The CTC Sentinel, a biweekly publication of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Counterterrorism Center (CTC), which provides analysis and insights on current and emerging terrorist threats, an in-depth report written by Pierre Boussel under the headline: "The Quds Force in Syria: Combatants, Units, and Actions."
Boussel maintains that: "The key mission of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) is to defend the Iranian Islamic Revolution and create armed militias in the countries of its “Axis of Resistance.”. Although the Quds Force’s apparatus in Syria has been under pressure from Israeli airstrikes, Tehran is sticking to its mission set: infiltrating Syrian civil society and sending fighters to the north, where the civil war will one day end, and to the south, on the edge of the Golan Heights, to establish a base against Israel if necessary".
Tehran's interventions in Syria have three main objectives: To safeguard the Shi`i minorities within Syria (and Lebanon). Secondly, to eliminate the American presence and establish a corridor leading to the Mediterranean shores. And thirdly, to prepare for a potential encirclement maneuver against Israel, strategically positioning troops and military equipment near the Golan Heights without engaging in direct confrontation.
According to the CTC Sentinel, The Quds Force, operating within the Syrian theater, consists of secretive units never officially mentioned by Tehran authorities in the media. The following list is not exhaustive:
IRGC, Quds Force, Unit 400: Identified activities: Transportation and logistics. Led by Abdallahi Hamed, this unit is associated with arms transfers along the Iraq-Syria axis disguised as humanitarian aid convoys.
IRGC, Quds Force, Unit 190: Identified activities: Financing. This unit is led by Behnam Shahriyari, involved in oil smuggling and money laundering.
IRGC, Unit 1500: Known activities: Counterintelligence. Led by Ruhollah Bazquandi, this unit is mentioned in cases involving the neutralization of Iranian opponents or Israeli interests (in Turkey).
Non-IRGC units, such as the Iranian Army's Special Forces unit known as the Green Berets or the NOHED Brigade, have also operated in Syria, conducting advisory missions from 2014 to 2016. Officers from Iran's Ranger Brigades (45th, 258th, 58th [Zulfiqar]) were also present.
The prominent face of the Iranian presence in Syria consists of well-documented militias such as Lebanese Hezbollah, Liwa al-Quds, Fatemiyoun Brigade, Zainebiyoun Brigade, Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Liwa al-Baqir, and Kata'ib al-Imam Ali. Alongside them are lesser-known and transient entities, shrouded in obscurity (al-Ghaybat in Shi`a culture). Fajr al-Islam militia was established to secure former Russian military bases in 2022.
Boussel concluded regarding the prospects of IRGC-QF operation in Syria, saying that It is unclear how the IRGC will react to the new orientations of the Iranian government, such as the Iran-Saudi Arabia agreement on March 10, 2023. Some believe the IRGC worries that the recent diplomatic activity will limit its operational freedom in Syria. Others believe that the IRGC will continue to operate in Syria as it has in the past.
It is also unclear how the IRGC will react to Syria's return to the Arab League and the restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The monitoring of the Quds Force, the external operations arm of the IRGC, suggests that its objective is not to keep the Assad clan in power in Damascus but to spread the "Islamic revolutionary" spirit in the sub-region. For Tehran, Damascus is a transactional ally, a step toward establishing Shiite Pax Irania in the Middle East.