In the context of the attempts to revive the nuclear agreement with Iran, little attention is given to the Islamic Republic’s meddling beyond the Middle East — especially in Africa. The Iranian regime, as well as its main proxy Hezbollah, is a growing presence there.
The Shiite Lebanese group’s entrenchment in Africa takes its roots from the existing ties between Hezbollah and Shiite communities based there. Through these, Hezbollah established a foothold from which to operate on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of Iran’s armed forces, and the Quds Force, an elite IRGC unit.
In the Central African Republic (CAR) for example, Hezbollah operates along with the Quds Force’s Unit 400 in order to recruit and train members of the terrorist group Saraya Zahra. This strategy is the model through which the Iranians aim to establish similar offshoots in Cameroon, Ghana, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), all with the intention of undermining Western interests and those of Sunni-Arab nations in these areas.
In February, Ethiopia’s intelligence services dismantled a terror cell established by Iran that was meant to gather intelligence about the US, UAE, and Israeli embassies. Then in April an Iranian national was arrested and deported by Uganda’s security forces over a planned IRGC terrorist attack in that country. Such activities are funded directly by the IRGC. For instance, the IRGC transferred $100,000 to an alliance of rebel militias in CAR, called Séléka, intended for recruitment and attacks against Westerners.
The modus operandi is to operate under the cover of diplomatic missions, often through cultural attaché postings. Iranian organisations such as the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (ICRO) are used as a facade for the Quds Force’s covert activities.
A cultural attaché in one African embassy, for example, used their position to defuse Iran’s state propaganda, as well as its specific brand of fundamentalist Shiite Islam. The attaché’s disguise was lifted through their public support for the Polisario Front. Established in 1975 as a self-proclaimed communist-aligned group for the independence of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front turned into another corrupt movement, prioritising self-enrichment over the well-being of its people. The Polisario has deeply entwined interests with Iran and Algeria.
Among other questionable activities, the cultural attaché went to Algeria’s refugee camps in Tindouf, used by the Polisario as a recruitment ground – including of child soldiers – and as a training camp, in order to organise encounters between members of the group and Hezbollah militants. More importantly, they also coordinated the transfer of SAM1, SAM9 and Strela surface-to-air missiles passed from IRGC members to the Polisario Front. As a result, Morocco broke off diplomatic relations with Iran.
Because of these efforts, Iranian influence in Western Sahara facilitated by Hezbollah is clearly established, with high-ranking Hezbollah members providing military support to the Polisario. Pictures from a 2018 meeting between Hezbollah and Polisario members have been published online. Among others, these show Polisario militant Nana Labbat al-Rasheed along with Ali Fayyad, a member of the Lebanese Parliament and a high-ranking Hezbollah official.
The Polisario is thus shifting from a purported local independence movement to being a new proxy used by Tehran to further disseminate its influence, adding a further threat to regional stability.
Africa thus plays a central, albeit involuntary, role in the Iranian strategy of ideological expansion and regional destabilisation aimed at harming Western interests.
The prospect of seeing already volatile African regions such as Western Sahara fall under Tehran’s clout should be of serious concern for the international community. US-led negotiations to restart the nuclear agreement that omit Iran’s regional activities would only reinforce this worrying trend. Iran’s entrenchment in Africa is an acute threat to Western interests – especially so for Europe, which is directly affected by regional instability and chaos due to migration.
Those countries seeking to restart the nuclear deal would be acting in their own interests by insisting that halting Iran’s regional meddling beyond the Middle East is on the list of ‘sine qua nons’ for a better, longer deal.
Source » thejc