Academic researcher in Iranian Affairs
The study deals with “The beginning, Framework and Operations of the Iranian Intelligence Agencies”. The importance of this study lies on the role of Ministry of Intelligence in the Iranian foreign policy on the one hand and in drawing the national security policy on the other. It is well known that this ministry witnessed many historical changes. It started working as an independent institution in the Iranian political regime of the shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi under the name of “SAVAK”. It turned, in the first phases of the successful revolution in 1979, into an agency known as “SAVAMA”. One of the most loyal ministries to the Shah regime, this ministry was immensely purged by Khomeini. It emerged in a new form in 1984, with revolutionary figures supporting the new political regime, under the name of “VAVAk”. It follows strict rules of the Murshid Institution. Minister of Intelligence’s executive post is supervised by the President, however, his appointment and removal of office requires the approval of the Murshid. Getting a job in the ministry of Intelligence is controlled by strict conditions. So doubtful as it (the ministry) is, the new regime established new intelligence organizations that work in parallel as well as in integration with it; Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Intelligence Protection Organization of Iran Army or (Intelligence of the Internal Security) whose operations overlapped with the activities of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and security especially in the Middle East areas of conflict.
This study is important because the Ministry of Intelligence is rarely dealt with on the academic research level despite being a key driver to the regional Iranian policy. Moreover, it plays an important role in collecting and making use of intelligence information to introduce to the Iranian security and political decision-maker, to be fully aware of the foreign and interior affairs. Moreover, it coordinates the activities of the Iranian cultural, propagating and charitable organizations abroad. However, it witnessed many interior and exterior crises, especially after its failure to discover many intelligence operations carried out by counter-intelligence organizations inside Iran or within its sphere of influence.
Many general ideas, about the important role of this ministry, its relations with other Iranian intelligent agencies and a complete picture of its exterior and interior operations, could be deduced from this study.
The main terminology:
Iranian National Security (Supreme National Security council), Iranian intelligence, VAVAK, Intelligence Protection Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, counterintelligence, Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
In 1979, Khomeini Revolution represented a noticeable change in the history of the Modern Iranian State. It could be considered a new kind of radical change in the Middle East. The main difference was that this revolution refused the class ideology and created a religious ideology for the social revolutionary change. For the first time in the Middle East, the president wasn’t a political leader but a clergyman who got an honorary title of “Imam” then. His policy was to use all sources of the Islamic world. Iran insisted to have a special status in the international society. It joined the most influential countries in the region because of its religious ideology that gave great importance to the idea of exporting the revolution to the Near East and Middle East. It rather considered the world an empty space that the Iranian “Islamic” Revolution had to occupy. All the institutions of the Modern Iranian State serve to achieve this aim, e.g. Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
The Modern Iranian Intelligence Agencies consist of a group of main organization e.g. Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Intelligence Protection Organization of The Islamic Republic of Iran Army, Intelligence Protection Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. These organizations render services and have employees and experts who are well equipped with technically advanced tools from US, Japan and Europe, e.g. the Ministry of Intelligence and Security “VEVAK” has a team work consisting of 4000 employees and 30000 agents in more than 40 countries. It participates in different international, local and intelligent activities, side by side with Al-Quds Force Intelligence Organization. These activities are: Carrying out counter-espionage activities, collecting information about opponents and neighboring countries etc. Moreover, Intelligence Protection Organization of Iran Army and Counter-Intelligence are supporting counter-espionage activities of all Structures of “Power” in Iran.
Like the Iranian Army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ regulations are the same in war and peace. It is distinguished with its advanced technical tools, professional employees, excellent abilities and best combat units’ soldiers, supported by Imam Hossein University. Al-Quds Force is the striking force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps structure; it carries out tasks of protecting the Iranian interests abroad using certain techniques. Moreover employees of Al-Quds Force Intelligence Organization work under a legal cover “as military attach and diplomats” or illegal immigrants. Its main tasks are: carrying out spy surveys, setting agent networks through the recruitment of Islamists within the country, but first of all of Iranian emigrants in Africa, Asia, South and North America, Europe and countries where Shiite have long lived namely Lebanon. These special Iranian services depend on a group of local mosques, religious schools, charity and cultural Organizations.
For example, to carry out the most sensitive operations such as assassination missions in Asia and Europe, Iran employs Lebanese immigrants. Special Iranian Operations generally depend on the religious and national minorities; Iranian Intelligence works with the Kurds in Turkey, Shiite Arabs in Lebanon, and Irish in the United Kingdom. Always and everywhere Christians and Shiite are preferred .Tajik, Iranian Indians and other nationalities are generally supported. Then, the Turkish and The Semites who are rarely employed by any organization.
Thanks to the different Iranian intelligence institutions, Iran has a powerful influence on all Middle East countries, many African countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikstan. Moreover, the Iranian influence extends to Islamic societies and Organizations in East Asia, Southern and North America and West Europe.
The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security plays a great role in national security protection of exterior and interior threats. To have more information about the nature of this Ministry, this study will deal with its beginning, general framework, most important intelligence operations it has been carrying out.
First: The historical development of the Iranian Intelligence
The Intelligence Agencies played a traditional role all over the Middle East. It is difficult to do a research on the history of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and security. A look on its historical developments will give the reader a full understanding of the nature of the role of the Ministry in its different phases. In this part of the study, I’ll give a historical summery of the development of the Iranian Intelligence Agencies starting with a general review of the intelligent services before the Revolution, hence dealing with the main details of these services after 1979 that will give a general idea about the study’s main themes later.
- The Iranian intelligence before the Revolution
The bases of the Iranian intelligence work, put by the Persian king Cyrus, dated back to the second half of the 6th century BC. The vast geographical lands dominated by the Persian King; extending from the Mediterranean Sea in the east to India in the west led to the establishment of the first intelligence system in Persia; “The postal system”. The system’s aim was to prevent internal disturbances and protect his empire from local enemies. He tried to extend the Postal system whereby “reporters” looked for important information. The Information was sent to the station which was called “Aggarui”; postal stations on the Royal Road that connected all colonies and cities to Persia.
King Daruis 1 “521-486 BC” succeeded, thanks to King Cyrus’s postal centres, to combat the protest movement in Babil through a secretive operation called “Zapiros”. Darius completed Cyrus ‘projects. He spent the last years of his rule in rearranging the Persian Empire in twenty countries and many provinces. Moreover he made a postal system similar to the 19th century’s that used horses and built a capital “Persepolis”, conquered west India (514 BC), re-dug a channel between the Nile and the Red Sea (513BC), conquered Libya and crossed the Bosporus. Then he seized Thrace and Macedonia (512BC), combated the Greek Ionian Revolution (500-493 BC). He launched unsuccessful campaigns on Greece. The important factor that led to his successful invasions was the postal system that used to give him a full understanding of the countries and cities life conditions quickly; an understanding which makes him put his military plans that shocked his enemies.
The Iranian intelligence was so effective that it didn’t stop at the traditional techniques of the Persian Empire. The Sasanian Empire also tried to develop these techniques. It founded the “spies” activity to collect important information about Muslims and Romans. It sent ambassadors to most of the Arab countries, whose task was to send reports on the life conditions there. Following the Sasanian State, the Seljuk State put the system of the “post owner”; the main job of most of the spies who were working in states and cities under the rule of the Seljuk state. Nizam al-Mulk (Abu Ali Hasan Ibn Ali Ibn Ishak Ibn Al-Abbas Al-Tousi known as Khawaja Bezk; or Nizam al-Mulk, born in Tous, Persia or Iran nowadays is one of the most famous Seljuk ministers) gave the intelligence a great importance. Thus he established police stations on the borders between states, rendered the postal system more effective, established many roads to facilitate getting information and applied the espionage system in most of the states then.
Because of the increasing enmity between The Safavid (followed by The Qajar) State and The Ottoman State, the former developed the Iranian espionage and intelligence system with the help of most of the western powers; the traditional enemy of the Ottomans. It tried to add more merits to the character of the spy most important of which was his acquaintance with the language of the country where he worked. Moreover, it helped the spies to work into the military and security institutions and increased their pensions, especially pensions of spies who work outside Iran and collect secret information about the conditions of the Ottoman state or the western powers working around Iran. Thus the spy had a high rank in the Safavid era.
The modern concept of the Iranian intelligence work nowadays started in the beginning of the Qajar State. The state tried to put well developed bases of the modern intelligence work. It established “Al-Nezameya” which wasn’t only an intelligence but security institution as well. In 1878 the Qajar ruler Naser Al-Din Shah established “the political police” that worked with the “Al-Nezameya” institution namely the internal security. He developed the institution according to the modern western styles and established the intelligence and security organization. Moreover he recruited foreigners and ambassadors working in Iran to send continuous reports to the ruler directly.
In 1975, the first independent Iranian Intelligence Institution, known as SAVAK, was established under the leadership of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with the help of the British and US Central Intelligence Agency. The institutions attitudes conformed with the west in the Cold War. Capabilities of the SAVAK developed much. One of its most important operations was getting rid of Tudeh Communist Party. Israel played an important role making this agency similar to the Israeli Mossad Intelligence Agency to protect the Shah’s regime from the potential communist threats. Especially that the main target of US aid to SAVAk was to use it as an effective weapon against the former Soviet Union in addition to serving the Mossad intelligence targets in Iraq and Syria.
