Iranian-supplied weapons have led to casualties across the Western alliance for Britain, Israel, and the United States. Tehran has used its weapons deliveries to fuel a number of regional insurgencies, like the Houthi revolt in Yemen.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Hizbullah proxy serve as expeditionary forces for Iran throughout the Middle East, with the latter coordinating terror attacks and fundraising activities in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
State-of-the-art roadside bombs — Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) — from Iran in particular were undoubtedly the most lethal Iranian weapon used against British and American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus the analysis that follows by two former British officers is of extreme importance to anyone concerned with halting the destabilization of the Middle East and the future security of the region.
– Amb. Dore Gold
- Iranian military action, often working through proxies using terrorist tactics, has led to the deaths of well over a thousand American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade and a half.
- Throughout the course of the Iraq campaign, a variety of weapons flowed into the country through direct purchases by the government of Iran. These included Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs), a shaped charge designed to penetrate armor. These weapons – often camouflaged as rocks – were identical to those employed by Hizbullah against Israeli forces. In 2006, the British Telegraph revealed that three Iranian factories were “mass producing” the roadside EFP bombs used to kill soldiers in Iraq.
- In 2007, American troops discovered over 100 Austrian-made Steyr HS50 .50 caliber sniper rifles in Iraq. These high-powered rifles, which fire Iranian bullets, can pierce all in-service body armor from up to a mile and penetrate U.S. armored Humvee troop carriers. The rifles were part of a larger shipment legally purchased from the Austrian manufacturer under the justification that they would be used by Iranian police to combat drug smugglers.
- Iran paid Taliban fighters $1,000 for each U.S. soldier they killed in Afghanistan. The Sunday Times reported that a Taliban operative received $18,000 from an Iranian firm in Kabul as reward for an attack in 2010 that killed several Afghan government troops and destroyed an American armored vehicle.
- Iranian President Rouhani’s so-called “moderation” was displayed when he appointed Brig.-Gen. Hossein Dehghan to be minister of defense. Dehghan played a key role in the October 1983 suicide bomb attacks in Beirut in which 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French paratroopers were killed. Meanwhile, inside Iran, Rouhani has presided over a rise in repression, including executions, torture of political prisoners, and persecution of minorities.
It appears that the recent framework agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1, led by the U.S. Administration, will result in a deal that would allow Iran to become a nuclear-armed state. In this context, it is worth recalling the true nature of the Islamic Republic, in particular its recent track-record of violence against the United States and its allies. Both authors of this study had responsibilities for UK national intelligence assessment and crisis management during the period when this violence reached its peak in Iraq.
Many have forgotten, or perhaps never realized, that Iranian military action, often working through proxies, usually using terrorist tactics, has led to the deaths of well over a thousand American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade and a half. Does it make sense to risk allowing a regime that, since its inception, has been conducting a war against the United States and its allies to become a nuclear power?
Anti-Americanism helped fuel the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. A violent anti-American doctrine that challenges any role for America in the Middle East, has been and remains the central focus of Iranian foreign policy. Since the revolution, Iran has waged and continues to wage war against the United States and its allies.
Iran has conducted this war primarily using the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and the Iranian proxy Lebanese Hizbullah. Both have been engaged in direct military action; and both have cultivated and supported military action abroad by other proxies, mainly through the use of terrorist bombings, abductions and assassinations. The killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan serves a strategic goal (see later section “Killing Americans and Allies Globally”). However, Iranian violence has often been intended not to achieve any specific tactical or strategic objective, but simply to hurt the U.S. Most of these actions have been designed to be deniable, or at least unprovable.
Focusing primarily on events since 2001, this study will survey Iran’s war against the U.S. and its allies, using organs of the Iranian government as well as proxies.
The majority of Tehran’s killing of Americans was done in Iraq up until the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. Some occurred in Afghanistan until more recently, and likely continues today against America’s Afghan allies, and may again occur against U.S. forces that remain there. The current curtailment of this activity has not been due to a change of stance by Iran, but to the redeployment of U.S. and allied forces. Depending on future U.S. action in Iraq and Syria, it is quite likely that Iran will again orchestrate attacks against American troops, even as they are fighting the same enemy (the Islamic State).
Those who have seized upon President Hassan Rouhani as a “moderate” with whom business can be done by the West should exercise caution. He was “elected” president because that was the will of the Supreme Leader, Ali Hosseini Khamanei. The Supreme Leader controls the president and is head of the armed forces, responsible for national defense.
An indication of Rouhani’s “moderation,” and his own stance towards the U.S., occurred early on when he appointed Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan to be minister of defense. Dehghan played a key role in the October 1983 suicide bomb attacks in Beirut in which 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French paratroopers were killed.
Meanwhile, inside Iran, Rouhani has presided over a rise in repression, including executions, torture of political prisoners and persecution of minorities, according to an analysis published by human rights groups including Amnesty International.1
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
Founded by Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after the overthrow of the Shah and the onset of the Islamic Revolution in 1978-1979, Iran’s IRGC has morphed from its initial, mainly ideological composition into a particularly powerful organ of Iran’s political system, the upper echelons of which tend to be drawn from the ranks of the IRGC. On September 2, 2007, for instance, Khamenei named Mohammad Ali Jafari as commander in chief of the IRGC. Along with other regime hardliners, Jafari has continued to oppose serious concessions in the context of a permanent nuclear agreement with the West.
The IRGC is comprised of an army, navy and air force. Iran frequently performs naval exercises in the Gulf as a show of strength and continues to develop “anti-access and area denial” capabilities to control the Strait of Hormuz and its approaches. More specifically, the IRGC is developing increasingly lethal systems such as:
- Advanced naval mines.
