assuming a dominant role in Iran’s oil and gas industry.”
The Quds Force (IRGC-QF) is a special branch of the IRGC tasked with achieving sensitive missions beyond Iran’s borders. The IRGC-QF has played an active role in providing training and weapons to extremist groups including Iraqi insurgents, Lebanese Hezbollah, and others. The group’s commander is Major General Qasem Soleimani. In addition to overseeing the group’s violent attacks, Soleimani serves as an emissary of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, reportedly using a combination of violence and bribes to wield enormous influence over the politics of neighboring Iraq. He is also said to coordinate much of Iran’s support for the Ba’ath regime in the Syrian civil war. Soleimani’s prominence has aroused jealousy in some circles, and he has clashed at times with IRGC commanders over the extent of his authority.
General Hossein Hamedani, deputy commander of an IRGC volunteer unit, told an Iranian news agency in 2008 that the IRGC is providing weapons to “liberation armies” in the Middle East, including groups in Lebanon and Iraq. Such liaisons are the responsibility of the IRGC-QF.
Training and Recruitment:
The IRGC is the third-wealthiest organization in Iran after the National Iranian Oil Company and the Imam Reza Endowment. Due to its vast wealth, the IRGC is able to use a very simple recruitment tactic: money. The IRGC attracts young men by paying them up to $265 a month. In 1982, the IRGC created its first high school in Tehran to train and indoctrinate young men into the organization. The IRGC opened similar schools throughout the country. Graduates went on to join the IRGC and Basij. The program ended and the schools closed in 1999, but the IRGC announced plans in early 2015 to reopen affiliated high schools.
The Basij and Quds Force operate under the IRGC and are responsible for the bulk of the umbrella organization’s recruitment. Both groups have developed an organized method of enrollment and training. Both the Basij and the Quds Force strategically place recruiters near holy sites, mosques, schools, and community centers to attract volunteers. The IRGC also trains foreign fighters from groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
The Basij is a paramilitary organization operating under the IRGC that relies heavily on volunteers as well as paid members. The Basij constitution highlights the importance of training, stating that one of the force’s most important responsibilities is to train volunteers to “defend the country and the Islamic Republic regime.” The Basij is increasingly being used to quell internal unrest in Iran and, consequently, has become highly organized.
The Basij has an extensive membership of regular, active, and special recruits. Each classification is based on the volunteer’s level of training and, to a lesser degree, on his level of commitment.
The Basij relies heavily on Ideological-Political Trainers (IPTs) to indoctrinate and educate its fledgling members. IPTs are divided into three groups: organizational, non-organizational, and invited members. Organizational and non-organizational IPTs typically hold high school degrees, while invited trainers are usually well-connected and well-educated. Trainees are also required to attend at least 18 hours of ideological and political courses on subjects like “Major Islamic Commandments.”
The next level of training consists of courses that include “Jihad and Defense of the Quran,” and “Fluency in Reading the Quran.” Specialized training courses in areas such as advanced psychological warfare and anti-riot training last even longer but are not mandatory. Only after completing this final level of training can Basij members go to mosques, schools, and factories to organize. Basic Basij members are also trained in practical matters such as weaponry, guard duty, civil defense, and first aid.
IPTs are themselves educated by a network of political guides. IPTs are taught subjects like Islamic commandments, the Quran, the history of Islam, sociopolitical knowledge, and the fundamentals of belief.
Basij recruitment relies heavily on the cooperation of local and regional mosques. Members are recruited under “clergical [sic] supervision and trusted citizens.” Paid Basij positions are available by application at Basij central offices.
The Quds Force is a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard that oversees weapons and training. The Quds Force’s commander is Qasem Soleimani. Basic training can last anywhere from three to nine months and takes place at three main facilities in Iran. The first is the Imam Ali Base near Tehran, which specializes in ground training for foreign fighters. The second is the Wali-e-Assar Base in Shiraz and the third is the “Jerusalem Operation” College in Qom, where trainees study spirituality and ideology. There are other smaller training facilities throughout the country that are used to train armed groups from foreign countries as well. The Quds Force helps operate the Manzariyah training center in Iran near the holy city of Qom. The Manzariyah training center recruits from a pool of foreign students studying at a nearby religious seminary.