Slogan of SAVAK Agency
Directors of US Intelligence, Richard Homes and Alan Dalas, were interested in SAVAK. The latter was known for use of force which he applied in SAVAk. He taught his agents the torturing techniques to get information. One of the Iranian Affairs political analysts in the US intelligence asserted: “ SAVAK Agency was taught torturing lessons by US Intelligence Agency”. The main analyst of the Iranian affairs in US Intelligence Agency declared to a US newspaper that he and his colleagues knew that SAVAK, established by the Shah with the help of US intelligence Agency in the end of the 1950s, tortured the Iranian dissidents. The US Agency men trained SAVAK’s on the torturing tools. Hence the Iranians believe that US led SAVAk to carry out its crimes. The Mossad took part with US in training SAVAK’s men especially that US encouraged countries of the region to cooperate in the intelligence field and combat secret hostile activities .It wanted to make Israel participate in this intelligence effort. Thus Iranian intelligence used Israeli experts in torturing operations and SAVAK agents were trained by the Israeli intelligence. 500 Jewish experts were dominating all SAVAK branches in 1976.
The Shah regime put members of the Iranian Intelligence in all fields; universities, schools, newspapers, institutions, trade unions. Moreover, it concentrated its efforts against opponents of the regime. SAVAK’s brutal repression was a main factor of increasing the Shah’s popularity to the peak until the “Islamic” Revolution.
The Shah regime activated SAVAK’s foreign intelligence operations. It invested millions of Dollars in the activation recruiting thousands of spies and making partnership with media agencies. These agencies gave the Iranian intelligence much information about the movement of the regime’s opponents and even information about certain countries. Many sources indicate that the Iranian intelligence recruited 12000-15000 agents then. The Shah regime established special courts for SAVAK. From 1957 until1979, 250.000 persons were sentenced to death and life imprisonment, 23000 were exiled and 180.000 still had unknown fate. All these persons were involved in espionage against the regime. After the success of the Revolution and collapse of the Shah regime, SAVAk was dissolved and its staff was submitted to revolutionary courts; some of them were sentenced to death and others were imprisoned. SAVAK turned into a Ministry later on.
The Iranian intelligence after the Revolution
In 1979, the “Islamic” Revolution pervaded Iran and the clergymen headed by Khomeini seized power. Later, the government established many small intelligence agencies, with different specific tasks, which activated Iranian intelligence efforts in and outside Iran after the revolution. In addition to the main Iranian Intelligence Agency SAVAMA that inherited SAVAK intelligence institution. SAVAMA, which lasted until 1984, was more interested in getting rid of the revolution opponents in and outside Iran than collecting information. As the Khomeini regime was severely confronting the rest of Shah’s supporters. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) gave SAVAMA most of its information especially about Israel then. A few years after the revolution, the intelligence institutions were integrated under the supervision of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security VEVAK, which is directly connected with the Iranian President.
The new slogan of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security the old slogan of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security
In 1979, Khomeini; Supreme Leader of Iran established The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to combat any potential counter revolution by the security agencies of shah’s regime. The new institution was put directly under the supervision of Khomeini. In the beginning, it had no fixed regulations except the protection of the new revolution. Its staff consists of clergymen, Army and Police members who were despising the Shah’s regime. In addition to their security tasks, staff members had to do intelligence work; collecting information about the Shah’s generals especially those who were working with SAVAK. The staff managed to arrest many important SAVAK directors; Generals Teymur Bakhtiar, Hassan Pakravan, Nasser Moghadam and others.
SAVAK directors starting from its establishment to 1979
1 – General Teymur Bakhtiar 1957-1961
2 – General Hassan Pakravan 1961-1965
3 – General Nematollah Nassiri 1965-1978
4 – General Nasser Moghadam 1978-1979
In July 1980, as a result of the discovery of the Iranian air force coup attempt, former President of Iran Mohammad-Ali Rajai established the presidential intelligence circuit (service) in 1981. The intelligence tasks were divided among The Revolutionary Guard Corps, Intelligence Protection Organization of Iran Army, interior Police and the presidential circuit. In 1984, most intelligence institutions were integrated in VEVAK headed by Mohammad Reyshahri 1984-1989.
The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security was very important, that is why its operations are very secretive and its budget is huge. Its tasks were developed especially in the beginning of the 1990s when its foreign tasks were not only carrying out operations abroad but also exporting the Iranian revolution, in addition to carrying out counter intelligence operations in many foreign and neighboring countries: In 1991 it carried out a successful operation in Paris assassinating former Iranian Prime Minister of Shah’s regime Shapour Bakhtiar, in 1992, its agents assassinated Kurdish opponents in Mykonos restaurant in Berlin, in 1994, its members bombed the Israeli cultural centre in Argentina, in 1996, its agents bombed The Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in addition to other operations.
We should say that the intelligence operations, carried out by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security from the beginning of 2000 most of which in coordination with the Intelligence Service of Al-Quds Force affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, continuously increased especially with the escalation of the Iranian surrounding security threats. In addition to maintaining the political regime and assassination of opponents, the Iranian intelligence had to protect the Iranian nuclear scientists working in the Nuclear Program. The Iranian intelligence established other intelligence agencies to work with it. In addition to the Intelligence Protection Organization of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (Quds Force intelligence service for extraterritorial operations, Basij intelligence Agency for internal operations) there are:
1 – Council for Intelligence Coordination
2 – Intelligence Protection Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army
3 – Cyber Security including:
*The supreme Council of Cyberspace
*Cyber security Defense leadership
*Iranian Cyber Army
*Council for Intelligence Coordination
*Basij Cyber council (domestic operations)
*The Quds Force Cyber Army (foreign operations)
*Syrian Electronic Army
*Al-Qassam cyber Fighters group
*Saif Al-Adl Group
*Hezbollah Electronic Resistance
*Baristo Electronic Group
* Law Enforcement Force of Iran (Internal Cyber Security)
* The committee for Determining Instances of Criminal Web Content
* Iran’s National Internet Project
4 – Iranian Cyber Police
5 – Center for Investigation of organized Crime
6 – Media Agencies
7 – Hezbollah and other Regional Armed Militias (ex Quds Force “Unit for Extraterritorial Operations”)
8 – The Supreme Leader’s Intelligence Unit
Kamran Bokhari, Iran’s Evolving Domestic Politics, Geopolitical Futures, Feb. 11, 2016.
A table of the Foreign Iranian Intelligence Agencies
Arash Bahmani, Iran Has 16 Intelligence Agencies, Rooz Online, 30/10/2014.
A table of the Iranian Foreign Intelligence Agencies (above)
(From left to right, by line starting from above)
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (new emblem)
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Intelligence Coordination Counci
Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics
Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Iranian Security Police
Islamic Republic of Iran Army
Law Enforcement Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Second: A view of the nature of the general framework of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security
To have a clear and good picture of The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, we have to deal with the general framework of this ministry; its objective, structure, intelligence capabilities etc, as follows:
The main objectives of the establishment of this ministry, in brief, are:
1 – To protect the sovereignty of the “Islamic Republic of Iran”
2 – To protect the “Islamic” Republic regime
3 – To face foreign and internal operations targeting the “Islamic” Republic of Iran
According to The Iranian constitution of 1979, the main objectives of the establishment of the Ministry of Intelligence are: to protect Iranian national security of foreign and internal threats, to protect documents of the national security of espionage operations or destruction etc, to analyze local and foreign information and data and other intelligence tasks. The constitution asserted the importance of the intelligence operations the Ministry carry out abroad; namely counterintelligence operations. As the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security carry out these operations in coordination with the Quds Force Intelligence Service for extraterritorial operations and support of Hezbollah Intelligence Organization. All these tasks were integrated into a whole under the supervision of the Supreme Leader’s office which is considered a coordinating link between different Iranian Intelligence Agencies. Moreover military attachés’ activities, in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq are integrated into the activities of these agencies working for the protection of the Velayat-e Faqih political system of Iran.
Iranian National Security Institutions
Frederic Wehrey And Others, The Rise Of The Pasdaran, Rand Corporation, Natıonal Defense Research Instıtute, Santa Monica, 2009.
Structure of the Ministry
The ministry works under the supervision of the executive authority and the President. Intelligence Minister is appointed by the President with recommendation and supervision of the Supreme Leader. In case of removal, the President has to have the approval of the Leader. The Minister should have the degree of Ijtihad “Hojatoleslam”, at least, in the Shiite Jurisprudence in addition to other conditions required for the first Iranian intelligence official. Having a look at the curriculum vita CV. of former Ministers of Intelligence since 1984, one notices that all of them had posts in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or as representatives of the Supreme Leader in many judicial and military bodies.
According to the available information, the structure of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is divided into 15 sections: the general secretariat, counterespionage, foreign operations, security investigations, espionage and modern technology, policies assessment, strategic affairs, education, researches, archive and documents, charity and manpower, financial and administrative affairs, parliamentary and legal relations, economy, culture and society.