- Coastal defense and anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.
- Attack craft.2
Additionally, the IRGC boasts a paramilitary unit, comprised of approximately 10-20,000 individuals, known as the Qods Force. The strategic objective of IRGC-QF is to subvert Iran’s enemies and export the Iranian Revolution, a goal it attains largely by facilitating the delivery of weapons to pro-Iranian factions in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Persian Gulf states, Gaza and the West Bank, Afghanistan and Central Asia.3 In 2007, the Treasury Department designated IRGC-QF as a terrorism-supporting entity.
From 1988-1995, the commander of IRGC-QF was Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, who subsequently served as defense minister in 2009-2013. He led IRGC-QF when it allegedly facilitated two terrorist bombings of Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires, killing more than 100 people and wounding 540. Moreover, he allegedly recruited Hizbullah activists later accused of the June 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in which 19 U.S. servicemen lost their lives and 498 were wounded. He also orchestrated the assassination of Iranian dissident leaders in Europe in the early 1990s.
Since 1998, Major General Qassem Suleimani has led IRGC-QF, in which time he has created branches focused on intelligence, finance, politics, sabotage and special operations. With a direct and independent channel to Khamenei, Suleimani has successfully sought the assassination of political rivals, armed terrorist proxies and directed a network of insurgent groups in Iraq that killed over a thousand Americans.
In 2010, IRGC-QF and Hizbullah reportedly launched a new campaign against American and Israeli targets. The move was designed in apparent retaliation for the covert effort to deter the Iranian nuclear program, including the implementation of the Stuxnet virus and the death and disappearance of some prominent Iranian nuclear scientists.4 In the last five years, Suleimani has planned and directed attacks in Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, Nairobi, and even the United States. The latter involved the dispatch of two Iranian agents to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. by bombing a restaurant a few miles from the White House.
Hizbullah was formed in 1982 as the terrorist arm of the Islamic regime in Tehran. Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, Iran’s then-ambassador to Syria, helped create Hizbullah, a Lebanese-based Shiite Muslim terrorist organization. The group’s original goal was to establish an Islamic republic in Lebanon. The radical brand of Islam that Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini espoused during his reign served as the inspiration for Hizbullah. The platform of Hizbullah pledges loyalty to Iran’s Supreme Leader and urges the establishment of an Islamic regime and the destruction of Israel.5
Iran has helped Hizbullah build a global terror network and a substantial military framework that is unparalleled in any other terrorist group in the world. Iran frequently supports Hizbullah terror operations, often employing agents from the IRGC who operate clandestinely from Iranian embassies worldwide. It directs Hizbullah and provides it with personnel, terrorist training, intelligence, logistics and finances; and has supplied large quantities of high-grade weapons, including:
- Advanced anti-tank missiles. Hizbullah’s anti-tank guided missiles include the Russian-made AT-3 Sagger, AT-4 Spigot, AT-5 Spandrel, AT-13 Saxhorn-2 ‘Metis-M’, АТ-14 Spriggan ‘Kornet’, Iranian-made Ra’ad (version of AT-3 Sagger), Towsan (version of AT-5 Spandrel), Toophan (version of BGM-71 TOW), and European-made MILAN missiles.
- Katyusha [Grad] rockets. Hizbullah possesses the Katyusha-122 rocket, which has a range of 29 km (18 miles) and carries a 15-kg. (33-lb.) warhead.
- Artillery cannons.
- Anti-aircraft weapons including the ZU-23 artillery and the man-portable, shoulder-fired SA-7 and SA-18 surface-to-air missile (MANPADS).
- Naval warfare materiel, including the C-802 anti-ship missile.
- Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Iran has supplied Hizbullah with Mohajer-4 UAVs. These were reportedly flown successfully into Israeli airspace in November 2004 and April 2005. A Hizbullah drone was shot down off the coast of northern Israel in April 2013.
- Ground-to-ground long-range rockets. Hizbullah’s long-range missiles include the Iranian-made Fajr-3 and Fajr-5, the latter with a range of 75 km. (47 miles), enabling it to strike the Israeli port of Haifa; and the Zelzal-1, with an estimated 150 km (93 miles) range, which can reach Tel Aviv. Fajr-3 missiles have a range of 40 km (25 miles) and a 45-kg. (99-lb.) warhead, and Fajr-5 missiles also carry 45-kg. (99-lb.) warheads. In 2014 various news accounts reported Hizbullah had acquired heavy Scud missiles.
No terrorist organization in the world benefits from such significant, ongoing and regular supply of high-grade, sophisticated munitions.
As well as munitions, Iran provides approximately $100-200 million per year in funding to support Hizbullah.6,7 Hizbullah’s operational infrastructure was developed almost entirely with extensive Iranian backing including financial support, transportation of weapons and training of the organization’s activists. Hizbullah is seen as an Iranian forward unit in Lebanon and the ultimate product of the Islamic Revolution.
In an interview he gave to the Iranian newspaper Al-Sharq, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi (one of Khomeini’s loyalists, a founder of Hizbullah, former Iranian ambassador to Syria and Lebanon and former Iranian Minister of Interior) addressed the relationship between Hizbullah and Iran. He stated that “Hizbullah is part of the Iranian rulership; Hizbullah is a central component of the Iranian military and security establishment; the ties between Iran and Hizbullah are far greater than those between a revolutionary regime
with a revolutionary party or organization outside its borders.”8
Hizbullah’s Shura Council makes strategic decisions regarding the organization’s terrorist activities locally, regionally and abroad, as well as all decisions concerning socio-political policy in the Lebanese, regional and international systems. It is comprised of nine permanent members, two of whom are always Iranian government or military officials.
