General Esmail Ghaani’s appointment as commander of Iran’s Quds Force, following the assassination of its former leader General Qasem Soleimani, has provided an opportunity for the organization to expand its role in Africa, where Ghaani has managed its operations for years. Rising US–Iranian tensions as a result of continued US sanctions and Iran’s desire for revenge for Soleimani’s death has prompted questions about the future of the Quds Force in Africa under Ghaani’s leadership.
Catalysts for expansion in Africa
The Quds Force’s activities and its network of contacts in Africa
Opportunities and challenges for the Quds Force in Africa
Possible future roles for the Quds Force in Africa
1. The Quds Force carries out terrorist operations against US interests in Africa through its cells on the continent: International monitoring reports indicate that the Quds Force has around 300 highly trained militants in its African network. Meanwhile, thousands of US humanitarian workers are working in Africa, primarily in remote, unsafe areas. The USA also has various embassies and military bases throughout the continent. In pursuing this course, the Quds Force will hope to challenge the role of the US and Israeli intelligence agencies that are working with their African counterparts to thwart the Force’s operations in Africa.
2. The Quds Force works with Iranian proxies, in particular Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya, to conduct terrorist operations: The USA has a military and security presence in East Africa, in particular through its military bases in Kenya, against which Al-Shabaab carried out terrorist attacks in January 2020. Iran cannot count on the support of terrorist organizations, however, as they frequently waver in their position on Iran policy.
The Iranian regime is likely to pursue several courses in Africa, exploiting the fragile security situation in various African States to carry out terrorist attacks against US interests through Quds Force elements and its clandestine network of militants and operatives throughout the continent. Tehran may also focus its efforts on providing terrorist organizations with the support and funding required to conduct attacks against the interests of the USA and its allies, such as Israel.
Given Iran’s determination in this regard, it has become all the more important to combat Iranian attempts to use the Quds Force — the wing of its security services specializing in overseas operations — and its allies in Africa to undermine security and stability on the continent. The powers active in Africa, including international powers with important interests there such as the USA, the UK, and France, need to enhance their cooperation if they are to prevent Iran from expanding its destructive activities in Africa.
 Nakissa Jahanbani, “Reviewing Iran’s Proxies by Region: A Look Toward the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa”, CTC SENTINEL, Volume 13, Issue 5, May 2020, p. 46.
 Albin Szakola and Jack Losh, “From Beirut to Bangui: inside Iran’s plan to take proxy wars to Africa”, The National, May 21, 2020, available at: https://www.thenational.ae/world/africa/from-beirut-to-bangui-inside-iran-s-plan-to-take-proxy-wars-to-africa-1.1022078.
 Shaul Shay, “The Somali Al Shabaab and Iran's Al Quds connection”, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 30 August 2020, available at: http://www.ict.org.il/Article/2589/The_Somali_Al%20_habaab_and_Iran's_Al_Quds_connection#gsc.tab=0.
 Szakola and Losh, “From Beirut to Bangui”.
 Shaul Shay, “The Somali Al Shabaab”.
 Nahal Toosi and Natasha Bertrand, “Officials: Iran weighing plot to kill U.S. ambassador to South Africa”, Politico, September 13, 2020, available at: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/13/iran-south-africa-ambassador-assassination-plot-413831.
 Joshua Meservey, “Where Will Iran Strike Back Against the U.S.?”, The Heritage Foundation, January 27, 2020, available at: https://www.heritage.org/defense/commentary/where-will-iran-strike-back-against-the-us.
 Eitan Azani et al, “The Iranian Threat Network and the Export of the Islamic Revolution”, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, July 2020, available at: http://www.ict.org.il/images/Iranian%20Threat%20Network.pdf.
 Jahanbani, “Reviewing Iran’s Proxies by Region”, p. 46.
 “اعتقال عميل لـ"حزب الله" في أوغندا”, Asharq Al-Awsat, July 24, 2019.
 Grey Dynamics, “’The Game has Changed’: Iranian Terror Network in Africa”, SOFREP, September 23, 2020, available at: https://sofrep.com/news/the-game-has-changed-iranian-terror-network-in-africa/.
 Meservey, “Where Will Iran Strike Back Against the U.S.?”.
EPC | 20 Oct 2020
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