These sections are divided into specialized offices; ex foreign operation section divides the world into geographical districts each of them under the supervision of a special office that collects information about it. A report issued by “Irregular warfare support program” and published by “Federal Research Division” of the Library of congress estimates about 30 thousand staff members of the Iranian Ministry. Every year, new staffs members are admitted, agents and officers are recruited. The Ministry’s finance isn’t supervised by any governmental association and the Supreme Leader is the only one who determines its unknown budget. The Iranian Intelligence is financially independent. It gets its finance through affiliated organizations and companies that cover its activities. Three kinds of employees are admitted to the Ministry; the first kind is admitted, after investigation, to the Ministry’s private university of Muhammad Al-Baqir, the second is recommended by a (determined salary) Ministry employee the third is through attracting Iranian and other talents working abroad.
The main conditions and requirements
Because of the sensitivity of the operations of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the constitution and the laws of the Ministry stipulated many main conditions for any staff member of the agency. According to the law issued by the Parliament in 1983, Minister of Intelligence should meet the following requirements:
1 – To have an Ijtihad degree from one of the religious schools
2 – Not a member of any party or political group
3 – A pious, reputable and honest man
4 – To have honest administrative and political history
In addition to the above conditions, Ministry staff members are required to:
1 – Not to join any political party according to article 12 of the Iranian constitution
2 – Ministry staff candidates pass by very restricted operations before admission. They have to pass by one of two steps to get the job:
*To pass special exams in Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir University, in Tehran, directly connected with the Ministry of Intelligence. The Ministry admits staff members who have (personal-physical-intelligence) capabilities, interviews them and investigates about their social and political backgrounds.
*Physical fitness tests are less difficult than their counterpart of the Special Forces and Army, as personal and intelligence capabilities are more important for the Ministry staff members.
3 – All these tests are carried out in the Iranian Intelligence office of Hamadan city west of Iran.
Procedures admitted candidates have to follow:
1 – All the admitted candidates are sent to the Ministry of intelligence’s school in Tehran and Qom for training.
2 – Ministry of Intelligence affiliated units choose candidates and employ them.
3 – Political Science Section of the Ministry trains the candidates and instructs them on the fields of security and strategic studies. The Ministry doesn’t prefer to employ women
4 – The candidate should be 27 years old
5 – The candidate has to be religious and believes in Velayat-e Fakih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist)
6 – In spite of the restricted conditions to work in the Ministry of Intelligence, “Jewish, Christians and Sunnis” who do not believe in Velayat-e Fakih could be employed in the Ministry after investigating their security and political background.
Iranian Ministers of Intelligence and Security since 1984
1 – Mohammad Reyshahri 1984-1989 under prime minister Mir Hossien Mousavi 1981-1989
2 – Ali Fallahian 1989-1997 under President Hashemi Rafsanjani 1989-1997
3 – Ghorbanal Dorri- Najafabadi 1997-2000 under President Mohammad Khatami 1997-2005
4 – Ali Younessi 2000-2005 under President Mohammad Khatami 1997-2005
5 – Gholam Hossein Mohseni 2005-2009 Under President Ahmad Nejad 2005-2013
6 – Heydar Moslehi 2009-2013 under President Ahmad Nejad
7 – Mahmoud Alavi 2013 until now under President Hassan Rouhani
*The intelligence capabilities
The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security is considered one of the most effective intelligence agencies in the Middle East. To activate its foreign and internal capabilities, it developed its counter-espionage, human intelligence and sensor intelligence capabilities. Moreover it updated its intelligence programs to surpass other intelligence agencies in the region. To be more effective, the Iranian Ministry carry out its operations with the intelligence apparatus of Al-Quds Force and J2 Intelligence and Security(the intelligence apparatus of the Armed Forces).
Iran expanded its intelligence capabilities in the Middle East and The Mediterranean. It developed its sigint. Many intelligent reports indicate that Iran started to develop two sigint stations sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, since 2006, one of them is in Al- Jazira region north east of Syria on Iraqi borders and the other is in the Golan Heights southern Syria. Iranian intelligent information indicates that Iran developed two platforms for sigint gathering in Syria that entered into service in 2007. Most information indicate that the greatest effort of these agencies serves the strategic military of Lebanese Hezbollah. In 2010 STUXNET virus targeted the Infrastructure for Uranium enrichment in Iran and successfully broke through the Iranian sigint. Thus the technological system of the Iranian intelligence proved to be weak. In 2011, Iran started to develop its cyber defense to prevent electronic hacking and carry out counter electronic attacks.
Iran is very active in the field of human intelligence. It has a very organized ability to collect information. It employs this ability in the neighboring countries by making use of the cultural, diplomatic and other channels to carry out many intelligence operations. In many cases, Iranian diplomats transferred intelligence tools and weapons. Iran, however, wasn’t interested to cover its agents and they were easily discovered by the intelligence and security agencies of these countries.
In spite of Iran powerful human intelligence, its technical capabilities are still underdeveloped. For example, Iran sent many Intelligence officers of the Revolutionary Guard corps to Iraq after US occupation in 2003 making use of security vacuum caused by the occupation’s resolve of most Iraqi intelligence and security agencies. Many officers were discovered by The Allies Forces intelligence agencies so Iran took them back and activated its Iraqi spies. It formed many armed groups and connected them to the Iranian Quds Force Intelligence Organization, headed by Qasem Soleimani, one of which is the intelligence agency of the Popular Mobilization Forces established in 2017.
Iran has many intelligence networks in different Middle East and Gulf countries, especially countries where Shiite minorities live e.g Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Intelligence Abdali cell, which was uncovered in Kuwait in 2015, is a clear example of how the Iranian intelligence work in the Gulf countries. Many Iranian intelligence networks work in East Asia, Latin America and African countries under cultural, human, religious and other covers. These networks represent big challenges for US, as the Iranian intelligence effort extended to the borders of US national security especially in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba. In July 2013, The US Department of State handed a report to the Congress claiming that the Iranian influence in Latin America is decreasing hence there was no need to change US techniques there. International, US experts and Congress members refuted this report due to the increasing evidence of its incredibility; including the increase of mutual agreements, diplomatic missions, and agents of Quds Force, Revolutionary Guard corps, Ministry of Intelligence and Security. A study carried out by the Congress in 2012 indicates some tactics used by the Iranian Intelligence to expand its capabilities and operations in Latin America. Agents could work secretly as Iranian diplomats or other jobs in the Iranian airlines companies, banks, or even private sector companies. The State Department report that was handed months later, under the law of confronting Iran in Latin America, didn’t bear in mind that Iran or “Hezbollah” was involved in many incidents there especially drug smuggling etc.
Iran managed to recruit most Shiite groups worldwide, especially Lebanese communities. They were employed to collect information about targets of the Ministry of Intelligence in coordination with Lebanese Hezbollah and foreign operations office of Quds Force.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, The Iranian Intelligence Agencies suffered many counterintelligence crises. In 2004 US Intelligence agencies managed to get information of a labtop of the Iranian government that explained in details the designs of a nuclear warhead. Moreover, the western intelligence agencies made use of the split of some of the highest officials of the Revolutionary guard corpse e.g. former Iranian Minister of Defense Ali-Reza Asgari in 2007. Asgari’s split was very important because he was involved in supporting the relation between Iran and Hezbollah. According to intelligence sources, Asgari may have provided Israel with information to support ORCHARD operation; an Israeli strike of a Syrian nuclear reactor. Breaking through Iran by the opponent ethnic groups, especially Kurds in the north, worries Tehran. It seems that Iran failed to uncover many US operations to destroy its nuclear program by intentionally providing it with wrong designs and tools in 2000 and 2003. According to a special “Financial Times” report, US recruited brokers to provide wrong designs of a nuclear warhead and destroy centrifuge machines for Uranium enrichment.
In November 2007, US intelligence agencies changed its assessment of Iran nuclear program. A US intelligence agency report entitled “Iran: Nuclear intentions and capabilities”: “ We assert that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in autumn 2003”. The report, however, didn’t indicate whether Tehran continued its program until the middle of 2007 or not. In its conclusion, the report asserted nuclear intentions couldn’t be discovered by technical tools, they rather require a human intelligence effort.
Israeli air force attack on the nuclear weapons platineum reactor, known as ORCARD operation, in Deir elzour eastern Syria city on 6th of September 2007 that Israel admitted on the 21st of March 2018, was a result of some information the Israeli intelligence got from Asgari. The engineers were killed and the reactor was destroyed. Hence the Iranian intelligence agency launched a vast operation to get rid of many domestic intelligence network members and detained many others who were accused of cooperation with Mossad Israeli Intelligence Agency.
The Syrian nuclear reactor before and after bombing
The western intelligence agencies managed to penetrate into the Iranian society, by the help of Iranian Opposition members, to get a lot of information about Uranium enrichment and the nuclear program. They developed many antivirus to harm the Iranian nuclear program between 2000 and 2003. After these successive developments, Iran established a new intelligence agency called (Iqab) in 2005. The new intelligence agency worked in the field of counter-intelligence, under the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Its main task was to uncover intelligence operations targeting Iranian scientists working at the nuclear program, as many of them were killed between2010 and 2015. Other reasons for the establishment of Iqab were: intelligence hacking of two Iranian secretive nuclear plants, (Barshin and Laftran) and detention of two Iranian spies who were collecting information about the nuclear plants in 2005.