Hizbullah continually demonstrates a deep and profound animosity towards the U.S. A central facet of the organization’s ideology, that enmity is a direct result of the Iranian revolutionary outlook that defined the U.S. as the “Great Satan.” Hizbullah claims that the goal of American policy is to take control over the entire region and to strip the Arabs of their natural resources, with Israel being a means of achieving this plan.
Since the U.S. began its campaign against international terrorism following 9/11, Hizbullah has significantly increased its level of rhetoric, incitement and propaganda against the U.S. and its policies. Additional motivation came from the U.S. presence in Iraq, the Iranian nuclear program crisis and Israel’s Second Lebanon War in July and August 2006. Indeed, the Second Lebanon War was perceived by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah as an additional phase in the American conspiracy intended to dominate the Middle East and usurp its resources. Hizbullah views Israel as a proxy for America to attain its objectives in Lebanon. The chants of “death to America” and “death to Israel” are often heard during Hizbullah ceremonies and rallies in Lebanon, in Iran and amongst the organization’s supporters around the world.
Many significant Hizbullah operations against the U.S. and its allies since 2001 are described below, along with the activities of other limbs and proxies of the Iranian regime. Historic Hizbullah attacks are outlined at Annex A.
Killing U.S. and Allied Troops in Iraq
Iran viewed the conflict in Iraq that began in 2003 as a part of its war with the United States and its Middle East allies. During the conflict, Iran supplied weapons, ammunition and other munitions to many of the extremist groups, both Sunni and Shia, which were attacking U.S. and Coalition forces. Iran also sent IRGC and Hizbullah officials to train, guide, direct and motivate those groups.9 Iran-backed Shiite militias used sophisticated weapons, including lethal armor-piercing versions of IEDs and rocket-boosted mortars, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.10
Iran’s support for Iraqi insurgents led to the deaths of an estimated 1,100 U.S. soldiers as well as other Coalition troops in Iraq, including British forces. Former U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010-2012, James Jeffery, said: “Up to a quarter of the American casualties and some of the more horrific incidents in which Americans were kidnapped…can be traced without doubt to these Iranian groups.”11
During his address to the United States Congress on September 11, 2007, General David Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I), noted that IRGC-QF had provided training, equipment, funding and direction to terrorists in the country. He said: “When we captured the leaders of these so-called special groups…and the deputy commander of a Lebanese Hizbullah department that was created to support their efforts in Iraq, we’ve learned a great deal about how Iran has, in fact, supported these elements and how those elements have carried out violent acts against our forces, Iraqi forces and innocent civilians.”12
In 2009, Petraeus said that Iran continued to fund, train, equip and direct Shiite militias and extremists in Iraq. He said there were daily attacks using signature weapons only made by Iran.13
Hizbullah funded radical Iraqi Shiite groups and established a clandestine network in Iraq with operatives that cooperated with local Iraqi as well as Iranian Shiite insurgents. Its operatives provided training to those insurgents, including training in the construction and use of shaped charge Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that can penetrate heavily-armored vehicles, according to the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Terrorism.14 A number of Shiite insurgents traveled to Lebanon to undergo Hizbullah training in terrorist explosives and tactics. According to the U.S.-led Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), by late 2007, IEDs had killed or wounded 21,200 Americans in Iraq, and the Hizbullah and IRGC-designed Explosively Formed Penetrators had become the most lethal roadside bomb ever seen in the country.
It is worth noting that apart from Al Qaida, Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah has been responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other terror group.
Iranian Weapons and Weapon Components Used Against U.S. Troops in Iraq
Throughout the course of the Iraq campaign, a variety of weapons flowed into the country through direct purchases by the government of Iran. These included Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs). An EFP is a special type of shaped charge designed to penetrate armor effectively at standoff distances. As the name suggests, the effect of the explosive charge is to deform a metal plate into a slug or rod shape and accelerate it toward a target. Coalition forces first recognized that enemy groups were using Iranian-supplied EFPs to conduct attacks in Iraq in the middle of 2004. These weapons – often camouflaged as rocks – were identical to those employed by Hizbullah against Israeli forces in the area bordering southern Lebanon prior to 2004. During 2006 the rate of use of these devices in Iraq grew by 150% and continued to rise month after month well into 2007.
In 2006, the British newspaper, The Telegraph, revealed that three Iranian factories were “mass producing” the roadside EFP bombs used to kill soldiers in Iraq. “The factories are in the Lavizan neighborhood in northern Teheran which is controlled by the country’s defense ministry,” The Telegraph wrote. “The Sattari Industry specializes in anti-tank mines and operates under the aegis of the IRGC’s al-Quds or Jerusalem Force.” 15
On October 16, 2009, the U.S. Secretary of State’s office sent a “Secret, Priority” cable to the U.S. consul in Ankara, Turkey, regarding “Turkey’s seizure of Iranian shipment of concern.” Earlier in the month, the cable said, Turkey “halted a convoy of three flatbed trucks enroute from Iran to a Lebanon-based company via Syria. The trucks were suspected of carrying a furnace, a large hydraulic press, and a punch press – all of which we believe are intended for Hizbullah and used to produce advanced improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosively formed penetrators (EFPs).”
The secret State Department cable continued: “Given the strong relationship between Iran and the Lebanese Hizbullah, Iran’s history of provision of lethal aid to Lebanese Hizbullah, and the fact that the final destination of this cargo is Beirut, we feel strongly that Iran is trying to transfer an EFP production capability to Lebanese Hizbullah. We also would like to emphasize that insurgents and terrorist organizations are using EFPs against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, to significant effect.”
