Tanker Sabotage Performed by Iranian Al Qods’ Ultra-Secret Unit 400 and Unit 190
Rather than risking a head-on clash with the US military might building up in the region, the Iranian regime preferred to hand its most proficient clandestine operations chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani the task of paying the Americans and their allies back for the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Soleimani, whose Al Qods Force is the elite striking arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), turned the job over to his two top-secret units, specialists in assassination, sabotage, arms trafficking and terrorism. Their second specialty is kicking over any traces leading to their masters in Tehran.
DEBKA Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources can name the two forces as Unit 400 and Unit 190, whose members were enlisted for the sabotage attacks on four oil tankers near the Fujairah emirate of the United Arab Republic on Sunday, May 12. Unit 400 conducts “sensitive covert operations abroad,” and is under the personal aegis of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Unit 190 specializes in assassination and arms trafficking abroad. Both are seasoned tools of Soleimani and operate in the deepest hush.
Unit 400 can muster a maximum of around 2,000 officers and NCOs from the Al Qods pool of 10,000-15,000 men. For comparison, the US can field around 11,000 special operations members for unconventional missions, most of them from the Army’s Special Forces. This unit’s commander is Majid Alavi, a former Dep. Minister of Intelligence and Information, the front he used for his contacts with the Lebanese Hizballah and other terrorist organizations serving Tehran in the region.
In 2011, Alavi was transferred to the Al Qods Force; a year later, he is believed to have been promoted to Unit 400 as its commander. The “sensitive covert operations abroad” conducted by this unit are a polite euphemism for undercover terrorist attacks, assassinations, kidnapping and sabotage, say US intelligence sources. This unit has a highly colorful record of supporting Iraqi Shiite extremist groups, providing weapons, equipment, training and money to Afghan insurgents, smuggling arms into Syria and Lebanon and arranging military training for Hizballah and Palestinian terrorists.
Unit 400 also boasts an American record. In May 2013, the FBI uncovered a plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington and traced it to this al Qods outfit. After infiltrating the plot, the Feds laid hands on the $100,000 funds transferred to the assassins. One of the plotters, when he tried to hire a Mexican drug cartel agent for the hit, found he had walked into the arms of an undercover FBI agent. Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian American, was arrested and later convicted after pleading guilty.
That was one of the few instances of an Iranian clandestine operative being caught red-handed in the commission of a crime instead of a hireling. For the most part, illicit or criminal operations are assigned to a cat’s paw, like Hizballah or an Iraqi militia, to give the cat plausible undeniability in the eyes of allies like Russia, who can then stand up against Tehran’s condemnation in international forums.
Unit 400’s partner in the attack on the four oil tankers near Fujairah port was Unit 190.
In normal times, this outfit is mainly engaged in the transfer and smuggling of arms into conflicted regions, for the ethnic organizations, terrorist groups or insurgents serving Tehran’s program of expansion, i.e., “the export of the Shiite revolution.”
With no more than an estimated 200-300 members, US intelligence sources believe it has moved tens of thousands of tons of weaponry to Hizballah in Lebanon, Syria’s Assad regime, Palestinian terrorist factions in the Gaza Strip and Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Unit 190 is adept at disguising the tools of war as harmless commodities, thereby concealing their Iranian provenance and averting premature discovery. Creative packaging solutions camouflage the illicit hardware in containers as innocent goods, or it is packaged in boxes identical to those carrying construction materials, dry milk, automobile components and the like.
The contraband arms are customarily transported by commercial ships, planes, trucks or trains – some carried by roundabout air, land or sea routes through several countries to distance their connection with Tehran. Most of these smuggled weapons are not even manufactured in Iran. For supplying the Assad regime in Syria, Iran was able exceptionally to transport weapons shipments aboard civil and military flights via Iraq, including Iran Air, Mahan Air, Caspian Airlines and Meraj Airlines.
What counted most for the Al Qods commander’s program of revenge for the Trump sanctions, was Unit 190’s marine arm. Equipped with mini-submarines and small commando speedboats (like the IRGC marines), this unit performs valuable services in smuggling prohibited materials and technology to Iran’s missile and nuclear programs. This unit and its commander Behnam Shahriary placed its marine teams at Al Qods’ disposal for attacks on Gulf and Red Sea shipping. (See the lead article in this issue.)
Shariary, who has fostered strategic ties between the Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah, is a favorite of Gen. Soleimani, who has big plans for this clandestine unit.