The Quds Force sets up recruitment offices near Islamic holy sites to attract a wide variety of devout people from many nationalities throughout the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq. The most important recruitment office is in the “Dar al-Tawahid” hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Quds force helps operate the Manzariyah training center in Iran near the holy city of Qom. The Manzariyah training center recruits from a pool of foreign students studying at a nearby religious seminary. The Quds Force also recruits in Iraq, where they reportedly paid Iraqi Shiites up to $150 per month to go to Iran to train during the anti-U.S. insurgency.
The IRGC received a reported 24 percent increase in Iran’s proposed 2017-18 fiscal budget, up from $4.5 billion to $7.4 billion. The IRGC’s allocation represented 53 percent of Iran’s defense budget.https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2017/03/31/irans-revolutionary-guard-gets-a-raise/. Iran’s military budget has reportedly experienced a 70 percent increase in funding during President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure, growing from $3.3 billion in FY 2013-14 to more than $5 billion after Rouhani assumed the presidency in 2013. Ahead of the FY 2016 budget, however, Rouhani reportedly sought to cut the IRGC’s budget in favor of Iran’s army. The Iranian parliament rejected the cut and raised the IRGC’s budgetary allocation. Rouhani reportedly cut the IRGC’s budget by 17 percent in his proposed 2019-2020 budget submitted in December 2018.
The IRGC is also Iran’s most powerful economic actor, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, which labeled the National Iranian Oil Company “an agent or affiliate of the Revolutionary Guards.” According to a 2017 assessment by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, IRGC-linked companies control up to 20 percent of Iran’s economy. In July 2018, the city council of Tehran announced that the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, which manages the IRGC’s investments, had embezzled more than $1 billion from the city of Tehran.
Within the IRGC, the Quds Force exerts control over strategic industries, commercial services, and black-market enterprises. According to a 2007 Los Angeles Times report, the IRGC has ties to over 100 companies, controlling over $12 billion. These funds are used to exert influence in Iran and Iranian proxies. According to Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the IRGC is “heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and pipelines – even the new Imam Khomeini Airport and a great deal of smuggling. Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards. They're developing along the lines of the Chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. It's a huge business conglomeration.”
After the 2015 nuclear agreement—which opened Iran’s economy to the international market, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government attempted to restrict the IRGC’s economic power in Iran, open Iran’s economy internationally, and attract foreign investors by canceling government contracts with IRGC subsidiaries. An unidentified IRGC source told Reuters in November 2016 that any U.S. attempt to restrict the Iranian economy from global markets would result in the IRGC regaining its economic control of Iran. In March 2016, Khamenei called for the IRGC to play a larger role in creating a “resistance economy” in Iran, independent of the international community.
In August 2015, Reuters reported that the IRGC stood to benefit from the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran as part of the P5+1 nuclear deal. One beneficiary Reuters highlighted is IRGC conglomerate KAA, which reportedly controls at least 812 affiliated companies worth billions of dollars. KAA subsidiary companies have been sanctioned by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations as “proliferators of weapons of mass destruction,” according to the U.S. government. The IRGC reportedly controlled one-third of Iran’s economy as of 2010. As of November 2016, the group viewed the possibility of renewed sanctions against Iran and the threat posed by ISIS as pathways to limiting foreign investment in Iran and reestablishing IRGC control of the economy.
In October 2017, the U.S. government designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization and levied financial sanctions. In March 2018, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee began discussing additional sanctions on entities in which the IRGC has a 50-percent-or-less ownership stake in order to punish IRGC front companies. The U.S. government designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019, opening the possibility of levying additional sanctions on IRGC-related businesses.
The Basij received a budget of $310.85 million in the 2015 fiscal year. In the 2009-2010 budget, the Basij received $430 million from the government, but also reportedly earned large sums of cash through its control of non-profit foundations created by the Basij and IRGC in the 1980s and 1990s. The Basij is also reportedly a major investor in the Tehran stock exchange.
IRGC and IRGC-Quds Force
The Council on Foreign Relations describe the IRGC and Quds Force as Iran’s “primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.” According to a 2010 Pentagon report, the Quds Force “maintains operational capabilities around the world,” and “it is well established in the Middle East and North Africa and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” Further, the report concluded that if “U.S. involvement in conflict in these regions deepens, contact with the IRGC-QF, directly or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential.” Illustrating this point, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2012 reportedly ordered the Quds Force to step up attacks against Western targets in retaliation for U.S.-backing of Syrian rebels in that country’s civil war.