The shipment, the cable added, violated UN Security Council Resolution 1747 which “prohibits Iran from supplying, selling or transferring from its territory any arms or related materiel. It also requires all states to prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not such transfers originated in the territory of Iran.”16
General David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq in 2007, accused Iran of providing advanced weaponry to militias in Iraq. “They are responsible for providing the weapons, the training, the funding and in some cases the direction for operations that have indeed killed U.S. soldiers,” Petraeus stated. “There is no question about the connection between Iran and these components, (the) attacks that have killed our soldiers.”17
Other weapons sent from Iran to insurgents in Iraq in 2007 included:
- 81 mm mortars.
- Repainted Type 63 107mm rockets imported into Iran from China and marked for sale in the open markets. The Type 63 HE-Fragmentation Spin-Stabilized Rocket is an electrically initiated rocket incorporating a high-explosive fragmentation warhead. It is normally fired from a trailer or truck-mounted multiple launcher, but may also be fired from single-tube launchers that can be mounted on small boats as well as from improvised launch sites such as sandbags and mounds of earth. It is a barrage weapon used against personnel and material.
- RPG-7 shoulder-launched anti-armor rocket-propelled grenades.
- Canisters filled with Iranian-manufactured Hadid 60mm mortar rounds.
- 240mm rockets.
Also in 2007, American troops discovered over 100 Austrian made Steyr HS50 .50 caliber sniper rifles in Iraq. These high-powered sniper rifles, which fire Iranian bullets, can pierce all in-service body armor from up to a mile and penetrate U.S. armored Humvee troop carriers. The rifles were part of a larger shipment legally purchased from the Austrian manufacturer by Iran a year previously under the justification that they would be used by Iranian police to combat drug smugglers. Although there was concern in both Washington and London at the time, the sale went through and the weapons were shipped to Iran. The presence of such weapons demonstrates a high level of sophistication in the Iranian arms flow into Iraq, as the purchase was made officially by the Iranians.18
Killing U.S. and Allied Troops in Afghanistan
Although they previously opposed the Taliban in Afghanistan during the conflict there since 2001, Iran has provided support to enhance Taliban capability to kill U.S. forces and their allies. It is not clear exactly when this support began. It has been conducted primarily through the IRGC as in Iraq, although on a smaller scale. Support has included provision of munitions, funding, training and allowing transit through Iranian territory to Taliban fighters.
U.S. and other NATO forces have intercepted shipments of Iranian-made arms in Afghanistan, including mortars, plastic explosives and the same type of EFPs that were used to attack U.S. and allied armored vehicles and to kill soldiers in Iraq. William Wood, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan (from 2007–2009) said in 2008: “There is no question that elements of the insurgency have received weapons from Iran.”19
According to the U.S. State Department in its Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009:20,21
Iran’s Qods Force provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons. Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives.
According to a RAND report: “Although Iran has traditionally backed Tajik and Shi’a groups opposed to the Taliban, its enmity with the United States and tensions over the nuclear program led it to provide measured support to the Taliban.”22
In 2008, UK Special Forces operators reportedly obtained evidence indicating that Iran was supplying components for EFPs to Afghan insurgents.23 Iran paid Taliban fighters $1,000 for each U.S. soldier they killed in Afghanistan. A man described by The Sunday Times as a “Taliban treasurer” had reportedly received $18,000 from an Iranian firm in Kabul as a reward for an attack in 2010 that killed several Afghan government troops and destroyed an American armored vehicle.24
The discovery of the first caches of Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan in April 2008, according to an unnamed U.S. State Department official at the time, “sent shock waves through the system.”
In 2009 General Petraeus, then Commander of U.S. CENTCOM, confirmed that Iran was providing equipment, explosives and perhaps also funding to the Taliban in western Afghanistan. He considered that this was not because Tehran wanted the Taliban to succeed, but because they saw it as a way of hitting the U.S.25
In May 2010, General Stanley McChrystal, then NATO commander in Afghanistan, said that Iran was training Afghan fighters inside Iran. And in March of that year, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed Congress that large-scale weapons shipments from Iran had been intercepted bound for Afghanistan.26
An uncorroborated media report in 2010, allegedly from a CIA source, suggested that the Taliban had been supplied by Iran with 36 Iranian shoulder-launched SA-7 surface-to-air missiles. An Afghan intelligence report at around the same time suggested that Iran had provided a re-supply of SA-7 batteries for these missiles.27 On May 30, 2007, a U.S. CH-47 Chinook was shot down in the upper Sangin valley, killing five American soldiers, one British soldier and one Canadian soldier. Until July 25, 2010, its downing was officially attributed to small arms and a rocket-propelled grenade. However, subsequent investigations by coalition forces revealed that it was downed by a man-portable air defense weapon (MANPAD). Prior to that, Coalition forces generally downplayed or even denied any form of MANPAD attack by Taliban insurgents.28
Members of the Afghan Parliament have accused Iran of setting up Taliban bases in several Iranian cities, and that “Iran is directly involved in fanning ethnic, linguistic and sectarian tensions in Afghanistan.”29 In March 2012, Najibullah Kabuli, leader of the National Participation Front (NPF) of Afghanistan, which opposes the return of the Taliban to power, accused three senior leaders of the IRGC of plotting to assassinate him.30
Forty-eight 122mm rockets were seized in an ISAF raid in Nimruz province on February 5, 2011. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “The detailed technical analysis, together with the circumstances of the seizure, leave us in no doubt that the weaponry recovered came from Iran.” General Petraeus, then Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, confirmed this during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March of that year.31
Petraeus asserted that the IRGC-QF had supplied forty-eight 122 millimeter rockets to a “known Taliban facilitator.” He told the committee that the rockets had twice the range of the 107 mm rockets normally used by the Taliban, with “twice the bursting radius.” He re-affirmed that Iran, without question, provides weapons, training and funding to the Taliban. He noted that such support was carefully measured to hit U.S. forces while not allowing the Taliban to succeed.32
In February 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department added to its list of global terrorists three IRGC officers and one “associate” who are involved in the “use of terrorism and intelligence operations as tools of influence against the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.” The designation of the four IRGC operatives “underscores Tehran’s use of terrorism and intelligence operations as tools of influence against the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” according to the Treasury Department.33
There has been no reliable estimate of the number of U.S. and allied soldiers killed in Afghanistan as a result of Iranian support to extremists there. The figure will be lower than the 1,100 U.S. deaths in Iraq that are estimated as attributable to Iran, but nevertheless, we can be certain that Iranian action has killed U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.