After many foreign intelligence networks were uncovered since the middle of 2007, Ahmad Vahidi replaced General Gholam Reza Maghrabi as leader of Iqab agency, Vahidi is a former commander of The Revolutionary Guard Corps and a former Minister of Defense. Iqab was expanded later and (Iqab2) was established. 10000 members were recruited to work as agents for Iqab, however it is still unable to stop destruction and espionage operations and assassination of important Iranian scientists and figures. An important example of these failures is its inability to prevent Mossad Israeli Intelligence agency from carrying out any of its operations in Iran since 2007. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, in a news conference on the 30 of April 2018, the latest of these operations. He said that Iran transferred the nuclear weapon program to a “secret” site asserting that Israel got 111 page of Iranian nuclear file. He added: “We have many evidences that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons and warheads”. The Mossad managed to get much information through espionage operations by its agents inside Iran.
The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, however, carried out many successful operations. In 2007, the Naval intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps detained 15 British sailors accused of espionage in the Arab Gulf. The detention was a result of a BBC T.V program on the success of the United Kingdom Royal Navy to collect intelligence information about Iran through many operations in the Arab Gulf. In 2011, Los Angeles Times newspaper published a report about Iranian Ministry of Intelligence dissolve of an intelligence network of 30 agents who were recruited by US embassies in United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Malaysia to carry out intelligence operations in Iran.
In April 2014, Iran declared that someone tried to destroy Arak research reactor, tampering with one of its technical components. The Iranian security stopped the trial. As usual, no details were mentioned and no one blamed Israel. In 2012, Iran arrested 20 persons accused of killing five Iranian nuclear scientist since 2010. It accused Israel of the crimes but didn’t declare any evidence. At the same time, investigations on the Iranian Intelligence attacks against Israel, in Thailand, Azerbaijan, Georgia and India in February 2012 continued. Iran asserted its irresponsibility of the attacks and insisted that it was an Israeli conspiracy. This series of Iranian attacks (didn’t kill anyone) led to a ten detentions and many other evidences that the criminals are Iranians. Activities of the Quds Force intelligence agents everywhere (in Gulf countries, Latin America, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Gaza etc) were ineffective. When agents were arrested abroad, Iran used to ask its citizens to come back home and deny any terrorist activity. However, operations of 2012 against Israelis abroad uncovered Iran’s intelligence capabilities. It seems that 2012 attacks were to take revenge of Israeli agents who assassinated many Iranian nuclear scientists. Quds force, however, couldn’t fully achieve its aims. The matter wasn’t surprising; religious fanaticism is more important for Quds Force soldiers than any other talents despite the distinguished capabilities of some of them. Thus Iranians feel embarrassed; they notice that the foreign and western intelligence are capable of penetrating into Iran and carry out their harmful plans while their country just issues press releases. Iran exerts many efforts in its foreign intelligence operations, however its success is controversial especially when we think about the importance of the targeted site or agent.
In this context, former Minister of Intelligence and security Heydar Moslehi declared that it is impossible to stop foreign intelligence agencies penetrating into the country. Fortunately enough, The Iranian intelligence could easily discover them. More importantly it could make use of them later, especially in the field of mutual intelligence work and recruitment before being assassinated by the organizations they were originally working for. The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence declared that foreign espionage networks work in different ways in the country. One such ways is employment offices, as many foreign intelligence agencies launched suppositional web sites in Iran to afford jobs for the Iranians, employ and recruit them later to collect information about military and defense industries in addition to the Iranian secret nuclear sites.
Former Iranian Chairman of the Joint chiefs of staff Hassan Firouzabadi accused “western spies” of using lizards that “attract atomic waves” to spy on the Iranian nuclear program. The declaration of Firouzabadi, Chief Military Councilor of the Supreme Leader Ali Kameini, was s part of his answer on local media questions about recent arrest of environmental activists. According to Agence France-Presse, He said that he didn’t know about the lawsuit details but indicated that the West always use “tourists, scientists and environmental activists to spy on Iran”. Few years ago, Firouzabadi told “Ilna Reformist” agency, some visitors came to Iran with “kinds of lizards whose skin, we discovered, attract atomic waves. They were nuclear spies who wanted to collect information about the Uranium mines and the sites of nuclear activities in Iran”. These statements were issued after the death of the Iranian Canadian environmental activist Seyed-Emami in prison. Two weeks before, seyed was detained with other members of his nongovernmental organization “Persian wildlife Heritage Foundation”. Reports indicated that deputy manager of the Environment Protection Organization in Iran Kaveh Madani was detained and released. He resumed his work and published a coded message on the social media saying “I’m safe”.
In this context, member of the Reformist “Hope Fraction” Mahmoud sadiki criticised the Revolutionary Guard corps’s arrest of some environmental activists and preventing them from any contact with their lawyers and family members. He sent a message through his “telegram” web account to the Head of the Intelligence Protection Organization of the Revolutionary Guard Corps Hossein Taeb accusing the corps of continual violation of legal and religious rights of the accused through the different arresting and interrogation phases. He added that Revolutionary Guard security dealing with social and political issues distorted the public view of it. Thus the Guard “raises suspicions about disintegration of power” and leads to “shake the Iranians trust and confuse them”.
Controlling Media and Propaganda
It is well known that the Iranian regime adopts a clear strategy in the region through which it seeks to expand and enhance its power and publish its ideology abroad. The Arab countries are the first target of this strategy. The regime employs different political and military techniques to achieve these objectives. The regime considers the media an effective tool to fulfill its ambitions through gaining hearts and minds of the Middle East citizens and more. Hence, it invests much money and efforts in the media in and outside of the country. The Iranian Television and Radio, for example, has 21 offices in different world capitals, including Damascus, Beirut, Cairo and other Islamic and Arab countries. Moreover, it has 30 satellite channels showing its programs for 24 hours daily through 12 foreign satellites, in addition to13 radio channels available in different languages worldwide, most important of which are English, French, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Kurdish, Urdu, Swahili and Hausa Africa languages programs.
The Iranian media has a great importance in publishing messages, supporting policies and working against the plans of the international and regional powers targeting the Iranian regime. Media is one of the most important tools of soft power. Iran has the biggest media empire in the region and one of the biggest empires in Asia, the Pacific Ocean and the world. The “Islamic” Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) is a formal institution supervised by the Supreme Leader of Iran. It determines and watches the application of media policies in all Iranian radio and television channels that have to conform with the state’s policies. It is an institution connected to a number of other ministries and government organizations, ex the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The latter takes control of news and visual press, media misinformation and counter propaganda.
The Ministry of Intelligence and Security participates in media misinformation operations. Misinformation Department, “Nefaak” in Persian, is the biggest department of the Ministry. It is employed in propaganda and media misinformation and psychological war against enemies of the “Islamic” Republic. This department also uses the psychological war to mislead the foreign intelligence agencies and media trials to collect information about Iranian military capabilities and intelligence agencies. This department seems to be secretive, it doesn’t occupy any offices. However it controls 80-90% of news in the Iranian formal sites and newspapers. In an interview with the Iranian state television in October 2004, former Minister of Intelligence Ali Younesi mentioned that Misinformation Department of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry drained it; Iran employed thousands of agents, including former members of The People Mojahedin Organization, to enhance the Iranian intelligence effort and efficacy.
As for the internet in the last ten years, The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security in cooperation with the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and IRIB exerted much effort to control the Iranian access to the internet especially in the framework of the “halal” internet project controlled by the Ministry of Intelligence.
Foreign and internal electronic threats led Iran to enhance its attack and defense electronic capabilities, in an unprecedented way, to maintain the stability of the internal regime and safeguard the state vital infrastructure since 2009. Nobody denies that Iran developed its internal operational and technological capabilities and foreign attack capabilities. These capabilities helped ranking Iran one of the first most powerful countries in the world after US and China. From 2009 to 2015, evidences proved that Iran is capable of destroying long-term goals in the western countries systems. But it still hasn’t enough knowledge and tools to carry out complete electronic strategic attacks. Iran established a number of institutions to enhance its attack and defense electronic capabilities most important of which is “the Supreme Council of cyberspace”; the highest institution in the field. It employs high rank officials from the Iranian president to ministers of Science, Culture and Communication, officials of Parliament, Judiciary, intelligence and security agencies. The council is interested in coordination of efforts of electronic attack and defense and adoption of public policies that all institutions of the cyberspace have to implement.
Iran launched many electronic armies in and out of Iran. All of them, most important of which are Iranian Cyber Army, Basij Electronic Army, Syrian Electronic Army, Al-Qassam Brigades and others, work under the public policy determined by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace. These armies carried out many cyber attacks in US, Saudi Arabia, Israel etc. The last attack was of Al-Qassam Electronic Brigades’s on some of the US sites on the 8 th of April 2018 in return for US attack on some Iranian sites one day before. In addition to the role of the Ministry of Intelligence and security in blocking many Iranian sites since 2009. The Ministry claims that All these procedures, the last of which was blocking Telegram service and replacing it with well controlled “Soroush” application , maintain the political regime.
The Ministry of intelligence watches television channels that broadcast oppositional news and religious views to that of the “Islamic” Republic. It tries to control foreign and domestic news and put pressure on the journalists. The Ministry asked the Iranian government to decrease foreign journalists in Iran and control their activities especially during the national celebrations. It warns the government of the presence of foreign journalists that causes problems for the Iranian internal security. It reminds the government of the Iranian incidents during the presidential elections of 2009 and the role of foreign journalists uncovering the Iranian security procedures worldwide, then.