According to a 2013 bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to label the Quds Force a terrorist organization, the Quds Force “stations operatives in foreign embassies, charities, and religious and cultural institutions to foster relationships, often building on existing socio-economic ties with the well-established Shia Diaspora, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America.”
The IRGC and IRGC-QF have been accused of the following acts in individual countries:
- The Pentagon has accused the Iranian regime of providing “ongoing” support to insurgents – and insurgent leaders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ismail Khan in particular – through Quds forces, which are working with non-governmental organizations and political opposition. “Arms caches have been recently uncovered [in Afghanistan] with large amounts of Iranian-manufactured weapons, to include 107 millimeter rockets, which we assess IRGC-QF delivered to Afghan militants,” according to a 2010 Pentagon report.
- The U.S. State Department suspects Iran, through the IRGC-QF, of providing training and weapons—including “small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives—to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
- On July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber exploded at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and wounding 300. Hezbollah and Iran are suspected.
- In 2007, Argentine prosecutors named several Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing, including then Defense Minister Gen Ahmed Vahidi, who was the commander of a special unit of the IRGC at the time of the attack.
- In May 2013, an Argentine prosecutor releases a 500-page indictment in the AMIA bombing case, in which he accuses Iran of creating terrorist networks in Argentine and other Latin American countries to conduct terrorist attacks. He names Mohsen Rabbani, a former Iranian cultural attaché in Argentine, as a key leader directing the attack.
On July 13, 1989, Iranian Kurdish dissident Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was shot to death along with Fadil Rasoul and Abdullah Ghaderi after being lured to a supposed negotiation with Iranian government officials. The three Iranians who committed the murders were arrested by Austrian authorities, but later released. Austrian police confirmed that at least one of the suspected killers was bearing an Iranian diplomatic passport. However, the suspected killers were allowed to leave Austria and return to Iran “after the Austrian government came under massive pressure from the Iranian government.” Iran’s Minister of Information and Security, Ali Fallahian, later boasted of the assassinations in a televised interview, saying: “we were able to deal vital blows to the cadres” of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Ghassemlou’s group.
In January 2012, Azerbaijani authorities arrested at least two local men, linked to Iranian intelligence agencies, for plotting to attack the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan and a local rabbi.
The government of Bahrain has accused the Quds Force of providing explosives training to Bahraini militants opposed to the government. On December 29, 2013, the Bahraini Coast Guard intercepted a speedboat carrying weaponry and explosives meant for Shiite militants in Bahrain, particularly the 14 February Youth Coalition. Following the incident, authorities discovered weapons caches in Bahrain, dismantled a car bomb, and arrested 15 Bahraini nationals.
Four Iranian Kurdish dissidents are assassinated at Mykonos, a Greek restaurant in Berlin. In 1997, a German court issued an international arrest warrant for Iranian Intelligence Minister Hojjat al-Islam Ali Fallahian, after determining that he had ordered the assassination with the knowledge of Supreme Leader Ali Khameini. A report by Amnesty International noted that the Mykonos killings constituted part of a broader pattern of murder of Iranian political dissidents, with reports of state-directed assassinations both inside Iran and in neighboring Turkey.
Delhi Police accused the IRGC of involvement in a February 13, 2012, bomb attack against an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi. According to the Times of India, members of the IRGC had discussed the plan with an Indian journalist in 2011, and the journalist, Syed Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, had been in touch with the IRGC for almost 10 years.
- The IRGC has been accused of numerous violent acts against the Iranian population, particularly during the 2009 protests against Ahmadinejad’s reelection. The Basij paramilitary organization is accused of brutally suppressing protests after the June 2009 election.
- According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of protesters were arrested after the June 12, 2009, elections and the Basij militia attacked student dormitories, beating the students and ransacking their rooms. Human Rights Watch also reported members of the Basij militia appearing in large groups at mass demonstrations and attacking protesters. There were reports of Basij members armed with clubs and chains beating up anyone suspected of participating in the protests against the government.
- Former U.S. President George W. Bush accused Iran, and the IRGC in particular, of providing roadside bombs to militants within Iraq in 2007.
- In 2007, Shiite militants, under the direction of the IRGC, kidnapped British computer expert Peter Moore and four security guards, who are held in Quds Force-run prisons. Moore was released in December 2009, but the four guards were killed.
- The U.S. Treasury Department added the Quds Force to its list of terrorist supporters after coalition forces captured a number of Iraqi militants with alleged ties to Hezbollah and the Quds Force.
