Like ISIS, An Iranian Organization is Establishing Branches Throughout the Middle East
An Iranian strategic-intelligence organization called “The Headquarters” has been spreading out into Iraq, Syria and even elsewhere overseas.
The group — which was established after the Iran’s 2009 elections and takes inspiration from the Islamic State model — supplements Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ intelligence gathering operations in the Middle East, said European diplomatic sources, according to a report in Israeli news portal NRG.
The increased involvement of this other organization – also known as The Amar Strategic Headquarters, The Amar Headquarters, or simply the Headuqarters — has been noted in recent months, the sources said.
“The Headquarters” represents a new variety of Iranian intelligence, a kind of hybrid between an intelligence organization and a think tank whose top brass comprises the closest of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s associates.
The Headquarters’ members work in tandem with the Revolutionary Guards and its foreign operations branch, the Quds Force, the sources said.
“The Headquarters” was established six years ago, shortly after the internal political crises surrounding Iran’s 2009 presidential elections.
It was created with the “primary task of enlisting the political and cultural elites in Iran to prevent the recurrence of the riots that erupted in the country after the elections,” the sources said.
The post-election crisis, which was seen as a threat to Iranian regime’s political stability, had to be prevented from occurring again.
The group’s founders attempted to foster cultural diversity within the Headquarters. The sources said that, “at the founding ceremony [of the organization], seventy people participated who were associated with the radical right-wing of Iranian politics, and whose views most closely aligned with those of the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei]. Among them were clerics, cultural activists, MPs and former Revolutionary Guards.”
Mahdi Ta’ab, from the Iranian holy city of Qom, was chosen as its chief of staff. Ali Reza Fanhaian was selected as its deputy chief of staff, but according to the sources, he is the organization’s true leader.
In an interview with Iranian semi-official Fars News, conducted three years ago, Fanhaian said that the Headquarters’ tasks were “formulating a strategy against the West’s ‘soft war’ against Iran, and dealing with covert and overt activities of the Islamic Republic [of Iran’s] enemies.”
However, the European sources indicated that since that time, the Headquarters’ priorities have changed, and that in recent months, the assessment of both Arab and Western intelligence is that it has transferred the core of its activities beyond the borders of Iran. It is now primarily working to establish branches throughout the Middle East, a trend which began as early as 2012, and partially in response to the civil war in Syria. The central concept behind the Headquarters’ shift of focus was to build an international Shia network that would operate according to Khamenei’s personal vision.
This transformation has accelerated over the last year following ISIS’s invasion of the region, and now the Headquarters is operating outside of Iran in more specific ways, primarily in Iraq. It is working in conjunction with the Revolutionary Guards to establish cells within the Iraqi population and to train Iraqi Shia militias to fight ISIS, the sources said.
However, ISIS is not the Headquarters’ only target for growing its support base and influence. Rather, it is also as a sort of a source of inspiration, NRG reported.
Tehran’s policy now appears to be a restructuring of the Headquarters into an Iranian and Shia version of ISIS that will operate throughout the Middle East, even beyond, the sources said.
At the moment, it has acted to expand its activities in Syria, Lebanon and — particularly since the launch of Saudi Arabia’s ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ against Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen — in the Gulf countries. It is also expanding into Israel and Gaza, where Iran already has proxy organizations like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Resistance Committees as well as, most recently, Al-Sabirin.
Its ambitions do not stop at the Middle East, the sources noted. The Headquarters has set its sights on expanding into Europe, the United States and South America, where Iran already has great influence.
Particularly in the United States, the Headquarters seems to be striving toward consolidating its operations, especially among small Shia communities such as the Lebanese-Shia community in Detroit and in Dearborn, Michigan, the sources said.
The bottom line is to give Iran a worldwide terrorist network that parallels the Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force, but whose activity is more clandestine, the sources said.
A hint as to the Headquarters’ secret activities can perhaps be found in a statement made earlier this year by its leader, Mehdi Ta’ab, during a speech he gave at the Imam Jawad mosque in Tehran. Ta’ab noted his country’s involvement in Iraq and said that Iran had given its neighbor $16 billion specifically for the fight against ISIS.
In an earlier speech in 2013, Ta’ab set forth his strategic thinking on Syria, saying that, “for us, Syria is the 35th Province of Iran, and a province with a strategic dimension. If our enemies decided to attack Syria or [the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan], our priorities would lead us, first and foremost, to strengthen Syria.”
Ta’ab said, “if we keep Syria, we can hold on to Khuzestan. But if we lose Syria, we will not even be able to hold on to Tehran.”