Third: the Iranian Intelligence techniques
These techniques include secretive intelligence procedures and operations that support the armed groups worldwide and launch international terrorist attacks to achieve political aims. Techniques of the Iranian Intelligence are:
*Employing cross borders armed organizations
Iran’s ability to carry out worldwide attacks depends on some of the Middle East armed groups that support its policies. This network of armed groups will be asked to carry out dissimilar attacks that could be deniable and make the counter attack more difficult. Deputy Commander in Chief of the Iranian Army “Mohammad Hejazi” indicated that Iran may ask its supportive armed groups in Lebanon and Gaza to launch missiles on Israel. He supposed that such a proactive attack could be launched before an attack is carried out on Iran. “Hezbollah” leaders asserted their support of Iran or any other entity against “The Zionist regime”. Some of the groups Iran supports are : “ General Command of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”, “ The Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine”, “Hamas” and other less famous relations such as Iran’s connection with “The Somaliland Youth Movement”.
Intelligence and Information collection Agencies
Many close sources to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps uncovered many intelligence and security agencies that work under the supervision of “ the Council for Intelligence Coordination” headed by the Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi. According to a report by “Fars” news agency of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, these agencies are: the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Intelligence Protection Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Intelligence Protection Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, Intelligence and Public Security Police NAJA etc.
In 1984, Iran established the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to combine the intelligence and security agencies that were working independently since the dissolve of “SAVAK” agency of the Shah regime after 1979 Revolution. According to the previous report, Council for Intelligence Coordination, the supreme Iranian Intelligence Institution, consists of “9” members: Minister of Intelligence, Attorney General of the Judicial Institution ,Minister of interior or his deputy, The director of the Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence Security, The director of intelligence Security of Basij Force, The director of Military Intelligence Security, The director of Military Intelligence, Minister of Foreign affairs or his deputy, The director of the Police Intelligence Security. The council determines the general intelligence and security policy, discusses intelligence tasks and issues and determines the tasks of all intelligence agencies according to the law. Moreover, it coordinates with the Supreme Council for National Security in “Studying the bills and regulations” of the Armed Forces and its intelligence activities, supervise the “ministers appointments” and leads the “crisis management committee”. The council’s tasks developed to include “investigation and supervision of the internet and cyberspace”, “confronting cyber attacks against the Iranian Nuclear Program” and “fighting the cultural invasion”.
The Ministry supports the Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence agencies including the misleading office, mentioned before, its task is to launch a psychological war against Iran’s enemies and Quds Force Intelligence Service which runs exterritorial operations. Other agencies have to watch domestic activities of ethnic minorities, Kurds, Baloch, Turkmen, Azerbaijanis (Azeris) and Ahwazi Arabs, in addition to activities of the People’s Mujahedin Organization and other oppositional movements abroad. The Iranian intelligence has an intensive presence in all Arab countries and among Arab communities in US and Europe. It recruits the unemployed, in addition to the ideologists, to work as agents.
Educational, relief and human activities
Iran depends on a vast network of relief activities through which Al-Quds intelligence Force covers intelligence operations, recruits agents, collects information, helps the Iranians to travel to these (mentioned above) countries to work in such institutions and get connected to their agents abroad. Moreover, it collects necessary information to guide the public point of view in these countries in the interest of Iran. One of such examples is Ahl Al-Bayt World Assembly that covers collecting intelligence information, recruits foreign students, transfers money and provisions to Al-Quds Force. In addition to the Iranian lobby(Pro-Iranian “lobby group” in Washington) in US that practices different intelligence activities through holding conferences and symposiums and enhancing friendship with foreigners and Americans in US by supporting Iranian cultural attaches, consulates and embassies. Moreover, many research centers and institutions side by side with charity associations are active in the different fields of Iranian intelligence.
Survey and Spy networks
Iranian Intelligence Agency has an important role in this field in Iraq and Gulf countries. The director of the National center for Security Studies Egyptian Colonel Khaled Okasha indicated that Iranian spy networks worldwide are estimated at “20” thousands, including cultural and research centers and other indirect ways under different covers. A German intelligence report in 2009 estimated Iranian agents in the 6 th states of the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) to be between “2000 and 3000”, most of them are members of Lebanese Hezbollah. The Iranian regime has “800” agents, most of them are working under diplomatic immunity in the Iranian consulates and embassies in the Gulf Countries. This number definitely increased in the last few years, as Iran made use of the instability of the Arab countries to expand its spying activities. Gulf Countries uncovered spy networks launched by the Iranian diplomatic missions: Saudi Arabia in 2013, Kuwait in 2010 and 2015, Bahrain in 2010 and 2011 and United Arab Emirates in 2013. Moreover, according to Internet experts, Iran uses electronic spy networks on a large scale since 2014 targeting security institutions, military and political figures in the Gulf Countries.
After the Syrian developments in the interest of the armed opposition, Iranian Revolutionary Guard leadership decided to take its corps into Samawah desert near the Suadi borders. On the 1st of February 2014, Former Prime Minister Noury Al-Maliki declared “We will eliminate desertification in Iraq”. Before this declaration, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps entered Samawah city under a civilian cover. Many trucks carrying covered equipment, were seen, moving to the desert under guardianship of military vehicles. The corps used one of Iraqi Hezbollah militia buildings as a headquarters in the Iraqi city Samawah to direct the intelligence operations against Saudi Arabia. Revolutionary corps, in civilian uniform, practiced land survey activities in the border areas with Saudi Arabia. They launched aerial survey operations using Iraqi helicopters. In 2015, Iraqi information indicated that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard established military bases for its forces in the border areas of (Al-Salman and Umm Al-Ashoosh) supported by Hezbollah and Badr militias. They practiced daily activities of survey, they were provided with medium weapons, ground-to-air missiles and night vision equipment. After the middle of 2016, ground-to ground missiles were carried on wheels (without launch pads) to the Revolutionary Guard corps in Samawah city.
Fourth: models of the operations of the Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry
Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security carried out many operations in different geographical regions, most important examples of which are:
The intelligence dimension is one of the main factors that complicated the Iranian Kuwaiti relations. The last problem was “Abdali case” in August 2015. Kuwait arrested members of a terrorist cell and seized huge arms in Al-Abdali north of the capital; Kuwait. The arrested were accused of “spying for Iran and Hezbollah, and carrying out operations aiming to destroy the basic infrastructure of the state of Kuwait”. As a result, Kuwait took many diplomatic procedures that aimed at avoiding confrontation with Iran and maintaining good relations with all countries of the region. Before Al-Abdali, Kuwaiti has frequent doubts, even in calm periods, about Iran’s indulgence in establishing destroying and spying nets in the country. The Kuwaiti “Shiite” component played a mediating role between the two countries. However, this component raised concerns of being a potential leverage in the Gulf region especially that “Shiite” clergymen used to defend spies accused in many cases in Kuwait in the 80s. Before the Iranian Iraqi war, relations between the two countries witnessed a noticeable tension as Kuwait was neutral then took Iraq’s side. Kuwait witnessed many incidents e.g. bombing of both US and France embassies in 1983, assassination attempt of Kuwiati Emir in 1985 and hijacking a Kuwaiti plane in 1988. Iran was expected to have directly or indirectly planning these incidents. Later on especially after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the relations improved between the two countries as Tehran supported Kuwati. However, news of uncovering spying cells were issued frequently to revive Kuwait’s distrust of Iran. The most important of these cells was an Iranian spy network for which four persons were sentenced to life imprisonment for accusation of “spying for Iran” in 2010. The uncovered network was one of eight networks which were working under the supervision of the Iranian intelligence. In the same year, Iranian diplomats were accused of recruiting network members years ago. As a result, a group of Iranian diplomats were dismissed from Kuwait in 2011. Kuwait warned of the consequences of the case on the mutual relations between both countries. The networks were accused of transmitting information about US and Kuwaiti establishments, watching US and Kuwaiti armies and observing US sites for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps. Iran denied these accusations on different occasions.
In September 2012, Kuwaiti media declared that security agencies managed to dissolve another Iranian spying cell, in one of the hussainiat in Bnied Al-Gar district west of Kuwait. It was the biggest spy network to be arrested in Kuwait, 39 Revolutionary Guard Corps’ officers and 58 others with different ranks, spy and eavesdropping high quality devices, lab tops to communicate with the Iranian intelligence and a great huge arms and cluster bombs, in an underground passage affiliated to Hussainia, were seized. Iran carried out sea spy operations then. A report issued by the International Institute for Iranian studies uncovers ways of Iranian threats and spy operations in the Gulf countries. Sea spy is one of these operations; wireless devices that could break through the wireless military communications and record their details, were seized on Iranian boats.
