Iran’s broad and destructive activities in Iraq are bringing renewed attention to the Iranian regime’s longstanding role as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. As it continues to fund Shi’ia militias in Iraq and deliver weapons such as IEDs to the insurgency, Tehran is also escalating its presence in the Middle East as part of its goal to export Islamic fundamentalist rule throughout the Muslim world.
Earlier this month, Sen. Joseph Lieberman discussed this issue in the Wall Street Journal, summarizing that “Iran is acting aggressively and consistently to undermine moderate regimes in the Middle East, establish itself as the dominant regional power and reshape the region in its own ideological image.”
New intelligence out of Iran reveals that Tehran has instituted several new strategies for building its presence in the neighboring region. According to my sources associated with the National Council of Resistance of Iran — the same group that revealed the secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Ark in 2002 and many additional, validated facts about Iran’s nuclear program and activities in Iraq — one of these tactics is the covert militarization of Iran’s diplomatic corps.
Today, most of the Iranian ambassadors in Middle Eastern embassies are members of the Qods Force, the elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In the few embassies that are not led by a Qods Force officer, the unit has a presence with at least two or three members on the embassy staff whose job is to recruit locals and ensure that the ambassador strictly follows the IRGC line.
In the case of Iraq, Tehran's ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, is a senior Qods Force commander. In addition, at least six other Qods Force officers are part of the embassy personnel facilitating the operation of Iran's terror network in Iraq.
For years, one of the primary functions of the Iranian embassies in the Middle East has been intelligence gathering, which is carried out by Qods Force staff as well as local personnel who are hired and trained by the IRGC.
A new element of the militarization of Iran’s intelligence-gathering system is the close relationship that has been forged between the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). This partnership, developed during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, has created new operations systems that contrasts with the strategies used during the previous administration. Under former Intelligence Minister Ali Yunessi, the majority of Iran’s plans for activities in foreign countries were initiated by the MOIS and then approved by the executive branch or the Supreme National Security Council. Under Ahmadinejad, however, most of the plans for foreign intervention now originate with the IRGC and are immediately sent to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Only then does the MOIS participate in discussions and planning.
This direct line between the military and the Supreme Leader is facilitated by a special section in Khamenei’s office set up to coordinate the smoothing functioning of the Intelligence Ministry (MOIS), the Qods Force and the Foreign Ministry in spreading Islamic extremism and inciting violence in Muslim countries.
Traditionally, Iran’s special agents from the MOIS were primarily commissioned to engage in intelligence gathering in their foreign posts. However, under Ahmadinejad, these agents are now heavily involved in recruiting, training and carrying out specific missions using foreign nationals.
These activities begin with the work of identifying individuals who have the potential and the ability to incite violence and create chaos in their homeland. After determining which of these have the best prospects as recruits, MOIS agents begin contacting them through local personnel and resources from the Iranian embassy.
Once contact has been made, MOIS agents reevaluate the individual and prepare the proper ground for inviting him to Iran under various pretexts, such as making a pilgrimage, attending a seminar, or simply taking an all-expenses-paid educational trip to learn more about the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While in Iran, personnel from both the MOIS and the IRGC determine which individuals are ready to cooperate with the Iranian regime and enter into official agreements with them. This is followed by training, after which the recruit is sent back to his country, either with orders in hand or with promises for participation in an upcoming mission.
The training for these foreign terrorist recruits constitutes just a fraction of Iran’s commitment to terrorist training and support. Tehran has set up 17 camps in Iran dedicated to training terrorists from various countries around the world. These camps are scattered in various cities, including Tehran, Karaj, Qom, Ahwaz, Nahavand and Dezful. Being Muslim is not a requirement for training in one of the camps; the only requirement demanded of the regime is that the trainees be anti-American and willing to fight Americans. My sources report, for example, that some of the trainees in Iran’s terrorist camps are non-Muslim fighters from Somalia.
This information supports the U.S. military’s recent report about Iran’s deep involvement in Iraq, which reaffirms how many resources Tehran is pouring into Iraq and its proxy terrorist groups throughout the Middle East. As Senator Lieberman states, the United States must establish an Iraq solution that will not allow Iran to advance its goals: “Every leader has a responsibility to acknowledge the evidence that the U.S. military has now put before us: The Iranian government, by its actions, has all but declared war on us and our allies in the Middle East.”
To counter this Iranian threat, the military option is not necessary and, as the current policy of negotiations and appeasement has failed, serious consideration deserves to be given to the third option: supporting the Iranian opposition. The Iranian challenge should have an Iranian solution, conceived of and implemented by Iranian patriots with the support of the international community. The Iranian opposition, which seeks to replace the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Tehran with a secular democracy, relies on the Iranian people rather than on foreign troops to bring democratic change to Iran, and is the most viable option.
It is time for the international community to give this option a chance by fully abandoning the policy of appeasement.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.