Killing Americans and Allies Globally
Iran’s sponsorship of terror is intended to achieve two strategic goals: first, undermining the U.S.-led effort to isolate Iran; and second, bridging the Shiite-Sunni divide in order to build a pan-Islamic, anti-American front. To achieve these objectives, Iran has backed an array of terrorist organizations. According to the U.S. State Department, in its Country Report on Terrorism for 2013, Iran has funded or facilitated terror activity in more than a dozen countries, stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and beyond.
Supporting Al Qaida
Although Iran is Shia and Al Qaida Sunni, and although they have different goals, Iran and Al Qaida have sometimes made common cause in view of their common adversary, the U.S. A shared willingness to cooperate against the U.S., despite their theological differences, has spawned an important tactical relationship.
An active Al Qaida network operates today in Iran with the full knowledge and support of the regime. Led by the Syrian-born Yasin al-Suri, this network organizes the movement of Al Qaida terrorists, documentation and funding from and through Iran to Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West. Al-Suri’s role was first exposed by the U.S. Treasury and State Departments in 2011. In December of that year, the U.S. government began offering a $10 million reward for information leading to al-Suri’s capture.34
Recent terrorist plots in Europe, the U.S., Canada, and against Western targets in Egypt have been linked to al-Suri’s Iran-based cells.35 Links have also been identified between this Al Qaida network in Iran and the 7/7 bombings in London as well as a planned attack against Heathrow Airport in 2006. Al-Suri’s group also supports the Al Qaida al-Nusrah Front in Syria by helping to transfer funds from donors in the Gulf and Kuwait.
In February 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) as a terrorist-sponsoring entity for, among other things, supporting Al Qaida and Al Qaida in Iraq’s operations.36 More recently, as documented by the U.S. State Department in its Country Report on Terrorism for 2013, Iran has repeatedly resisted numerous calls to transfer custody of its Al Qaida detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for trial.37
Closer to home, Al Qaida in Iraq, now known as the Islamic State (IS), has benefited not only from al-Suri’s network, but also from funding and weaponry supplied by the MOIS. There is a strong likelihood that this support continues today, even as Iranian forces aid opposing Shia militia groups in Iraq, and engage in battle against the IS. To squeeze out moderates in the center, as well as to hedge their bets against a range of potential outcomes in Syria and Iraq, Iran has effectively been facilitating both sides of the conflict.38
Attack Plans against the U.S.
In 2011 the IRGC attempted to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. by blowing up a Washington restaurant. Iranian-born U.S. dual-national, Mansour Arbabsiar was arrested by U.S. authorities and pleaded guilty in a New York court to participating in the plot.39 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the plot was “directed and approved by elements of the Iranian government and, specifically, senior members of the Qods Force.”40
In April 2013, a joint U.S.-Canada investigation thwarted a terrorist plot by two co-conspirators to derail a Canadian passenger train carrying passengers between Toronto and New York. One of the perpetrators, Chiheb Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born doctoral student, is believed to have travelled to Iran within two years of the attempted attack. Canadian police said the two men had received “direction and guidance” in the plot from “Al Qaida elements in Iran.”41
Repeated Congressional testimony from senior American security and defense officials has revealed Hizbullah cells are present in the U.S. They are known to be engaging in surveillance, fund-raising and acquisition of military technology. Notable examples include:
- In 2002, two men in North Carolina were tried and convicted for providing material support to Hizbullah through racketeering and conspiracy to commit money laundering by channeling profits from cigarette smuggling to purchase military equipment for Hizbullah.42
- In 2006, former FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed that Hizbullah supporters attempted to cross the Mexican border into the U.S. Although the perpetrators were caught by the FBI, the cross-border attempt demonstrates Hizbullah’s willingness to insert operatives inside the U.S.43
- In 2007, Texas Homeland Security Director Tom McCraw claimed that additional terrorists affiliated with Hamas and Hizbullah had been captured trying to cross the Mexican border.44
- In 2007, the U.S. Department of Treasury declared that Goodwill Charitable Organization Inc. in Dearborn, Michigan, was a fundraising front for Hizbullah, closed the organization’s offices and froze its assets in U.S. financial institutions.45
Iran has regularly threatened to launch spectacular attacks, including suicide attacks, drone strikes and missile technology, against American assets.46 Iranian Naval Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a member of the IRGC, said that Iran is constantly training and preparing for a clash with the U.S.47 In May 2014, IRGC Navy Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Ali Fadavi described targeted Iranian preparations to sink U.S. aircraft carriers:
Today the Americans and the entire world know that one of our operational goals is destroying U.S. Navy Forces….Aircraft carriers provide U.S. airpower in combat; therefore it is natural that we want to sink them….Americans are unaware of many matters. Their research centers analyzed the mock aircraft carrier in a common way. We have been building and sinking mock U.S. destroyers, frigates, and cruisers for years. We sank their models [mock-ups of destroyers, frigates, and cruisers] within 50 seconds even with various operational [counter] measures….We will execute this regarding the mock aircraft carrier as well because destroying, annihilating, and sinking U.S. boats has and will be in our plans.48