It is well known that Iranian cultural attaches are considered channels for carrying intelligence activities. Attaches, estimated at 68 worldwide, are working under a unified department entitled “Islamic Relations and Culture Association” which was established in 1995 with the approval of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, it isn’t an affiliation of the Ministry of foreign affairs. The usual role of the cultural attaches is connected with cultural and touristic affairs of the country and taking care of the scholarship students in the hosting country. However, Iran used these attaches to publish doctrinal ideas, recruit local supporters, promote books and messages of the “Iranian Shiite” thought and publish the Persian language. More importantly, Iran uses these centers as logistic infrastructure to carry out intelligence activities, according to the Kuwaiti experience. So the decision of closure of the Iranian attaches in Kuwait is relatively late, however it will make a new start for the Iranian Kuwaiti relations.
Since the Iranian “Islamic” Revolution, Kingdom of Bahrain suffers Iranian interference in its internal affairs. From trying to export the political conviction according to the Iranian conception through the religious side to extending its influence in the Gulf and Arab Region through a long-term plan, to interference to block the efforts of the Bahraini national dialogue in many stages. Since 1979, Iran used to try affecting the Bahraini identity to change the attitude of the Bahraini citizen towards aggressiveness and violence through groups adopting Tehran’s agenda. These groups spent a lot of time in Iran and returned to Bahrain with the comprehensive amnesty accompanying the launch of the reformation movement. There are many kinds of Iranian interference; diplomatic, media, financial and intelligence. The last one is the most important and effective. Iran made use of the distribution of roles between the formal governing institution and informal figures and institutions that are inseparable part of the regime. The latter used to assert that Bahrain is a part of Iran that should be restored, later, the formal institutions deny that these declaration express Iran’s formal opinion. Political and media cover became the most important kind of Iranian interference in the Bahraini internal affairs in a way that is hard to hide. Iranian official declaration and intensive media coverage played a great role in inflaming the internal position during the crisis. Iranian trials to overthrow the Bahraini regime in the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s were uncovered by the Bahraini security agencies and the confessions of the involved in many spying and violence cases. Iran tried to recruit and train them on terrorist and destruction operations in Lebanon through Syria e.g. uncovering of the terrorist scheme in 1989 of spying cells connection with Iranians in Lebanon and Syria.
The Bahraini protests were unbearable to Iran because of the contradicting attitude of the “Islamic” Republic towards Bahrain. On the one hand Iran was trying to enhance its relations with the GCC countries including Bahrain for a long time. In 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first president to attend the GCC countries summit, suggested a security agreement between Iran and leaders of the GCC. Moreover, he suggested the establishment of an organization to improve the economic cooperation between Iran and the GCC. On the other hand, executive Iranians issued some provocative statements that increased the GCC countries distrust of Tehran. In 2009, for example, Head of the investigation office of the Supreme Leader and former speaker of the Parliament of Iran Ali Akbar Neteq-Nouri declared that Bahrain was “ the 14 th Iranian province until 1970”. This declaration was repeated by the 9th of June 2007 editorial of Iranian effective Kayhan newspaper influenced by Khamenei. “Undeniable documents” according to the editorial indicate that “Bahrain was a part of the Iranian lands 40 years before”. The peninsula’s independence from Iran wasn’t legitimate, it added. In return for Nouri’s statement, Bahrain suspended the natural gas negotiations with Iran and described the declarations as “violation of sovereignty”.
The continuous escalation of the Bahraini security and political problems led the GCC countries to think about the Influence of the Iranian intelligence. Bahrain has an unprecedented state of social mobility in the Gulf Countries. Iran managed to establish communication net with “Shiite” minorities in the Gulf Region taking advantage of the political and security chaos created by the public protests in the Middle East resulting from the Arab Spring Revolutions. The target isn’t only the Bahraini political regime; Iran found out that its trial to change it is a step to change all regimes in the Gulf countries. Its trials to turn the Bahraini and eastern districts of Saudi Arabia social mobility into a sectarian conflict are part of its plan to create social acceptance of its (Iran’s) influence similar to its experience in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. As a result of the escalation of the Iranian interference in the Bahraini affairs, Peninsula shield Force intervened, at the request of the Bahraini government, to control the uprising there. Iran mobilized all media and political channels against this intervention. The tensioned relation between Bahrain and Iran reached a fork, similar to the Decisive Storm that formed a distinct sign in what has been happening in the region for years and regained the missed regional balance to face the Iranian project. This project relatively succeeded to “gain” a good Arab public status claiming to support the Palestinian cause and the oppressed people under the cover of “Islamic nationalism” inseparable from the Arab nationalism in the eyes of the public. But after the Arab Spring the real intentions of the Iranian regime, which had to wake up its dormant cells cultivated in the region since the eighties, were uncovered.
On the 7 th of June 2015, Bahraini Ministry of Interior declared that it foiled a terrorist scheme and arrested some members of “Al-Ashtar Brigades” who were accused of carrying terrorist operations and espionage in the kingdom. These Brigades were formed in the end of 2012 by Ahmad Yousef Sarhan codename Abu Muntazar “Abi Mintazer” and jassim Ahmed Abdullah codename “ Zulfiqar”, both live in Iran now. Moreover, on the 28 th of July 2015, many military and civilian fell victims to a bomb blasted in the village of Sitra. Bahrain had foiled same kind of explosive smuggling three days before (on the 25 th of July 2015). The involved admitted coordination with Iranians to receive the explosives and use them in terrorist operations and espionage in the kingdom. In the same context, supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that Tehran wouldn’t let down its friends in the region especially the Bahraini opposition during Eid Al-Fitr 2015. The Iranian intelligence interference in the kingdom broke out the angry Bahraini attitudes. Minister of Interior “Rashed Abeaallah Aal Khalifa” accused Tehran of establishing camps to train terrorists, hiding the wanted and smuggling explosives, weapons and ammunitions to Bahrain.
Iran continued its trials to create instability in Bahrain; on the 30 th of September 2015, Bahraini Interior Ministry found a huge quantity of explosives, more than 1.5 tons, in an underground floor in a house, in addition to a nearby site for local-made bombs in Nuwaidrat village in the middle of an inhabited district. Bahraini News agency “BNA” said that big quantities of high explosive materials in addition to chemical materials, a number of ready for use explosive devices, automatic weapons, pistols, hand grenades, live ammunition and wireless devices were found in the hideout. The investigation proved that the arrested have close ties with “some terrorists in Iran”.
Iranian interference in Bahrian didn’t stop. It clearly threatened the Gulf country after the Bahraini Judiciary decision of dissolving Al-wefak society. Moreover, in September 2016, Commander of Al-Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps Qasem Soleimani threatened Bahrain and the whole region to use violence because of Sheikh Isa Qassim deprivation of nationality. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps threatened in its statement that Qassim’s deprivation of nationality would lead to a revolution in Bahrain. These threats couldn’t be separable from Iran’s historical and continuous greed in Bahrain. The Iranian officials seek to combine Bahrain, in the context of the expansion policies of the regime there which is indifferent to all international norms and laws that call for respect of all states sovereignty and independence, abidance by good neighboring principles and noninterference in the internal affairs of another country.
The Iranian expansion in Yemen didn’t come late, it was a result of the accumulation of former trials to break through and stay in the Yemeni lands, as in other Arab countries, similar to Iranian attitudes with Lebanon, Iraq, Syria etc. The target of the expansion is to export the “Islamic” Revolution that was just a cover to the Iranian strategy based on dominance over the region especially the Arabian countries. Because of different regional and local changes resulted from the Arab Spring Revolutions, Iran found a good chance to interfere and extend its influence especially after Friday of Dignity bloodshed on 18 of May 2011 and declaration of the Gulf initiative. Iranian project of Polarization and recruitment of youth and activists and sending them out of Yemen under the cover of attending conferences, workshops and seminars. Iran brings activists of youth academics, tribal sheikhs and others to Beirut, Tehran or Damascus to attend these events. Every time a chosen group is prepared for the following political, military, security or media courses.
Different kinds of the Iranian intelligence interference in Yemen:
1-Sending weapons: Iran sent tens of arms shipments to the Houthis since 2006 using usual and unusual techniques. All UN reports about Yemen asserted that Iran transfers missiles, weapons and other military equipments to the Houthis in Yemen continuously, in addition to the role of Tehran in arms smuggling through ships to some Eritrean islands. Small shipments of these arms are transferred by fishing boats to the Yemeni lands where arms brokers smuggle them to Saada Governorate dominated by the Houthis.
-The espionage: in March of 2013, a Yemeni court sentenced a number of Yemenis accused of spying for Tehran between 1997 and2008 to five years imprisonment. The court accused them of communication with employees of the Iranian embassy in Sana’a and handing them reports on coastguards, fuel, war boats and military maneuvers in addition to accurate information about the Yemeni national security. Spying for Tehran isn’t only through spying cells but also through (political movements, Houthis, sponsoring parties, activists and Sheikhs). This long period of espionage and intelligence uncovered Yemeni internal and foreign relations to the Iranians. Hence Yemen raises international and regional worries.
-The training: reports of the international intelligence indicate that Iran trains the armed members of Houthis and separatist movement. While Hezbollah provides media training and finance in addition to the necessary military training to the armed groups.
