The Hamas attacks on Israel on Saturday have brought into focus the Quds Force, the secret wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a multi-service primary branch of the Iranian Armed Forces.
Primarily responsible for IRGC’s international operations, the Quds is suspected to have planned the Hamas attack on Israel over several weeks, according to media reports. Iran has in the meantime denied its role in the attack, the largest in decades that left more than a thousand people dead. The attack prompted retaliatory airstrikes and a formal declaration of war by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.
What is Quds?
Translated as ‘Holy’ Force in Arabic, the Quds Force came into being after the Iranian Revolution of 1978–79. The existence of this military unit was not officially acknowledged until the Syrian war in 2011.
As one of the eight branches of IRGC, the activities of this force include organising, supporting, and leading local forces abroad in ways favourable to the interests of the IRGC and Iran’s clerical establishment.
The Quds was headed by Qassem Soleimani from 1998 until his assassination in 2020. His deputy, Esmail Ghaani, also spelled as Ismail Qaani, replaced him.
All eight units of IRGC operate under the leadership of the IRGC commander-in-chief Major General Hossein Salami and his deputy, Ali Fadavi. But the Quds Force’s commander effectively operates within a parallel structure and reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei.
In 2019, the then US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC a terrorist organisation in 2019. This was for the first time that the US had ever designated another government’s department as a FTO.
The US Army’s Iraq War General Stanley McChrystal had famously described the Quds Force as an organisation as “a combination of the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the United States.”
Sometimes described as the successor to the Shah’s Imperial Guards, the Quds to be a 2,000 to 5,000-member force.
The role in attacks on Israel
The reports about Quds role in the Hamas attacks on Israel have been attributed to Hamas’s public acknowledgment of receiving support from Iran.
A report in Wall Street Journal quoted senior Hamas and Hezbollah members saying that the strike was intended to hit Israel while it appeared distracted by internal political divisions over PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. It was also aimed at disrupting accelerating US-brokered talks to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel that Iran saw as threatening, it said.
Leading the effort to wrangle Iran’s foreign proxies under a unified command has been Ismail Qaani, the leader of the IRGC’s international military arm, the Quds Force, the WSJ report said. “Qaani launched coordination among several militias surrounding Israel in April during a meeting in Lebanon where Hamas began working more closely with other groups such as Hezbollah for the first time,” the report said.
Within hours of the US air strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the then chief of the Quds Force on January 3, 2020, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described Ismail Qaani as
“one of the most distinguished Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders.”
Qaani, 65, was born in Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan Province. Known as an Iran-Iraq War veteran, Qaani is said to have commanded the Nasr-5 and Imam Reza-21 brigades. He has been a member of the Quds force since its inception and served as an intelligence official and deputy chief commander until Soleimani was killed.
Source » news9live