- According to the Pentagon, Quds forces are supporting terrorists through Iranian embassies in Iraq. In 2010, the outgoing Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, and the new ambassador, Hassan Danafar, were identified as Quds Force members.
- The United States has also accused the Quds Force of providing Iraqi militants with armor-piercing explosives, homemade bombs, anti-aircraft weaponry, rockets, RPGs, and explosives.
- Eliminating the possibility that Quds Force operations in Iraq are undertaken by a handful of individuals acting under their own volition, the Pentagon has linked the Quds Force’s actions in Iraq directly to the Iranian regime. “Although its operations sometimes appear at odds with the public voice of the Iranian regime, it is not a rogue outfit. It receives direction from the highest levels of the government and its leaders report directly, albeit informally, to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.”
- In 2008, General Hossein Hamedani, deputy commander of a volunteer militia in the IRGC, told an Iranian news agency that the IRGC is providing weapons to “liberation armies” in the Middle East, including in Lebanon and Iraq.
- On December 2, 2017, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said he had recently sent a letter to Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani that the United States would hold Iran accountable for any attacks by Iran-backed forces on U.S. interests in Iraq. Khamenei’s chief of staff, Mohammad Mohammadi Golpaygani, told the Associated Press that Soleimani had ignored the letter.
- After Hamas fired Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles at Israel in 2012, IRGC head Mohammad Ali Jafari admitted that Iran had shared the missile technology, along with other military assistance, with Hamas.
- On December 11, 2017, Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani declared in a phone call with Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip that Iran was prepared to support Palestinian groups in the coastal enclave against Israel. The IRGC’s website reported the call but did not identify to which groups Soleimani was speaking.
- The IRGC provided Hezbollah with its initial financial support and training when the group emerged in the early 1980s.
- The Quds Force is Iran’s primary instrument for passing on support to Hezbollah, some of which is in the form of cash, while the rest is in weaponry. The U.S. Department of Defense estimated in 2010 that Iran provides Hezbollah with $100 million to $200 million annually.
- Iran’s Quds Force is suspected of paying the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas to carry out a failed 2011 attempt to blow up the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Argentina.
- As part of the 2011 plot, the Quds Force also attempted to negotiate a deal with Los Zetas to smuggle opium from the Middle East to Mexico.
- A truck bomb exploded on June 25, 1996, at a dormitory complex at Saudi Arabia’s Khobar Towers, housing U.S. Air Force pilots and staff, killing 19 Americans and wounding 372 other people. A U.S. federal grand jury in 2001 indicted the leader of Saudi Arabia Hezbollah and 13 other members for the 1996 Khobar Towers attack, and charged “elements of the Iranian government inspired, supported, and supervised members of the Saudi Hizballah. In particular, the indictment alleged that the charged defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials. This indictment did not name as defendants individual members of the Iranian government.”
- Six Hezbollah members captured after the attacks implicated Iranian officials. After “overwhelming” evidence presented by experts on Hezbollah, U.S. Federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled in December 2006 that Iran was responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing, and ordered the Iranian government to pay $254 million to the families of 17 Americans victims. Lamberth pointed to evidence that the Iranian military worked with Saudi Hezbollah members to carry out the attack, and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security provided money, plans, and maps to help carry out the bombing.
Syria is Iran’s main supply route to Hezbollah in Lebanon and thus a strategic asset. As such, the Iranian government has an interest in keeping besieged Syrian President Bashar Assad in power.
- Before the Syrian civil war, between 2,000 and 3,000 IRGC officers were stationed in Syria, helping to train local troops and managing supply routes of arms and money to neighboring Lebanon.
- By Iran’s own admission, members of the Quds Force are acting in an advisory capacity to Syrian government forces in that country’s civil war, and Iran has committed itself to providing arms, financing, and training to Iraqi Shiite fighters in the war. A retired senior IRGC commander claims there are at least 60 to 70 Quds Force commanders in Syria at any given time.
- In April 2011, the United States and the European Union accused the Quds Force of providing equipment and support to help the Syrian regime suppress revolts.
- In 2013, two senior Quds Force commanders were killed in fighting in Syria. According to Iranian media, Commander Mohammad Jamalizadeh Paghaleh, killed in November 2013 in Aleppo, was volunteering to defend Sayyida Zainab mosque in Damascus, more than 200 miles away from Aleppo.
