Qassem Soleimani’s Quds Force a threat to the region

By Manish Rai

Recently multiple bomb blasts rocked Iran’s south-central city of Kerman near the cemetery where Qassem Soleimani, the slain commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force (QF), is buried. Initially, it was anticipated that Israeli intelligence agencies carried out this attack but later on, ISIS claimed responsibility. This attack comes amid heightened tensions in the region after the deputy leader of the Iran-backed Palestinian group, Hamas, was killed in an apparent Israeli drone strike in Lebanon. Currently, the Israel-Gaza conflict is taking the shape of a regional confrontation as other important Iranian proxies like Hezbollah and Ansar Allah (Houthis) are getting deeply involved in this conflict. Many analysts of the region are of the view that the strategy of engaging Israel on multiple fronts and widening the conflict is indeed becoming possible because of the efforts of the Iranian Quds Force and especially its dead infamous commander Qassem Soleimani. As commander of the Revolutionary Guards overseas operations arm, the Quds Force, for more than two decades Soleimani was an architect of Iranian policy across the region. He was in charge of the Quds Force’s clandestine missions and its provision of guidance, funding, weapons, intelligence, and logistical support to allied governments and armed groups including Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ansar Allah, and Iraqi Shia militias. Major General Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in January 2020 while coming out of Baghdad International Airport. But still, his presence is felt through the activities of his proxy forces which he created or supported. 

Let’s have a look at this notorious force of Iran which is on a rampage across the whole Middle East. The Quds Force was established during the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) to undertake secret operations inside Iraq. But it was under Soleimani’s leadership the Quds Force developed into an elite military unit for covert and expeditionary warfare and the driving force behind Iran’s geopolitical influence, stretching from Iraq across the northern Levant. As of now after more than three decades of its establishment, the QF is considered as one of the most powerful security agencies in the Middle East. The Quds Force is one of the five branches of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) often referred to as IRGC-QF. The QF can be best described as a hybrid organization that performs the task of an intelligence agency and a special force. The IRGC-QF is the Iranian mullah regime’s primary foreign action arm for executing its policy of supporting terrorist organizations and extremist groups around the world.

The Quds Force not only operates to protect Iranian interests or to protect their country, but its primary motive is to push the Iranian regime’s agenda in the region. It is always in search of an opportunity where it can destabilize a fragile state to make it an Iranian satellite like it did in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. The force is the secretive spearhead of Iran’s push for hegemony in the Middle East. It has been training and equipping terrorist groups around the Middle East for decades, and it is responsible for some of the most gruesome terrorist acts in the world.

The QF, apart from creating its proxies, also focuses on activating terrorist networks and training agents in sabotage, providing military and financial support to Islamist opposition organizations in other countries, and operations against the Iranian opposition in exile. The Force operatives also actively indulge in the gathering of intelligence, the financing of terror groups and their operations on foreign soil, and the infiltration of foreign political parties, social groups, and religious organizations. Its agents also engage in the surveillance of foreign government officials, religious officials, and speakers to spot sympathizers who can be used either directly or as deep assets.

While dealing with its rival Sunni states in the region, the Quds Force without any hesitation uses terrorist acts either directly through its agents or through its proxies like the Khobar bombing of 1996 in Saudi Arabia. The Force is like a rogue intelligence service of a country that doesn’t even take its political leadership into confidence. It has offices in many Iranian embassies around the world, which operate as closed sections. It showcases a classic example of state-sponsored terrorism.

The Quds Force is an obstacle to the process of peacemaking and stabilization in the Middle East. The United States Treasury Department in 2007 designated it as a material supporter of terrorism but that’s not sufficient enough, the United States and allies should go further. The Quds Force along with its parent organisation, IRGC, should be designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations. The efforts to counter QF support infrastructure for its proxy networks should also be a priority in the long term. In addition to this, the United States along with its regional strategic partners that share a common interest in countering Iran’s threatening ambitions should carve out an effective strategy to contain this Iranian agency. There should be joint and comprehensive efforts to compel the Quds Force to abandon its destructive role in the region.

(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround can be reached at [email protected])