The latest revelations by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) about the Iranian regime’s dangerous attempts to disrupt international maritime activity should serve as a wake-up call for Western governments. Tehran has significantly expanded its maritime terrorism using foreign mercenaries from the Middle East and Africa, especially in Yemen.
This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The economy is tanking, and the regime is facing a multitude of irremediable social, political, and economic crises at home and is unable to stem the tide of expanding and continuing protests virtually by every sector of the Iranian society. Since December 2017, there have been eight major nationwide uprisings, the common theme of which has been the popular demand to overthrow the regime.
Furthermore, the elimination of the Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 damaged the regime’s influence in regional hotspots like Syria and Iraq.
Regrettably, ceaseless rounds of concessions by the West toward the regime and the refusal to hold the theocracy accountable for its terrorism and horrendous domestic repression have emboldened Tehran. Now, the regime wants to blackmail the international community by resorting to piracy in strategic waterways. The main goal is to cover up its fundamental weaknesses at home and put on a hollow show of force.
At its press conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, the NCRI released a report uncovering previously undisclosed details about a new unit that provides maritime terrorist training to regional proxies. The naval unit operates within the regime’s Quds Force, the extraterritorial terrorist arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The naval terrorist training unit has three “academies” located across Iran. The primary location for the secret training of foreign proxies, including the Yemeni Houthis, is the Zibakenar academy on the Caspian Sea coastline in the north. The training activity is considerable. In just one course in 2020 alone, at least 200 Yemenis were trained in naval terrorism. There are also two other academies located in the Persian Gulf.
The commander in charge of the naval training of proxies is a veteran IRGC brigadier general named Hassan Ali Zamani Pajooh. The head of the Zibakenar academy is Second Admiral Abdolreza Dabestani.
The regime equips the Houthi militias with mines, missiles, speedboats, and other weaponry. An elaborate smuggling network has been set up to send weapons and equipment to Yemen via third countries such as Somalia. The ultimate goal for the regime is to have plausible deniability by using proxies to target shipping, particularly in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.
Significantly, these activities have increased under Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in August as the regime’s president. Since then, there have been at least five major naval terrorist attacks. In December, the US Navy seized two caches of Iran-originated arms destined for the Houthis in the Arabian Sea, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles.
Clearly, the destructive intervention of the Quds Force in the region has intensified, as have Tehran’s drone and missile attacks.
All this provides additional evidence that none of the sanctions against the clerical regime should be lifted until they stop their terrorist activities and domestic suppression. In fact, additional sanctions are warranted to hold the regime accountable.
As the NCRI President-elect, Maryam Rajavi has stressed repeatedly, the regime’s regional terrorism and attempts to gain the upper hand in the region is a thousand times more dangerous than its nuclear ambitions. What is worse, “the regime’s terrorism expands under the shadow of silence, denial, ignorance, and turning a blind eye,” she added. The right policy is decisiveness and “dispensing with everything that enables the regime’s terrorist activity.”
Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing nuclear talks, Tehran must be held accountable for its destructive behavior at home and in the region.