The threat level goes beyond mere rhetoric. On February 27, 2015, the IRGC announced that it test-fired a “new strategic weapon” on the final day of a large-scale naval and air defense drill, emphasizing the system would play a key role in any future battle against the U.S. Adm. Ali Fadavi, the IRGC’s naval chief, said, “The new weapon will have a very decisive role in adding our naval power in confronting threats, particular by the Great Satan, the United States.”49
In May 2014, the U.S. cyber security company, iSight Partners, uncovered a cyber-espionage campaign targeting hundreds of high-ranking U.S. and Israeli defense, diplomatic and other officials through social media networks.50 The hackers sought to obtain intelligence that could support weapon systems development, or provide insight into the U.S. military, the U.S.-Israel alliance or nuclear negotiations between Iran and the U.S. and other powers, the report said.51 Subsequent reports showed the sophistication of the scheme and suggests a government entity was behind the hacking – namely, the Iranian government.52 “It is such a complex and broad-reaching, long-term espionage campaign for the Iranians,” said Tiffany Jones, a senior vice president at iSight and a former National Security Council aide in the George W. Bush administration. “What they lack in technical sophistication, they make up in creativity and persistence.”53
Fueling the Conflict in Syria
Iran provides arms, financing, training and the facilitation of Iraqi Shia fighters to the Assad regime’s war, which has resulted in the death of more than 200,000 civilians in Syria. Iran has publicly admitted sending members of the IRGC to Syria in an advisory role. There are reports indicating some of these troops are IRGC-QF members, and that they have taken part in direct combat operations. In February 2013, senior IRGC-QF commander Brig. Gen. Hassan Shateri was killed in or near Zabadani, Syria. This was the first publicly announced death of a senior Iranian military official in Syria. In November 2013, IRGC-QF commander Mohammad Jamalizadeh Paghaleh was also killed in Aleppo, Syria. Subsequent Iranian media reports stated that Paghaleh was volunteering in Syria to defend the Sayyida Zainab mosque, which is located in Damascus. The location of Paghaleh’s death, over 200 miles away from the mosque he was reported to be protecting, indicates Iran’s intent to mask the operations of IRGC-QF forces in Syria.54
According to the U.S. State Department in its Country Report on Terrorism for 2013, Iran was facilitating the transfer of both Shiite and radical Sunni fighters into Syria, essentially funding both sides of the country’s conflict and targeting moderate Sunni rebel groups. The report also confirmed that Iran “trained, funded, and provided guidance to Iraqi Shia militant groups,” which had been done “despite [Iran’s] pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization.”
Tehran views the Syrian conflict as an extension of Iran’s war with the U.S. IRGC Commander Col. Mohammad Eskandari said, “IRGC commanders have prepared and equipped 42 divisions and 138 battalions in [Syria], and are fully prepared to fight the enemy….Today’s war in Syria is really our war with America.55 Iranian officials in June 2014 were reportedly trumpeting Assad’s anticipated reelection as a defeat for the U.S. and “celebrating not only the affirmation of Assad’s continued hold on power that the election represents, but also Iran’s role in sustaining him.”56
Killing America’s Israeli Allies
The Iranian government views its actions against Israel as serving two purposes: firstly, to destroy the Jewish State; and second, to attack one of the most important U.S. allies in its ongoing war against the U.S. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on July 23, 2014 that he believes there is only one solution for the “cancer” that is Israel: annihilation. “Israel’s annihilation is the only real cure.”57
According to the U.S. State Department in its Country Report on Terrorism for 2013, Tehran has “historically provided weapons, training and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups.”58 Israel has long asserted that Iran is arming Gaza terrorists with advanced weaponry, which is then used to target Israeli civilians.
During the second intifada, in January 2002, Israel interdicted a ship carrying roughly 50 tons of Iranian-supplied arms bound for Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Purchased by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Lebanon, the Karine A had sailed from Sudan to Yemen and then to an Iranian island where it was loaded with 50 tons of war material including:59
- 345 long- and short-range Katyusha rockets plus 10 launchers.
- 29 mortar tubes and 1,545 shells.
- 6 Sagger wire-guided anti-tank missile launchers and 10 missiles.
- 51 RPG-7 anti-tank missiles and 328 rockets.
- 30 high-powered Dragonov telescopic rifles.
- 212 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
- 2,000 kilograms of explosives.
- 2 high-powered Yamaha engine speedboats with diving equipment.
- 311 anti-personnel mines.
- 211 anti-tank mines.
- 700,000 rounds of small arms ammunition.
- 735 hand grenades.
The Iranians agreed to deliver the weapons to Yasser Arafat’s group in exchange for him allowing the IRGC to establish a foothold in Palestinian towns and cities of the West Bank and Gaza.60 Had the weapons successfully entered Gaza, Hamas would have been capable of saturation-bombing major Israeli population centers and transportation arteries.
