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Iran’s Exportation of Basij Militias

 

 Also on Sunday, The Economist suggested that a part of Israeli’s motive for that attack may have been to expose to the US the extent of Iran’s involvement in Syria, where it claims to only be undertaking advisory missions and defending Shiite shrines. The strike came just days after Iran-controlled Hezbollah denied that it was present in Syria, and the list of persons killed in it strongly suggests that Iran is working closely with its well-worn proxy force in the area, and not with local Syrian forces.

But Syria is only one region in which Iran appears to be working to install its own proxies. Another is Yemen, where Houthi rebels overran the capital of Sanaa in September. The rebels themselves have denied being backed by Iran, but Iranian officials and independent analysts both have contradicted this. Indeed, some Iranian officials boasted that the Houthi victory made Sanaa the fourth Arab capital to be controlled by Iran, after Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad.

The Economist implies that this may have been a hasty conclusion, but that it has since proven true, as the Houthi took over the presidential palace and forced the abdication of the country’s Sunni president. As the reality of the situation catches up to Iranian boasting, Iranian boasting marches on. Thus, Al Arabiya reports that Ali Shirazi, an official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, told Iran’s Defa Press news agency that “the Houthi group is a similar copy to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and this group will come into action against enemies of Islam.”

This directly parallels warnings that have been issued by commentators and analysts during the period of Houthi ascendancy. The threat of the group’s dominance has long been viewed as the threat of another Iran-controlled militia or paramilitary. And in Shirazi’s view, not only are the Houthi a new extension of Iran’s influence in Hezbollah, but also Hezbollah is an extension of the Basij, the Shiite civilian militia created in Iran soon after the Iranian Revolution.

And these groups are not the only examples of Iran’s exportation of militant ideology. An article published Monday by Today’s Zamanexplored the revelations from a three-year investigation into the Turkish terrorist organization Tawhid-Salam. The article notes that this past weekend marked the anniversary of the group’s 1993 murder of journalist Ugur Mumcu, but that the persons who planned that attack have never been brought to justice, in large part because of hush money that is still being paid to low-ranking members, incarcerated members of the organization by the Iranian regime.

“There was clearly a larger motivation behind this murder that pointed to Iranian operatives working in Turkey that were implicated in a series of attacks on Turkish and Western interests,” the article states. “This bigger picture was partially seen in the investigation into the Tawhid-Salam network, and it was shocking how deep Iran’s Quds Force agents were able to penetrate into Turkish society and infiltrate Turkish government institutions.”

Today’s Zaman speculates that many of these attacks were aimed at destabilizing Turkey by pitting Islamists against secularists and liberals. But whatever the particular motivation, these attacks within Turkey were part of a much larger patter of attacks levied by Iran and its proxy forces outside of Iran’s borders. Hezbollah was the executor of many of these attacks, including the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, an incident that has received new press coverage in the wake of the suspicious death on January 18 of the Argentinian prosecutor who had been investigating Iran’s role in it.

On Monday, the Miami Herald reported that that prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, had even implicated current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the bombing plot. Although Rouhani did not end up on the list of eight Iranian officials whose arrest Nisman requested of Interpol in 2006, he was known to have served on a special committee within Iran’s intelligence apparatus, tasked with overseeing secret operations abroad, reportedly including the AIMA bombing.

 

This revelation raises new questions about the claim that the Rouhani administration represents a move toward moderation within the Iranian government. But these same questions are presumably raised by the fact that Tehran is apparently still exporting the ideology of its Basij militia and supporting terrorist activities in Yemen and elsewhere.