In Syria and around the world, Iran’s covert operatives are struggling.
The powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, its infamous expeditionary unit, the Quds Force, and the network of Hezbollah operatives it supports around the world are starting to look like the proverbial gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They’re still dangerous, to be sure, but a series of recent incidents widely attributed to these groups suggest that as spies, assassins and terrorists, they just aren’t what they used to be. And Tehran is getting worried.
According to sources in the Iranian capital, concerns about IRGC inadequacies are fueling the bitter infighting among Iran’s elites at a critical time: the war in Syria threatens to bring down Iran’s most vital Arab ally, the confrontation with Israel and the West over Iran’s nuclear program has provoked devastating sanctions, and a military attack on Iran by Israel still looms as a distinct possibility. This is a bad moment for the Iranians to discover their fearsome covert operatives are essentially incompetent.
Last weekend, for instance, Syrian rebels captured a group of 48 Iranians who were alleged to be IRGC members on “a reconnaissance mission” in Damascus. Rumours have circulated extensively in Tehran (a very rumour-prone city) that the head of the Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani himself, was wounded recently when his convoy was attacked in Damascus. Over the last year, at least nine apparent Iranian assassination and bomb plots around the world have failed or been thwarted. The grim attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last month, which killed seven people and wounded 30, appears to have been the exceptional “success” for these murderers rather than the rule.