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South Korean-flagged tanker in the Gulf is ‘escorted’ to port by Iranian forces last year (Image: ISLAMIC VOLUTIONARY CORPS / HANDOUT).

News of the unit emerges as diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to rein in its nuclear programme continue. Iran’s elite Quds force is already a well-established branch of the  Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, tasked with mounting extraterritorial operations to support Iran’s proxy wars across the middle east. However, its reach was severely affected by the assassination by General Qassem Soleimani (US drone strike in January 2020).

Now, intelligence gleaned by the opposition-group National Council of Resistance of Iran  reveals that Tehran has been steadily attempting to make up for that loss of capability for its operations in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and several African countries.

The efforts to engage foreign mercenaries in Yemen have intensified since the election of so-called “Butcher of Tehran” Ebraham Raisi as Iran’s president, in parallel with an increase in UAV  and missile attacks.,

The Khamenei Academy of Naval Sciences and Technology is Ziba Kenar’s Caspian coast base for the Quds Naval force. It is overseen and managed by Second Admiral Abdolreza Dabestani

But it is Brig Gen Hassan Ali Zamani Pajooh who oversees the unit’s main aim – to provide commando training to foreign mercenaries, which is conducted through comprehensive six-month residential courses..

This commando training will be supplemented with maritime courses on Qeshm Islands and Farah Island in the Gulf – offered by the same IRGC Abdullah naval commando brigade that was responsible for attacking British oil tankers.

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Qassem Soleimani was shot and killed during a drone strike (Image: Getty)

In January 2020, more than 200 Yemeni mercenaries were trained in commando tactics, naval science and technology.

According to the report, a similar-sized contingent of Iraqis started their training in July 2005.

After the completion of their training, the Iraqis were sent to al-Faw peninsula and Basrah to form a “naval unit” under the command of the Quds Force.

And evidence shows that the new Quds naval force’s remit goes beyond just training.

Using asymmetric warfare tactics established by the IRGC, the unit has established new smuggling networks which are already providing weapons and equipment  “to expand conflicts into the Arabian Sea, Bab al-Mandab, and the Red Sea”.

This has already equipped Yemen’s Houthi rebels with speedboats, missiles, mines, and other weapons, says the report.

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Khamenei Navy Academy commando school (Image: Handout)

Third countries such as Somalia are one way to transfer weapons to Yemen. Other methods include using small boats or drug-smuggling strategies such as six-foot fenders, which are used to hide arms caches.

The fenders are then anchored under the water at set locations, and kitten with GPS trackers so they can be retrieved by other vessels.

Some of these weapons have been intercepted.

In December last year, the US Justice Department announced the successful forfeiture of two large caches of the Iranian arms, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, destined for Houthi militants in Yemen. 1,400 assault rifles AK47 and 226,600 ammunition were also seized.

These and many other sierras of thousands upon thousands of rocket launchers machine guns, sniper rifles, and more are all thought to have originated in Iran’s port of Jask.

Speaking last night Shahin Gobadi, a press Spokesman of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, said: “Since Raisi became president, missile and drone attacks have accelerated along with efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and the regime has intensified maritime terrorist acts through foreign mercenaries.

“The Quds naval force unit, which trains and equips Iranian proxies, is a real threat both to regional stability and International shipping.

“Yet, instead of holding the Iranian regime accountable for its actions, Western countries have granted it concessions, a trend that has emboldened Tehran in its nefarious conduct in the region.

“Regardless of what Supreme Leader Khamenei might do with negotiations over its nuclear programme, Tehran must be held accountable for its proxy war in the region, its terrorism, its development of ballistic missiles, and its egregious violations of human rights.”