July 10, 2012: In Kenya police arrested two Iranians on June 20th and found them in possession of bomb making materials and with orders to make terror attacks on Israeli, American, British, or Saudi Arabian targets. Over the last five years, Iran has been trying to develop trade with Kenya and good relations in general. This has not resulted in much economic activity, but Iranian diplomatic personnel have been seen around more, trying to establish contacts among the Moslem minority in largely Christian Kenya. This has made Kenyan police alert to any suspicious behavior on the part of Iranians.
What happened in Kenya was not an isolated incident. Two years ago an Iranian weapons smuggling operation in Nigeria was revealed and caused much embarrassment. Nigerian police found 13 cargo containers full of weapons. The shipping documents listed the contents as building materials. Some detective work confirmed that the containers were shipped from Iran several months previously. Worse, at least two Nigerian Moslems were involved in the operation, as well as an Iranian diplomat. It was eventually discovered that the weapons were headed for Gambia, up the coast, where pro-Iranian rebels were waiting for the shipment. In response, Gambia (and neighboring Senegal) kicked out Iranian diplomats and the incidents alerted all other African governments to be careful with Iranian diplomats or any Iranian citizens who show up for no good reason. Chances are that such Iranians are members of the Quds Force, and if they are, no good will come of it.
The Quds Force is an Iranian organization trained to spread the Islamic revolution outside Iran. The Quds force has a major problem, in that they are spreading a Shia Islamic revolution, while only 10-15 percent of Moslems are Shia. Most (about 80 percent) of the rest are Sunni, and many of them consider Shia heretics. In several countries there is constant violence between Shia and Sunni radicals. This has been going on long before the clerics took control of Iran in 1979 (al Qaeda showed up in the 1990s). But Quds also try to carry out terror attacks against any enemies of Iran. At the moment the main enemies are Israel, the United States, Britain, and Saudi Arabia.
The core operatives of the Quds Force consists of only a few thousand people. But many of them are highly educated, most speak foreign languages, and all are Islamic radicals. They are on a mission from God to convert the world to Shia Islam and then rule by Shia clergy. The Quds Force has been around since the 1980s, and their biggest success has been in Lebanon, where they helped some local Shia (who comprise about a third of the population) form the Hezbollah organization.
The Quds Force has eight departments, each assigned to a different part of the world. While the one that works in the Palestine/Lebanon/Jordan area have been the most successful, the other departments have been hard at it for two decades. Currently, however, Quds is heavily involved in trying to keep the Assad family in control of Syria. Shortly after Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, the Shia Assads of Syria became allies of Iran. This was an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" deal. At the time, both Syria and Iraq were run by feuding branches of the Baath Party. This is an Arab socialist, and secular, political organization that, in the 1960s, had visions of uniting all Arab states. That didn't work out, although Baath took control in Syria and Iraq, but the two branches of the party found they could not work together and really didn't like each other very much. Syria has been dependent on and subordinate to Iran ever since.
The Western Directorate of Quds established a recruiting and fund raising network in Western nations. Many recruits are brought back to Iran for training, while Shia migrants are encouraged to donate money, and services, to Quds Force operations. Because many of these operations are considered terrorist operations, Quds Force is banned in many Western nations
The Iraq Department long maintained an army of anti-Saddam fighters in exile (in Iran) as well as running an intelligence operation inside Iraq. After the coalition toppled Saddam in 2003, Quds Force moved people, money, and weapons into Iraq, to form pro-Iranian political forces and militias. That did not work out as expected, as the Indo-European Iranians found (again) that Iraqi Shia are Arabs first.
The South Asia Department (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India) was active in aiding Afghan Shia who have long been persecuted by the Taliban (a Sunni operation) and al Qaeda (a very Sunni operation). Quds has also been operating in Pakistan, where Sunni terrorists have been attacking Shia for decades.
The Turkey Department has been active in encouraging Shia Kurds to commit terrorist acts. That has not been very successful, as most Kurds want to see Iranian Kurds achieve independence or autonomy.
The North Africa Department has an operation in Sudan that functions in the open, despite the Sunni conservatives who run the country. This department has been caught providing weapons to the Islamic radicals in Somalia. This department has also been operating in the rest of Africa, but without much skill or success.
The Arabian Department supports terrorist groups that exist in all the Persian Gulf Arab countries. The Arab Sunni governments in these nations do not appreciate Iran's support for this sort of thing. Quds has been caught several times trying to smuggle weapons to rebel Shia tribesmen in northern Yemen.
The Central Asian Department supports Shia and Sunni terrorists in countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union. So does al Qaeda, but the Quds operation has been more discreet because Russia has been a useful diplomatic ally of Iran.
Back in Iran, Quds is believed to provide safe houses for al Qaeda leaders, even though al Qaeda has taken part in many atrocities against Shia outside Iran. However, Quds appears to believe that the al Qaeda can be useful to Iran. Actually, there is a major dispute in the Iranian government over the al Qaeda issue. But the Iranian leadership is more a federation than a dictatorship, so Quds can keep being nice to al Qaeda as long as not too many factions get mad at Quds. But the death of bin Laden last year presented a unique opportunity for al Quds to expand its terror network and help keep these Sunni radicals from killing Shia.
The Iranian leadership, despite their radical sounding pronouncements, have actually been quite cautious. This is in line with ancient Iranian custom. Most of the Hezbollah violence in Lebanon was at the behest of Lebanese. The same pattern has occurred elsewhere. The Quds guys usually counsel restraint, although in Iraq there has been more enthusiasm for violence. Iraq is a special case, as several hundred thousand Iranians died fighting Saddam in the 1980s, and Iranians have not forgotten.