Iran continues to facilitate the flow of weapons into Gaza. In March 2014, the Israel Navy boarded and seized the Klos-C, a Panamanian-flagged Iranian arms ship carrying, among other things, advanced M302 missiles bound for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and two million kilograms of Iranian cement for Hamas’ attack tunnels. From Syria the missiles had apparently traveled through Iran and Iraq before being intercepted by Israel on the high seas. M302 missiles have a range of 200 km., enabling any group that possessed them to reach across Israel. Hamas has fired such missiles at Tel Aviv and cities in the north of Israel.61
On November 21, 2012, Iran admitted supplying the technologies behind the construction of Fajr-5 missiles, which have a range of up to 75 km., but denied any direct arms supplies.62 Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, said his country was “honored” to help Palestinians with “material and military aspects.”63 However, a panel of UN experts has concluded that “a shipment of rockets and other weapons seized by Israel came from Iran and represents a violation of the UN arms embargo on Tehran.”64 The report specifically cites the March 2014 interdiction of the Klos-C. On August 4, 2014, senior Iranian officials, including IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, boasted that Tehran had supplied Hamas with military aid to use against Israel.65 “The Zionist regime will collapse soon as a result of the unity among Shia and Sunni Muslims and we are ready for that day,” he said.66
The former head of Israel’s navy, Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom, said that Iran was the leading arms smuggler to the Middle East, and that his country was engaged in an “ongoing secret war between Israel and terrorist organizations and the evil axis led by Iran,” to fight that threat.67 On November 4, 2009, the Israeli Navy seized the MV Francop cargo ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea along with its cargo of weapons allegedly bound from Iran to Hizbullah. The arms shipment, which weighed 320 tons and was held in containers marked with Iranian shipping codes, contained:
- 9,000 mortar shells.
- Several thousand 107-mm Katyusha rockets with a 15-km. range.
- 600 Russian-made 122-mm rockets with a 40-km. range.
- Hundreds of thousands of Kalashnikov bullets.68
According to retired Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. Michael Segall, Iran and Gaza-based terrorist organizations took advantage of periods of calm to rebuild their terrorist infrastructure and build arsenals capable of reaching most of Israel, as seen during the 2014 Gaza War.69 With no Arab states stepping forward to offer support for Hamas, Iran stepped in to fill the vacuum.70
A significant number of the rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel before and during the Gaza conflicts in 2008-09, 2012 and 2014 were enabled by Iranian supply of munitions and funds to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups. There was a period of friction between Hamas and Hizbullah, because Hamas endorsed a revolt against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, depriving Assad of an important Sunni Muslim supporter. However, meetings between Hamas and Hizbullah, including with Hizbullah Chief Hassan Nasrallah, have indicated a renewal of cooperation and thereby of Iranian support for and influence on Hamas.71,72
In the Golan Heights the IRGC is seeking to build another front from which to direct attacks against Israel. The IRGC has attempted to establish a fusion of Iranian and Hizbullah forces to conduct cross border raids against IDF troops from neighboring Syria. An Israeli drone attack in southern Syria killed six Hizbullah and IRGC personnel involved in this plan — including an Iranian senior general and senior Hizbullah commander Jihad Mugniyeh, the son of the late external operations chief for Hizbullah. IRGC-QF leader Qassem Soleimani dispatched two officers to Lebanon to facilitate a revenge attack. On January 28, 2015, Hizbullah fired five anti-tank guided missiles at an Israeli army convoy on Mount Dov, killing two Israeli soldiers.
Beyond the Region
Hizbullah, probably under Iran’s direction and certainly with Iran’s approval, has also launched other attacks against Israel outside the Middle East.
In 2012, a bus carrying Israeli tourists at the Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, was bombed. Five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver were killed and 32 Israelis were wounded.73 Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov announced the identities of two suspects, Australian citizen Meliad Farah, 32, also known as Hussein Hussein, and 25-year-old Hassan El Hajj Hassan, a Canadian citizen. The suspects are alleged by the prosecutors to be members of the armed wing of Hizbullah.74
In March 2012, U.S. and Israeli officials were among those targeted for assassination by a group of IRGC-linked terrorists arrested in Baku, Azerbaijan. The attempts were part of a broader campaign by Iran-linked operatives to kill foreign diplomats in at least seven countries over a span of 13 months.
ANNEX A – HIZBULLAH: HISTORIC KILLING
Hizbullah has a lengthy track record of attacks against the U.S. and its allies. This annex outlines attacks before 2001 in which Hizbullah’s involvement is known or suspected. In these attacks, a total of 442 people were killed, including 286 Americans. More than 1,030 were wounded.
- From 1980-1988 the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war. During that time, 96 foreign nationals (including 30 Westerners) were taken hostage, mainly by Hizbullah, in systematic abductions. Iran then used the hostages as leverage to obtain arms from the Reagan administration.75
- In 1983 Hizbullah bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 63 people including 17 Americans and wounding more than 80. Hizbullah operatives were responsible for the bombing and received both financial and logistical support from Tehran. The attack constituted the deadliest terror attack on Americans outside of U.S. soil until the U.S. marine barracks bombing six months later.76
- In 1983, Hizbullah bombed a U.S. marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. servicemen and wounding more than 100. The bombing – which consisted of 15,000-21,000 pounds of TNT – was the “largest non-nuclear explosion that had ever been detonated on the face of the Earth.”77
- In 1984, CIA Beirut Station Chief William F. Buckley was kidnapped outside his apartment and whisked to a terrorist-safe house. The U.S. Embassy received a package containing a video of the kidnapped CIA officer. In it, Buckley was shown lying on the floor, appearing beaten and naked and holding a file marked “Top Secret” to cover his genitals. Another video was sent less than a month later showing Buckley in an even worse condition. CIA experts concluded he was being regularly drugged, had undergone long periods of torture and was being held in a makeshift cell with no light. This was the work of Hizbullah leader Imad Mughniyeh.78 Buckley is believed by the CIA to have died in captivity.
