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Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps & Quds Force - leading Iran's fight against Israel

The organizations carrying out Iran's secret plans throughout the Middle East

Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer)

Unlike most other nations, the Islamic Republic of Iran has two parallel armed forces. Besides its regular army, there is a second, much more powerful force: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), or in Persian, Sepah-e Pasdaran.

This shadowy organization was founded explicitly to defend the regime’s ideology against enemies from outside and within, and to export the Islamic Revolution to all ends of the earth.

The IRGC was created by the regime’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after the successful revolution against the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

Instead of having to rely on the regular army, which under the toppled Shah had very close relations with Western nations (including Israel), the new regime decided to found an armed force of ideologically loyal men to shield itself.

Over time, the IRGC has become one of the most important centers of power in the state, which controls several economic sectors and has outsized political influence through former officers occupying key positions in the regime.

In addition, the formerly independent Basij paramilitary volunteer militia was put under IRGC control in 2008. The “Basijis” serve as an additional internal security force, are found at the forefront of violent regime repressions of demonstrators and dissidents, and assist the regime’s morality police in carrying out its duties.

The IRGC’s armed forces are organized like any other army, including an Air Force, Navy and ground forces. As the body tasked with exporting the Islamic Revolution, the IRGC has become one of the regime’s most important foreign policy tools.

For example, it controls Iran’s large ballistic missile program, which is used to threaten and intimidate its neighbors and arm regional proxies.

Missiles are launched during a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17', in the southwest of Iran, December 24, 2021. Picture taken December 24, 2021. Saeed Sajjadi/Fars News/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS.

The IRGC was responsible for the missile attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil processing facility in 2019, and two U.S. bases in Iraq in 2020, in response to the killing of senior IRGC commander, Qassem Soleimani, shortly before.

Soleimani commanded the IRGC’s secret foreign arm, the elite Quds Force, which U.S. General Stanley McChrystal once called “an organization roughly analogous to a combination of the CIA and JSOC in the United States.”

The Quds Force is named after the Arabic name for Jerusalem, al-Quds, and is tasked with one of the regime’s most important foreign policy goals: The eradication of Israel.

To reach this goal, the Quds Force, under the command of Soleimani, began setting up dozens of Shia Muslim proxy militias throughout the Middle East that are backed and supported by Iran, called the “Axis of Resistance.”

Forming a “ring of fire,” the regime seeks to surround Israel with enemies on all sides to prepare for a future showdown, leading to Israel’s destruction.

The Quds Force continues to train and supply these groups and guides their activity against Israel and other enemies of the regime. The unit was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers during the Iraq War, before shortly allying with the U.S. to defeat ISIS. Outlasting the Western alliance, today Iraq is seen as a client state of Iran.

Soleimani also led the Iranian forces and allied groups in the civil war in Syria, ensuring the Iranian takeover of a second country bordering Israel, after Lebanon.

Hezbollah is the original template for this strategy, as the group was founded with Iranian support. Today, it is the largest and best-armed Iranian proxy militia, and with it being comprised wholly of Shia Muslims, it is completely loyal to Iran’s supreme leader.

The Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad (PIJ) are a special case in the Quds Force’s axis, as they are Sunni Muslims and were founded independent of Iranian influence. However, in recent years they were heavily funded and backed by Iran, especially PIJ, and coordinated closely with the regime.

Reports following the recent elimination of a senior Quds Force officer, Brig.-Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi in Damascus, Syria, revealed a glimpse of the modus operandi of the Quds Force that is usually shrouded in secrecy.

An Iranian flag hangs as smoke rises after what the Iranian media said was an Israeli strike on a building close to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria April 1, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Firas Makdesi)

Zahedi served in Syria as one of the many "military advisors" deployed by the IRGC. In reality, he commanded the Quds Force’s Unit 1800, responsible for running the Iranian operations against Israel through proxies in Lebanon and Syria.

As part of this position, Zahedi sat on Hezbollah’s eight-member directing council, and facilitated the smuggling of ammunition and precision weapons to Hezbollah, as well to other terror groups in Syria and Judea and Samaria.

Other militias in Iraq and the Yemeni Houthi rebels, who have attacked Israel during the Gaza War of 2023-24, are also supplied by Iran.

The IRGC’s Quds Force is also under U.S. sanctions for its worldwide terror and criminal activities. Together with its allies, especially Hezbollah, it is constantly at work to carry out terror attacks against Israeli and Jewish institutions, with the most famous being two bombings in Argentina in 1992 and 1994.

Through the IRGC and Hezbollah, Iran has also worked to build political, commercial, and military ties with revolutionary Marxist countries in Latin America, with its activities like drug and weapons trading.

The IRGC has paid a heavy price for its activities since Oct. 7, with Israeli and U.S. airstrikes severely degrading its presence in Syria. In addition to Zahedi and his deputy, another alleged airstrike killed a third brigadier general, Razi Mousavi, in December 2023. Another five officers were killed in January 2024, and in March, a wave of strikes killed dozens of its operatives.

As of April 2024, the Houthis in Yemen and the Iraqi militias had suffered significant, if not yet crippling losses from Western airstrikes.

With the Gaza Strip taken out of Iran’s sphere of influence, an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah would be ruinous to Israel, but would also risk the complete destruction of the IRGC's crown jewel, as well as the elimination of its influence in Syria, which is sure to be dragged into such a war.

The Gaza War of 2023 has put the IRGC’s ambitious plans for the Middle East at a crossroads. After an initial devastating blow to the Israeli enemy, the following months have increasingly put its achievements of the past decades at risk.

Hanan Lischinsky has a Master’s degree in Middle East & Israel studies from Heidelberg University in Germany, where he spent part of his childhood and youth. He finished High School in Jerusalem and served in the IDF’s Intelligence Corps. Hanan and his wife live near Jerusalem, and he joined ALL ISRAEL NEWS in August 2022.

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