- In February 1996, two Iranians thought to be members of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran were assassinated in Turkey. An Iranian citizen, Reza Massoumi, was convicted of the killings. At his trial, he stated that he had acted on orders from the Iranian government.
- In the aftermath of the 2009 election crisis in Iran, Iranian refugees in Turkey began to report facing monitoring and harassment from Iranian government agents inside Turkey.
- According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Mansour Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen holding both Iranian and U.S. passports, acted on behalf of the Quds Force to plan a failed assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C., in 2011. The Treasury named Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani; senior Quds Force officer Hamed Abdollahi, who coordinated aspects of the plot and oversaw the other Quds Force officials directly responsible for coordinating and planning this operation; Abdul Reza Shahlai, a Quds Force official who coordinated the operation; and Ali Gholam Shakuri, a Quds Force official who met with Arbabsiar to discuss the assassination and other planned attacks.
- Abdul Reza Shahlai, a Quds Force official who coordinated the failed assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador, had previously been linked to the killing of U.S. forces in Iraq, according to Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, USMC (retired).
- A 2012 New York Police Department intelligence report linked the IRGC or its proxies to nine foiled international plots against Jewish or Israeli targets.
- The IRGC has provided financial aid and material support to Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Iranian ship Jihan I was seized allegedly en route to Yemen in 2013 with arms meant for the Houthis, including “Katyusha rockets M-122, heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, RPG-7s, Iranian-made night vision goggles and ‘artillery systems that track land and navy targets 40km away.’”
- In September 2014, IRGC-aided Houthi rebels took over Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa. That December, an Iranian official confirmed that the IRGC Quds Force has “a few hundred” military personnel in Yemen training Houthi rebels.
- In early 2015, U.S. officials reported that the IRGC had trained Houthi rebels in the use of advanced weapons.
- In 2016, the IRGC has been suspected of providing Houthi rebels with long-range missiles they have used against Saudi Arabia. Iranian media have praised the Houthis’ use of the Iranian Zelzal-3 rocket. Iran reportedly increased its supply of weapons to the Houthis in late 2016.
While it was involved in the Iran-Iraq War, the Basij was primarily a domestic organization within Iran, where it acted as an extra-judicial police force.
- During the early years of the revolution, before the new regime could establish an effective police force, the Basij was responsible for maintaining security, removing anti-revolutionary components and Shah loyalists from the system. To do this, it created an information network nicknamed “the 36 million information network.”
- In July 1980, loyalists to the Shah attempted a coup, called the Nojeh coup attempt, but a Basij spy had infiltrated the group and reported it to the ayatollah’s regime.
- The Basij was kept out of the Iran-Iraq War during its first year, but its later participation is credited with transforming Iran’s position from defensive to offensive.
- The Basij paramilitary organization is accused of brutally suppressing protests after the contested June 2009 election. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of protesters were arrested after the June 12 elections and the Basij militia attacked student dormitories, beating students and ransacking their rooms. Human Rights Watch also reported members of the Basij militia appearing in large groups at mass demonstrations and attacking protesters. There were reports of Basij members armed with clubs and chains beating up anyone suspected of participating in the protests against the government. Hezbollah and Hamas were also suspected of working with the Basij to quash the protests.
Designations by the U.S. Government:
October 25, 2007: The Department of the Treasury designates Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Qods Force as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order 13224.
October 25, 2007: The Department of the Treasury designates Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators and their Supporters under Executive Order 13382.
October 25, 2007: The Department of the Treasury designates Hosein Salimi, commander of IRGC air force; Brigadier General Morteza Rezaie, deputy commander of the IRGC; Vice Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian, in 2007 the most recent former chief of the IRGC Joint Staff; Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi, in 2007 the most recent former commander of Basij militia; Brigadier General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, as Individual associated with IRGC, designated under Executive Order 13382.
September 29, 2010: The Department of the Treasury designates Mohammad Ali Jafari, then commander of the IRGC forces; Sadeq Mahsouli, then Minister of Welfare and Social Security; Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejel, then Prosecutor General of Iran; Saeed Mortazavi, former Tehran Prosecutor-General; Heydar Moslehi, then Minister of Intelligence; Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, then Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces; Ahmad-Reza Radan, then Deputy Chief of Iran’s National Police; Hossein Taeb, then Deputy IRGC Commander of Intelligence, as Human rights abusers under executive order 13553.
February 2011: The Department of the Treasury designates Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran Prosecutor General; Mohammed Reza Naqdi, commander of IRGC’s Basij Forces, as Human rights abusers under executive order 13553.
