Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has been ruled by a hardline theocratic leadership motivated by the concept of “exporting the Islamic revolution”. To this end, Iran has dedicated an entire arm of its military to supporting terrorism. It is called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC. Given the fact that the international media too often ignores the destructive role of Iran and the IRGC in the region, it’s important to ask: What would the Middle East look like without the IRGC?
Israel and the Palestinians
Were it not for the IRGC, maybe, just maybe there would be peace today between Israelis and Palestinians. Last week, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, based in Gaza, fired 690 rockets at Israeli civilians. Surprisingly, several major news organizations continue to confuse cause and effect when it comes to violence between Israelis and Palestinians. So let’s be clear: The goal of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad is not to achieve peace through the two-state solution. Their declared goal is the destruction of Israel which is exactly why the IRGC has been supporting these violent terrorist organizations since the 1990’s.
After the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel embarked on a process of withdrawal from the Palestinian territories that could have brought about peace through the two-state solution. Motivated by its strange obsession with pursuing the destruction of Israel, the government of Iran ordered the IRGC to do everything possible to literally blow up the hopes for peace.
Between 1993 and 2008, no less than 169 Palestinian suicide bombers exploded themselves on Israeli buses, in restaurants and shopping malls. These suicide bombings, and other terror attacks, killed 1,000 civilians and wounded many thousands more.
Although Palestinian terror groups provided the hateful ideology and the suicide bombers, it was Iran’s IRGC that provided the means to commit mass murder.
Iran’s support for Palestinian terrorism was detailed in the captivating book titled, The Bus on Jaffa Road by author Mike Kelly which tells the tragic story of the vicims of a suicide bombing on a bus in Jerusalem in 1996. In the book, we learn about the testimony of Middle East expert Dr. Patrick Clawson who told a U.S. Federal Court that by the 1990’s Iran was already providing Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad with $75 million per year in financial support in addition to training for the bomb makers.
In addition to the threat of suicide bombers from the West Bank, there is the ongoing threat of rockets from Gaza that continues to this day.
Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired more than 10,000 rockets at Israeli civilians including 3,800 rockets during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. Unfortunately, the international community turned a blind eye to Iran’s efforts to supply rockets to Hamas after its takeover of Gaza in 2007.
Although the short-range Kassam rockets were made in Gaza, longer range rockets were supplied by the IRGC through a highly complex smuggling route: Iran to Sudan, through the Sinai Peninsula and then through tunnels into Gaza. For years, these rockets targeted major Israeli cities like Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba and even reached central Israel and the Tel Aviv area.
Since the government of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi came to power in Egypt in 2014, it has become much more difficult for Iran to smuggle rockets into Gaza. Yet, the damage to the Israeli psyche has already been done. A generation of young Israelis who lived through years of suicide bombings and rocket attacks has come to see the idea of withdrawal from territory as a direct threat to their very survival.
Today, Iran continues to provide Hamas and Islamic Jihad with some $100 million dollars a year in financial support which provides the means for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to manufacture rockets in Gaza.
The Syrian Tragedy
Were it not for the intervention of the IRGC, the popular uprising of the people of Syria in 2011 could have brought about the downfall of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and put an end to his brutal regime with a minimal loss of life.
It was only because of the intervention of Iran, and later Russia, that the rebellion was eventually defeated and Assad is still in power today. The price paid by the people of Syria is staggering: more than 500,000 dead and more than five million refugees in addition to widespread destruction throughout the country.
The special unit of the IRGC tasked with supporting the Assad regime is the elite Quds Force headed by the notorious Major General Qassem Suleimani (pictured above). The extent of Iran’s responsibility for the tragedy of Syria is beyond dispute.
Under Suleimani’s ruthless leadership, the IRGC-Quds Force recruited, trained and deployed Hezbollah units and thousands of Shia fighters from across the region to fight in Syria and provided the Assad regime with an endless supply of ammunition, weapons and billions of dollars in financial support.
All this was done so that Iran could control three Arab countries- Iraq, Syria and Lebanon- in order to build what has been called, “Iran’s land bridge to the Mediterranean” and create a platform to launch a future war against Israel. And that brings us to Lebanon.
Lebanon: A powder keg waiting to explode
Hezbollah in Lebanon is the poster child of Iran’s strategic goal of “exporting the Islamic revolution”. As Middle East expert Tony Badran said, “Hezbollah is an extension of Iran and it operates under its command”.
Were it not for the IRGC, Hezbollah would simply be a social-political movement. It was Iran and the IRGC that transformed Hezbollah into a major military force that dominates Lebanon. In fact, they have turned the Israel-Lebanon border area into a powder keg that could explode at any time.
Last December, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced Operation Northern Shield in which it uncovered six Hezbollah terror tunnels that went under the border with Lebanon and extended into Israeli territory. According to IDF officials, the purpose of the tunnels was to infiltrate large numbers of Hezbollah operatives into northern Israel in order to kidnap and murder civilians and occupy parts of the Galilee. Then there is the threat to Israel from Hezbollah’s massive rocket arsenal.
Since the 2006 Lebanon War, the IRGC has re-supplied Hezbollah with some 130,000 rockets and missiles. What make the current situation so explosive are the ongoing efforts of the IRGC to upgrade the accuracy of these rockets through an initiative called “the precision missile project”.
In February, Amos Harel of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, “… the upgrades, which are based on satellite navigation systems (GPS), are meant to improve the rockets’ accuracy. The kits are no bigger than a carry-on suitcase and can thus easily be smuggled aboard a plane. Iran is mainly trying to upgrade Hezbollah’s Zelzal-2 rockets, which have a range of up to 200 kilometers…”.
Since the distance from Beirut to Tel Aviv is 212 kilometers, Israel’s main population centers and strategic facilities would be within striking distance of these missiles.
Israel has sent repeated warnings to Lebanon to halt these efforts via third parties. Most recently, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo warned Lebanon that Israel will not allow Hezbollah’s vast arsenal to become even more lethal.
It is not hard to imagine a point in the near future when the leadership of Israel will decide that it must launch an air strike against a Hezbollah weapons factory in Beirut in order to preempt a much greater danger to Israel. The result could be a regional war described by Major General Amos Yadlin (ret.) former chief of Israeli military intelligence who said, “The next war won’t be the 3rd Lebanon war; it will be the first northern war”. That war would include fighting between Israel and other Iranian proxies based in Syria in addition to fighting with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Because of Hezbollah’s unique relationship with the IRGC, the non-partisan advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran has dedicated a webpage to Hezbollah and also a special resource on Iran’s proxy wars.
It is time for the international news media to report on the tremendous amount of death and destruction caused by the IRGC and provide details on the billions of dollars that Iran has dedicated to supporting terrorism and the Syrian regime. That is why the United States was entirely justified in designating the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
If there is to be any hope for peace in the Middle East, the international community must join the United States in applying “maximum economic pressure” on Iran to end its support for terrorism. Were it not for the IRGC, the Middle East would be a much better place.