-The establishment of parties: Iran made use of the Yemenis’ desire of democracy after 2011 revolution. It supports some political parties and established others. It invited hundreds of Yemeni Youth to visit Iran for different political, religious and cultural reasons. Moreover it launched three Yemeni TV channels in 2012, published ten newspapers and financed two daily newspapers in addition to many internet sites in the main Yemeni Governorates. Iran concentrated on the leftists in this field in addition to training the media men in a Lebanese organization owned by some figures supporting it (Iran). It tried to convince some creative persons of these media men to carry out their agenda. Iran managed to control thirty political and parliamentary leaders of different political blocs and parties “apart from the Houthis” to coordinate the local activities of “the movement to end the external tutelage of Yemen”.
With the beginning of the military operations of the Arab Coalition Countries headed by Saudi Arabia entitled storm packages on the 26 of March 2015, Iran found a new focus for regional conflict where it introduced itself as a regional guardian to protect the Houthis group and its interests.
In the first months of war in Yemen, Iran started to escalate the role of the regional agents. Its media address and official declarations concentrated on the war as being a Sunni Arab war against Yemeni Shiite minority trying to ignore the internal political dimensions resulted from the war. It tried to break the Saudi siege on the Houthis in Yemen by sending Iranian relief lines. But US Iranian nuclear deal affected Iran’s management of war in Yemen. Moreover, it asserted that the Yemeni crisis has to be solved politically and participated in the diplomatic activity to stop the war there.
Tehran believes that leading Saudi Arabia to a long-term war of attrition will give it a chance to dominate the region. Thus it asks, for the first time, for the leadership of the Islamic world and claims its right to manage the Two Holy Mosques. Iran helped to make the peaceful “political solution” in Yemen unsuccessful despite its increasing worries of the Houthis defeat and victory of the legitimate government there. At the same time, Iran doesn’t seek a radical comprehensive solution to the Yemeni crisis separately without having an accepted solution in Syria. The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif comment on the International Security Council’s session on Syria indicates this intentional connection between the solution of both Yemeni and Syrian crises in the region according to solutions provided by the Supreme Leader’s group. These solutions do not consider disarmament of the Houthis and dissolving their organization one of the potential choices. Rather, giving them the unoccupied “third” share of the cabinet and having their arms, including the Ballistic missiles it continuously provided them with, is what Tehran wants for the Houthis in Yemen. These Iranian demands could be fulfilled whether through political agreement, international pressures or planned assassinations of Houthis’ opponents ex. former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who turned against them. The reason is Iran’s trials to put the Arab Gulf Region under continuous threat especially when it comes to Saudi Arabia.
Like other expansionist states, Iran remembers its colonial history. It tries by all means to achieve its aims and increase its influence and dominance as a regional power. Iran is present in Yemen and uses all its visible and hidden means. It tries to coax some Yemeni categories and convince them that it supports Yemen, in its wars to maintain its sovereignty and independence, through its (Iran’s) media means to improve its allies and supporters’ image and distort others. The relation between Iran and some Yemeni figures and currents, who try to carry out the Iranian project whether intentionally or unintentionally, is well known. Iran has a strategic project in the Middle East and Yemen is just a part of it.
The main task of the Iranian intelligence in Azerbaijan is to prevent using the Azerbaijani lands in the military operations against Iran. Thus different intelligence activities are being carried out there e.g. affecting the public opinion through the mass media. Moreover, Iran worn of the danger of the Islamic extremists e.g. ISIS and others, which are supported by US intelligence etc, on the assumptions of the Iranian intelligence propaganda there. All these trials depend on the potential confrontation between Iran and US and on the Azerbaijani authorities’ readiness to help US.
Moreover, the Iranian intelligence circles give great attention to the Iranian political emigrants in Azerbaijan and their relations with their Turkish friends in their mother land and with the Azerbaijani and US intelligence agencies. It is well known that Iranian and Azerbaijani northern neighboring districts form an ethnic one cultural district, the historical district of the Azerbaijani Ethnos (30 million of its representatives live in Iran and 8 in the Republic of Azerbaijan). From the beginning of the 90s, Baku was publicly supporting the Iranian Azeri Separatist Movement activists and secretly supporting them since the middle of last decade. The mutual borders between both countries, resettlement of the citizens of one nation on both sides and the traditional disputes between Baku and Tehran gives a good chance to use “Azerbaijan map” to cause destabilizations in Iran. Today, many experts agree that Iran tries to “export the Islamic Revolution” since 1979, exerts much efforts to overthrow the secular regime in Azerbaijan and applies the laws of Sharia there. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is tasked with the establishment of a theocratic regime in Baku.
The Azerbaijani intelligence believes that one of the activities of the IRGC is to destabilize the Islamic Republics of the former Soviet Union. The Iranian intelligence agencies employed powerful agents who penetrated Azerbaijan. They not only get necessary economic, political and military information but also carry out different activities. Former employee at the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan Ilham Ismail asserted that private Iranian services had a vast net of agents in Azerbaijan in 1993, which could provoke Baku whenever it wants.
In the end of August of 2001, for example, the Azerbaijani State Security Service detained six persons in the eastern Azerbijan Galil Abad district because of their continuous visits to a mosque suspected of cooperation with the Iranian intelligence. Moreover, many lists consisting of 30 Azerbaijanis, who were employed by Iran to carry out ideological activities against Azerbaijan in the border areas, were uncovered. It wasn’t the first time to detain the Azerbaijani citizens accused of cooperation with Iranian intelligence. The Azerbaijani National Security Ministry frequently suppressed the Islamist activists who carried out the tasks of the Iranian intelligence. In 1996, for example, an Islamic Party conspiracy, sponsored by the Iranian religious organizations in Baku, against the Azerbaijani government was uncovered. At the same time, a group of the leaders of the Azerbaijani Islamic Party were arrested; many of them were educated in Iran. In January 2007, Officers of the Azerbaijani intelligence get rid of 16 Islamists who were getting orders of the special Iranian circles for two years. In May 2008, four Azerbaijanis, two Lebanese, who had relations with the IRGC and foreign operations fraction “Hezbollah” were detained. The main suspect in this group was the Lebanese “Karki Ali Mohammad” who arrived to Azerbaijan in August 2007 to continue his work with a similar group of 16 Iranian agents (the group was arrested six month before his arrival namely in January 2007). The group members were trained in Iran. According to the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry “The group collected information about the Israeli Embassy in Baku, Israeli ambassador and Israeli economic organizations and worked with Israelis in US”. In December 2007, members of this group were sentenced to prison for terms between two and fourteen years.
All the Iranian intelligence members who were detained by the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry were involved in espionage, preparing for terrorist operations and trying to destabilize the municipality of Nardaran close to the capital Baku. This district is traditionally considered a main castle for the Azerbaijani Islamic opposition and has good relations with Iran. In summer of 2002, there were armed clashes between Islamic opposition members and Azerbaijani law enforcement forces, leaders of the Islamic opposition were accused of cooperation with the Iranian intelligence.
In addition to the Islamic opposition in Azerbaijan, Iran has other influencing elements e.g. the doctrinal dimension; 90% of the inhabitants of Azerbaijan are Shia Ithna-Asheri. Despite of the Azerbaijani Shiite disbelief in “Vilayat-e Faqih” (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist), Iran tries hard to jump on these contradictions and make use of the doctrinal connection to achieve its intelligence aims in the region. In addition to the Iranian worries of the effect of the Turkish Azeri national dimension of the Azeris in Iran. In spite of the fact that the “Ethnic Map” is of secondary importance to the Iranian secret policy towards its northern neighbor, Iran depends on the Islamic opposition in this field. Thus Baku’s formal confrontation with the religious radicals leads to a further worsening of relations between both countries as was usual.
The Iranian intelligence feels free in Azerbaijan. In 2008, it planned to kidnap the Israeli intelligence representative in Azerbaijan who was considered the coordination officer with the Azerbaijani intelligence. Moreover, Iran is worry about increasing the Israeli intelligence activity in Azerbaijan. On the 11th of February 2013, the British “Times” newspaper said that the Israeli Intelligence Agency Mosaad collects information about Iran from the Azerbaijani lands. Iran said that Mossad agents in Azerbaijan put plans to kill the Iranian nuclear scientists. Azerbaijan denied these accusations and described them as lies. The intelligence authorities of the Middle Asian countries prepared a document with detailed analysis of the potential threats of the national security in the context of enhancing the relations with Israel. A big part of the document tackled potential revenge operations targeting these countries national security by the Iranian intelligence and terrorist organizations working with it.
Tehran is sensitive to the Israeli envoys penetration of the Caucasus region. In this context, The Iranian leadership reaction to the former Israeli president shimon Peres’s visit to Baku in the spring of 2009 is a very sensitive indicator. As soon as the Iranian capital knew about the visit, former Iranian chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hassan Fairouz Abadi said that Peres’s visit will cause problems in the relation between Iran and Azerbaijan. There is a bad need to close the Israeli embassy in Baku, in the beginning of April 2010, a report about the Israeli penetration of southern Caucasus countries was handed to the Iranian Islamic Consultative Assembly, he added.
There is a security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan especially the former trained the latter’s intelligence and security agencies and supervised the security staff of the Azeri President during his international trips. Israel and Azerbaijan regularly exchange secret information about their enemies and analyze Israeli satellite photos. Thus journalistic reports on Tel Aviv’s request to put Electronic Listening stations along the Caspian Sea could be true.
The relations between the two countries grew more firmly after Azerbaijani declaration of foiling Hezbollah intelligence agency’s “bombing scheme” of the Israeli embassy in Baku and arrest of 22 IRGC officers accused of hostile acts against US, Israel and a number of western countries embassies.
