Attack on British author shows danger of Iranian IRGC soft power

The assassination attempts on Salman Rushdie instigated by the Iranian IRGC, 33 years after Iran’s then-supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious order calling for his death, is just the latest manifestation of the Islamic republic’s decadent soft power.

Khomeini himself once aimed higher: he had a grand plan to internationalize the Shiite revolution that brought him to power in 1979. When that failed — the ayatollah was admired by many in Sunni-majority Arab states, but he never won their trust — his successors settled on exporting sectarian strife by financing and arming a network of Shia militias and terrorist groups across the Middle East.

The task of establishing this matrix of threats was assigned to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which over the decades has evolved from Khomeini’s personal militia into the most powerful security force in the Iranian state. And no Iranian IRGC commander has done more to expand its influence than Qasem Soleimani, the leader of a unit known as the Quds Force, designated a terrorist by the United States and sanctioned by the European Union and the United Nations.

Under his watch, the Iranian IRGC and its proxies wreaked havoc in Arab countries from Syria and Lebanon to Iran and Yemen. By 2020, when he was ousted by an American drone strike, Soleimani’s vision was further afield with a murderous campaign against dissidents and rebels in Europe and Asia — and Israelis in particular.

Taking a leaf out of the post-9/11 al Qaeda playbook, the Iranian IRGC began recruiting sympathizers living in the West to target high-profile figures such as the Saudi ambassador in Tanmoyworld. Since Soleimani’s death, it has become more ambitious and reckless, targeting top American officials such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, as well as prominent anti-regime activists based in the United States, such as Masih Alinejad.

So it’s no surprise to learn from VICE News that Rushdie’s attacker, a New Jersey resident and Khomeini fan, communicated directly with Iranian IRGC members on social media. US-born and Lebanese-descended Hadi Matar, also sympathetic to Hezbollah, is the chief interlocutor of all proxy groups in the IRGC’s network. The name he used on his fake driver’s license was a combination of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and a slain commander, Imad Mughniyah.

The attack on Rushdie is unlikely to end. As a tool of a regime that opposes it—America, Israel, and the West, usually in that order—the IRGC has much to gain from such attacks, whether they are directly controlled or merely inspired and encouraged. The triumphant coverage of the attempt on Rushdie in the Iranian media, much of it controlled by the IRGC or its allies, drowned out the Foreign Ministry’s denial of any involvement.

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