October 13, 2017: The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control labels the IRGC a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for its activities “in support of the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) … for providing support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hizballah and Hamas, as well as to the Taliban.”
April 15, 2019: The U.S. Department of State designates the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:
Bahrain designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a group suspected of terrorism on October 23, 2018.
Canada listed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force as a terrorist entity in December 2012.
The European Union levied financial sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in March 2012. The European Union has also levied financial sanctions on individuals affiliated with the IRGC, including: Qasem Soleimani, Chief of IRGC Joint Staff Ali Akbar Ahmadian, Basij commander Mohamed-Reza Naqdi, IRGC General Commander Muhamed Ali Jafari, and IRGC Intelligence Commander Hussayn Taeb.
Saudi Arabia designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a group suspected of terrorism on October 23, 2018. Saudi Arabia also designated Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Quds Force member Hamed Abdollahi and Abdul Reza Shahlai.
The United Nations designated several individuals affiliated with the IRGC, including Qasem Soleimani on March 24, 2007; Mohammad Reza Naqdi on March 3, 2008; and IRGC Air Force Commander Salimi Hosein on December 23, 2006.
Ties to other extremist groups:
The IRGC-Quds Force provides training, logistical assistance and material and financial support to many extremist groups. For example:
The U.S. government has accused the IRGC’s Quds Force of providing logistical, financial, and material support to the Taliban. General Hossein Musavi and Colonel Hasan Mortezavi, senior IRGC members, were designated on August 3, 2011 as terrorists under Executive Order 13224 for providing financial and material support to the Taliban. On October 23, 2018, the Treasury Department and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) designated IRGC officers Mohammad Ebrahim Owhadi and Esma’il Razavi for providing support to the Taliban. The TFTC is an international organization that includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
In 2010, ISAF General Stanley McChrystal stated that Iran was training Taliban insurgents and providing them with weapons. This was corroborated by a Taliban commander who stated that Iran was training Taliban fighters in “small unit tactics” because they “both want to kill Americans.” The U.S. government has accused the IRGC of providing the Taliban with 107mm rockets.
On October 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned the IRGC for its support of the Taliban and other groups.
The U.S. government has accused the IRGC’s Quds Force of providing logistical, financial, and material support to Hamas. IRGC head General Mohammad Ali Jafari admitted in November 2012 to transferring missile technology and other military assistance to Hamas.
Khaled Meshaal, the former head of Hamas’s political bureau, has traveled to Iran to improve ties and receive increased material support. “We [Hamas] stretch our hand of cooperation for materializing the Palestinian cause, because Palestine is an essential issue that needs more efforts,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, told Al-Manar television, a network affiliated with Hezbollah.
On October 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned the IRGC for its support of Hamas and other groups.
The Iranian government uses the IRGC Quds Force to transfer cash and weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon. On October 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned the IRGC for its support of Hezbollah and other groups.
Israeli authorities have accused the IRGC of directly arming Hezbollah. On November 4, 2009, Israel intercepted merchant vessel FRANCOP carrying 36 containers (60 tons) of weapons to Hezbollah. The cache includes 122mm katyushas, 107mm rockets, 106mm antitank shells, hand grenades and light-weapon ammunitions. The weapons transfer was reportedly coordinated by the IRGC, given its bases in Lebanon and financial support for Hezbollah, which is estimated at $100-200 million annually. An Iranian IRGC commander and six Hezbollah fighters were killed on January 18, 2015, by an Israeli strike, indicating increased cooperation between Iran and Hezbollah. Israel has subsequently targeted multiple Iranian targets in Syria that it says were aiding Hezbollah.
IRGC officials have openly stated their military and financial support for Hezbollah. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has helped Iraq, Syria, Palestine and the Lebanese Hezbollah by exporting the technology that it has for the production of missiles and other equipment, and they can now stand against the Zionist regime, the ISIL [Islamic State group] and other Takfiri [apostate] groups and cripple them,” IRGC aerospace force commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said in February 2015. In October 2018, IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari pledged that Iran would “stand side by side the Lebanese Hezbollah until Israel is totally annihilated.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad
The IRGC has provided Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with “training, logistical assistance and material and financial support,” according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The IRGC reportedly began sending support after PIJ was exiled to Lebanon in 1987.