It is notable that the Azeri authorities worn of protests in front of the Israeli embassy during the Gaza war (2008-2009). Thus an Israeli diplomat said that the Israeli intelligence in Azerbaijan feels at home and the country turned into an “intelligence bridge” to the Israeli security agencies that fixed its position on the borders with Iran. Former Azeri military official Aristo Orowilo asserted that the number of Mossad agents in his country is far less than their Iranian counterparts but they work more efficiently and cunningly.
The Israeli interest in the Caucasus and Middle Asia countries was clear since 2009, especially after the formal trips of the former President Shimon Peres and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman to the Post-Soviet Space (States), as their mutual activities in the South of the Commonwealth of Independent States have a comprehensive course for both the Israeli interests in the former Soviet Union or the Islamic World. In two years. Peres and Lieberman visited Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan; Peres met Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev twice and phoned him frequently. At the same time, both sides agreed to open the Israeli embassy in Kazakhstan in August 1992 and Kazakhstan opened its embassy in Tel Aviv in May of 1996.
From the Iranian point of view, this Israeli movement represents an open challenge, the main principle of the regional strategy of President Ahmadinejad is to prevent the foreign countries of interference in Caucasus and Middle Asia especially the Caspian Sea Area against Iran. Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Manoouchehr Mottaki and secretary of Iranian Supreme Council for National Security Ali Larijani declared this fact in the thirteen conference of Middle Asia and Caucasus in Tehran in December 2005. However, as we said, the continuous tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have never been exceptional. Tehran had many clashes with Baku in the last two decades. Their mutual relations were not affected directly by Azerbaijan dealings with Israel. The Azeri Israeli approachment is certainly one of the kinds of the vast strategic challenges Baku faces (including repeated trials of destabilization by Iran and Russia to regain its dominance over the Caspian Sea Area). Tehran forms only one part of these matters. In brief, Azerbaijan has its convincing strategic reasons to cooperate with Israel and have weak relation with Iran. Despite Tehran’s opposite declarations, there are mutual regional orientations connecting Baku with Israel. There is also a powerful strategic cooperation with US while Iran represents a powerful security threat to the country.
In 2015, the second Israeli TV channel said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Foreign Intelligence Agency “Mossad” and the Directorate of Military Intelligence “Aman” formed a group to study potential threats to Israeli interests in the Islamic countries that were part of the former Soviet Union especially Azerbaijan. When the Iranian Nuclear Project was on the Israeli focus of attention, Israel depends much on Azerbaijan. Decision-making circles in Tel Aviv believe that close relation with Baku improves the Israeli maneuverability in front of Iran. In September 2014, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited Azerbaijan to discuss the ways to expand security cooperation between both countries.
The Israeli Mossad considered Azerbaijan a main front for intelligence confrontation with Iran. The Mossad managed to launch many intelligence operations against Iran through the Azerbaijani lands. One of the most important of these operations is the successful intelligence “Amad Operation” through which the Mossad managed to control many secret Iranian nuclear program files. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared this operation in a press conference on the 30 th of April 2018. In this operation, the Mossad managed to break through the place in which Iran hides these files; an abandoned store in Shorabad suburb southern of Tehran on the 1st of January 2018.This store was subjected to aerial survey operations of the Israeli intelligence for two years. The Mossad agents moved beside the Iranian Ministry of foreign affairs in Tehran in two Lorries holding security registration plates towards the target. They broke through the store and managed to seize111 thousand documents, photos and videos weighing 500 thousand kilos. Then the Lorries crossed the borders through Azerbaijan where they met a supporting Mossad intelligence group with Iranian smugglers who knew nothing about the kind of the shipment. The shipment was transferred from Baku airport to Tel Aviv without the knowledge of the Azerbaijani security authorities. After the arrival of these files, they were analyzed by a mutual team of Mossad and US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to get the results declared by Netanyahu.
Israeli special relations with Azerbaijan and its relation with Kazakhstan, (political relations between them started in 1992) has a great strategic importance to Israel. Being neighbours of Iran, these countries’ lands could be made use of in case of launching a military strike against Iran. Different reports between 2008 and 2012, when Israel was expected to strike Iran, said that the Israeli activity in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia didn’t aim just at exchanging military experiences and maneuvering. Iran accused Israel of the establishment of military base in Azerbaijan to launch its strike against it. Analysts in Israel believe that the relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan is a result of Israel’s search of Middle Asian allies against Iran. They believe that Israel and Azerbaijan are considering Iran an enemy against their existence. Military and economic interests between both countries are connected to the efforts of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to restrict the Russian role. Moreover, both countries have deep intelligence cooperation relations.
Thus the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security is always organized. This organization comes out of working coordination between the ministry and other intelligence agencies. The targets for which it (the ministry) was established gave it its effective role in the Iranian political regime. Its secret work made it one of the main pillars of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) in Iran.
In spite of the fact that Iran wants to have a role in the international geopolitical game, it is still mainly a regional power, it has a great status in the Middle East. At the same time, Iran is about to be a player that has a powerful influence not only in all Middle East countries but also in many African countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. Moreover, the Iranian influence extends to the Islamic communities and organizations in South East Asia, US and Europe.
Iran is developing its economy intensively and its foreign policy is hostile. In general, it is hard to restrict its foreign intelligence influence. Today, Iran has a powerful net of secret agencies and associations that do not work only in the Middle East by also in other parts of the world. The Iranian security agencies are increasingly powerful. In spite of being unable to powerfully compete with CIA and Mossad, it is a matter of time. If nothing changes, the Iranian intelligence would be the main player in all the Middle East and beyond it arenas that Iran will be untraditionally a powerful state.
Now, because of the nature of the techniques adopted by the Iranian intelligence, its ability to collect secret information will remain restricted. Moreover its logistic techniques in supporting its agents abroad raise many questions on its intelligence operations especially if we consider Iranian tendency to use violence. Thus this feature is a trademark of the Iranian intelligence foreign and local operations. All these operations are easy to uncover by foreign intelligence agencies. So all foreign Iranian intelligence nets could be uncovered and pursued by the local agencies.
For example, on the 2nd of October 2018, the French intelligence declared that the Iranian intelligence stands behind the potential attack on the Iranian opposition conference in Villepinte city near Paris in last June. “A long and accurate investigation by our agencies proved that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security is responsible” it added. Later, a joint statement from the French Ministries of foreign affairs, Interior and Economy and Finance said “We foiled a potential attack in Villepinte on the 30th of June. Such a dangerous attempt on our soil couldn’t’ be left unanswered”. Hence, France took many procedures in return for the alleged scheme; freezed assests of the Iranian intelligence and of two Iranian citizens: Asudullah Asadi and Saeedd Hashemi. Moreover, it targeted a secret unit affiliated to the Iranian intelligence.
Since Al-Quds Force came into existence in 1990, Iranian Ministry of intelligence and Security concentrated its activities on watching and assassinating most Iranian government dissidents in and out of Iran in addition to the assassinations it carried out since the 1990s. To support this idea we have to say that Al-Quds Force is responsible for carrying out military and paramilitary secret operations outside Iran including assassination of Israeli officials, training armed forces and collecting information about the districts that have military importance to Iran.
Security responsibilities excessively and clearly overlap between the Ministry of Intelligence and Al-Quds Force because of the close cooperation between them. While the Iranian intelligence is responsible for collecting information, Al-Quds Force has to employ this information practically. It is important to indicate that this close connection is not similar in the relation between the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard corps. Many sources indicate that there is a hidden struggle between both of them, but there isn’t much information about the nature and influence of the struggle on the Iranian intelligence work.
In spite of Iran’s continuous trials to develop its capabilities in the field of counter intelligence, the Iranian internal security will suffer the continuing cyber and human intelligence attacks launched by the Israeli and western intelligence. This was clear when US launched cyber attacks on the 7th of April 2018. Iran wasn’t able to stop these attacks until later, which indicates the great problem it faces. In spite of the establishment of many modern intelligence agencies in and outside of Iran, its nuclear program wasn’t able to keep its secrecy; it was targeted by most intelligence operations since 2004. The Iranian Intelligence agencies, moreover, couldn’t prevent many assassinations of nuclear scientists.
Thus we could say that the main efficacy of the Iranian intelligence was in the near surrounding arena; Iraq, Syria, Arab Gulf, Caucasus, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Outside these geographical borders, the Iranian Ministry of intelligence faced very difficult challenges in both human elements and strategic objectives. Due to these weak points of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, Iran meant to give Al-Quds Force many intelligence tasks because it is the only agency able to coordinate between intelligence and security operations out of its relations with different armed groups in the Middle East. That is why the Iranian regime today gives Al-Quds Force Intelligence Service, which cooperates with Lebanese Hezbollah’s intelligence organization, a great importance to work in the Middle East arenas. While the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security concentrates its effort on other arenas that have no such intensive armed operations of the Middle East today. If we know that officers of the Iranian Al-Quds Force are responsible for the security file of the four capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Sana’a and Beirut), we will understand the nature of the intelligence division Iran adopts today. Thus today the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence comes second, after Al-Quds Force Intelligence Organization, in importance and influence.