The Platform

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops in Tehran in 2020.

Even from the grave, Qassem Soleimani’s reach is vast.

The tranquil south-central Iranian city of Kerman was recently jolted by multiple bomb blasts near the cemetery where Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force (QF), lies buried. Initial speculation pointed to Israeli saboteurs, but ISIS soon claimed responsibility. This event unfolds against a backdrop of escalating regional tensions, exemplified by the recent death of the deputy leader of Hamas, an Iran-backed Palestinian group, in an alleged Israeli drone strike in Lebanon. This incident marks a pivotal moment in the Israel-Gaza conflict, now morphing into a regional confrontation with the involvement of significant Iranian proxies like Hezbollah and the Houthis.

Many regional analysts argue that the strategy of engaging Israel on multiple fronts, thereby broadening the conflict, is a direct result of the Iranian Quds Force’s influence, particularly under its late commander Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani, who led the IRGC’s foreign operations branch, the Quds Force, for over two decades, was a pivotal architect of Iranian policy across the region. He was responsible for clandestine missions and the support – in guidance, funding, weapons, intelligence, and logistics – provided to allied governments and armed groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Houthis, and Iraqi Shia militias. Although Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in January 2020, his strategic legacy continues through the activities of the proxy forces he nurtured.

Let’s examine the Quds Force, Iran’s notorious military unit that continues to wield significant influence across the Middle East. Established during the Iran–Iraq War (1980-1988) for covert operations inside Iraq, it was under Soleimani’s leadership that the Quds Force evolved into a formidable force for covert and expeditionary warfare. It became the linchpin of Iran’s geopolitical influence, spanning from Iraq across the northern Levant. After more than three decades since its inception, the Quds Force, now a branch of the IRGC often referred to as IRGC-QF, stands as one of the most powerful security forces in the Middle East. The Quds Force is best described as a hybrid entity, performing both intelligence and special forces roles. It serves as the Iranian regime’s primary arm for executing its policy of supporting terrorist organizations and extremist groups globally.

The Quds Force’s operations extend beyond mere protection of Iranian interests. Its primary aim is to further the Iranian regime’s agenda in the region, often seeking to destabilize fragile states to transform them into Iranian satellites, as seen in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. The Quds Force is the secretive vanguard of Iran’s quest for regional hegemony. For decades, it has trained and equipped terrorist groups in the Middle East and is accountable for some of the most heinous terrorist acts globally.

Apart from establishing proxy forces, the Quds Force actively engages in activating terrorist networks, training agents in sabotage, providing military and financial support to Islamist opposition organizations, and conducting operations against the Iranian opposition in exile. Its operatives are involved in intelligence gathering, financing terror groups and their operations abroad, and infiltrating foreign political parties, social groups, and religious organizations. They also surveil foreign government and religious officials to identify sympathizers for direct or covert use.

When dealing with rival Sunni states in the region, the Quds Force employs terrorist acts either directly through its agents or via proxies, like the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. The Quds Force operates as a rogue intelligence service, often acting independently of Iran’s political leadership. It maintains offices in numerous Iranian embassies worldwide, functioning as covert sections and epitomizing state-sponsored terrorism.

The Quds Force poses a significant challenge to peace and stabilization efforts in the Middle East. In 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Quds Force as a material supporter of terrorism. However, this action alone is insufficient. The United States and its allies must intensify their efforts, advocating for the United Nations to designate both the Quds Force and its parent organization, the IRGC, as terrorist entities. Additionally, a strategic focus on dismantling the support infrastructure for the Quds Force’s proxy networks is imperative. The United States, alongside its regional strategic partners who share the goal of countering Iran’s menacing ambitions, must develop a robust strategy to contain this Iranian agency. A comprehensive and collaborative approach is essential to compel the Quds Force to relinquish its destructive influence in the region.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.