South American terrorist networks
According to a 2010 Pentagon report, Quds Force members are actively developing terrorist networks in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America to attack the United States in the event of a breakdown in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. The report further claims the Quds Force engages in “paramilitary operations to support extremists and destabilize unfriendly regimes.”
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command
The Iranian regime has been a long-time benefactor of the PFLP-GC, providing logistical, financial, and material support, according to the U.S. government. Iran and the PFLP-GC were the prime suspects in the aftermath of the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103. U.S. officials have said there is “no question” about ties between Iran and the PFLP-GC.
The IRGC reportedly plotted with Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas in 2011 to blow up the Israeli embassy in Washington and the Saudi and Israeli Embassies in Argentina.
According to a 2010 Pentagon report, Quds Force members are actively developing terrorist networks in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America to attack the United States in the event of a breakdown in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. The report further claims the Quds Force engages in “paramilitary operations to support extremists and destabilize unfriendly regimes.”
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (“the Virtuous”) is an Iraqi Shiite militia that has fought against ISIS as part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in both Iraq and Syria. The 10,000-man-strong group is loyal to Iran and reportedly answers directly to Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, whom al-Nujaba has praised in online media for fighting the United States and ISIS. Al-Nujaba has declared that it and Hezbollah are “the twins of the resistance.”
In March 2017, the Quds Force reportedly developed a new branch of al-Nujaba called the Golan Liberation Brigade, named for the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. That November, the leader of al-Nujaba, Sheikh Akram al-Ka’abi, told media that his group and the Golan Liberation Brigade stood ready to “participate in any war with the Syrian Arab Army to liberate the Golan if the Syrian state agrees or requests so.” Al-Nujaba claims that multiple special forces comprise the Golan Liberation Brigade. A March 2017 al-Nujaba video featured columns of its soldiers marching with a banner declaring that “Israel will be destroyed.”
Ties to foreign governments/leaders:
Iran has threatened to use the IRGC to repel foreign attacks on Syria. The IRGC has “several hundred” operatives in Syria advising the Syrian army and fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war. In October 2018, IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif pledged that IRGC forces would remain in Syria as long as Tehran finds it “effective and useful” and as long as the Syrian government demands it.
The international media, for the most part, agrees on the brutal nature of IRGC’s domestic action, condemning the Basij’s practice of...Read More
In response to an attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran, two days earlier, which Salami blamed on the “triangle” of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel:
“We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge. You have seen our revenge before... you will see that our response will be crushing and devastating and you will regret what you have done.”
“Iran is going to stand side by side the Lebanese Hezbollah until Israel is totally annihilated. If Iran is threatened outside its borders, Tehran would not hesitate to retaliate extraterritorially.”
Addressing Iranian media on the IRGC’s presence in Syria:
“This fabricated crisis has been led from abroad with the purpose of instigating insecurity in Syria and creating a safety margin for the Israeli regime.”
“Israel: Don’t trust in your airbases; they’re within reach.” (Tweet)
“The Americans have little information about Iran’s Naval power and they understand our real power when either their vessels are sunken or entangled in a terrible situation.”
“The US officials believe that any reconstruction of their hegemony should be started from where had been their debacle, and this is Middle East, where the Islamic Revolution has extended its scope of influence. The US policies today have significantly changed compared to those in the past; in an attempt to revive its power, the US has been working on four major policies; the first is reinvigorating the US status through UN-mediated devices and other purportedly legitimate means such as human rights in the region; the second issue is to bring stability to Zionist regime; now any country with relations to Zionists is champion of trust for the US.”
“Eastern Europe and east Asia are rivals to the US; Latin and South America are since long a backyard of the US; however, these geographies do not provide the US with a source of power; an important geography where the US hegemony suffered is the Middle East; what has happened during recent 20 years between Iran and the US, is that the Revolution irrevocably tarnished the components of the US superpower status in the region, with many examples to illustrate the case. With making alliances, the US had been working to remove Hezbollah from Lebanese political scene; however, neither had it the power necessary to contain Hezbollah, nor did its alliances succeed even an inch in scoring concrete results; rather, these efforts strengthen Hezbollah in scales that now its leader Seyed Hassan Nasrallah clearly displays its power before the eyes of the west.”
“Containing and weakening the Islamic Republic of Iran is an important policy of the US under present state of the region; the campaign is carried out through direct confrontation and through its proxies in the region near Iran’s borders; a second approach consists of attempts to make countries in the region more dependent on the US.”
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