- In 1984, Kuwait Airways Flight 221 from Kuwait to Pakistan was hijacked and diverted to Tehran. The hijackers demanded the release of the “Kuwait 17,” seventeen terrorists convicted by Kuwait for participation in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy there. The hijackers killed two American officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Iran arrested the hijackers, saying they would be brought to trial. The trial never took place, however, and the hijackers were allowed to leave the country.79
- In 1985, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked. Terrorists aboard the plane, en route from Athens to Rome, forced it to land in Beirut, Lebanon, where the hijackers held the plane for 17 days. They demanded the release of the “Kuwait 17” as well as the release of 700 fellow Shiite Muslim prisoners held in Israeli prisons and in prisons in southern Lebanon run by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army. When these demands weren’t met, Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. Navy SEAL diver and passenger on the plan, was forced to kneel and was then shot in the head. His body was dumped on the tarmac.80
- In 1988, U.S. Marine Lt. Col. William Richard Higgins was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. Higgins was driving on a coastal highway in southern Lebanon, when he was pulled from his jeep by Iranian-backed terrorists. About a year later, his kidnappers released a videotape of him bound and gagged, dangling from a rope on a makeshift gallows. He was declared dead on July 6, 1990, and his remains were dumped on a dusty street in Beirut on Dec. 23, 1991.81
- In 1992 the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina was bombed, killing 29 and wounding 250. In 2008 Judge Ellen Huvelle ruled that Tehran must pay $63 million to the family of an Israeli diplomat who was killed in the attack. She said the bombing was carried out by Hizbullah and could not have taken place without assistance from Iran.82
- In 1994 the seven-story Jewish-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was bombed. This is considered the deadliest attack in Argentina’s history, killing 85 and wounding 300. Mohsen Rezai and Ali Akbar Velayati, who are believed to have planned the attack, were among the eight candidates approved for the 2013 presidential election by Iran’s Guardian Council to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.83
- In 1996 Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia was bombed, killing 23 Americans, including 17 U.S. servicemen, and wounding more than 300. In 1996 a U.S. federal judge ruled that Iran is responsible for the bombing and ordered that the government pay $254 million to the families of the 17 American servicemen who died in the attack.84
About the Authors
Colonel (ret.) Richard Kemp
Colonel Richard Kemp has been actively involved in fighting terrorists around the globe for 35 years. He served as Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan with responsibility for counter insurgency operations, disarmament and reintegration programs, development and training of the Afghan national security forces, reconstruction and defense diplomacy. He set up a joint counter-terrorist operation with U.S., Canadian and Afghan forces that achieved major operational success against Al Qaida terrorists in Kabul.
Colonel Kemp was an active member of the groundbreaking UK-U.S. Joint International Security Strategy Group. He headed the Joint Intelligence Committee’s international and domestic terrorism team and the Iraq politics and security team, responsible for UK national intelligence assessments. Among his responsibilities were intelligence assessments on Iranian-linked terrorism against British, American and other forces.
Previously Colonel Kemp completed a total of 14 active duty tours as a military commander in Northern Ireland and in many global hotspots. Working alongside U.S. forces, he took part in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. He commanded British troops in the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia and was counter-terrorism adviser to the Macedonian government. He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his work on the July 2005 London bombings and in Iraq; Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for intelligence work in Northern Ireland; and was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery for his action during the Bosnia conflict.
He has commented frequently on Israel’s counter-terrorism actions in Gaza and stated about the Israel Defense Forces: “No army in the world acts with as much discretion and great care as the IDF in order to minimize damage. The U.S. and the UK are careful, but not as much as Israel.”
Major (Ret.) Chris Driver-Williams
Chris Driver-Williams has served 25 years in the British military and in private consulting in counter-terrorism, national infrastructure protection, blast and explosive engineering, and security and risk management.
He spent the majority of his military career as a high threat bomb disposal operator in the British Army and during that time he served with a variety of specialist counter-terrorism units including four years with the UK Special Forces. During his military career he deployed to the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Colombia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for his actions during an Iraq bomb disposal tour he was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. He rounded off his military career as an intelligence officer, and at the time of the 2005 London suicide bombings, he played an instrumental role at COBR-A, the British Cabinet Office’s emergency response committee.
Research by Joseph Raskas
Cover photo: A U. S. Stryker vehicle lies on its side following a buried IED blast in Iraq in 2007.
2. Department of Defense. Unclassified Executive Summary. “Annual Report on Military Power of Iran.” January 2014
8. https://understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/20080215_IranianInfluence.pdf p. 11.
12. Bowers, Carol (2007-09-11). “Iran Playing ‘Destabilizing Role’ in Iraq”. US Department of Defense.
18. Iraq Report: Institute for the Study of War, Aug 2007
30. http://www.pajhwok.com/en/subscription-required?redirect_from=350660. Khwaja Baser Ahmad, ed. (4 March 2012). “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards plotting to kill me: Kabuli”. Pajhwok Afghan News. Retrieved 18 May 2013
37. Bill Gertz, “Al Qaida Terrorists Being Held by Iran,” Washington Times, July 24, 2003.
43. “Lebanon: The Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah Conflict; CRS Report for Congress: Received Through the CRS Web.” Congressional Research Service.
44. Carlton, Jeff. “Security Chief Says Terrorists Have BeenArrested on Texas Border.” Associated Press State and Local Wire. 13 September 2007.