Iran’s secret Unit 190 works to smuggle arms to its allies, but Israeli and Western Intelligence forces are tracking its moves.
The weapons supply unit was made public in an expose by Fox News last week, and since then, The Jerusalem Post has provided some additional information.
According to the Post, the unit is an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, and though technically a military unit, it operates primarily in the civilian sector. Its primary purpose is to supply arms to the likes of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, the Shiite Houthi rebels that now control of Yemen – and previously to Yasser Arafat’s PLO and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
Unit 190 functions under the command of two senior Quds Force commanders, Behnam Shahariyari and Jabar Hosseini, both of whom operate front companies to conceal the weapons shipments as ordinary goods.
To get around sanctions, the report said, Unit 190 hides RPG’s, night-vision equipment and long-range rockets in powdered milk, cement and spare vehicle parts.
“Very often arms and explosives were placed in trucks underneath legal cargo in order to hide them,” Michael Eisenstadt, director of Military and Security Studies programs for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Fox News.
The unit consists of only a couple dozen operatives.Despite its endeavors to hide its activities, several of its shipments have been very publicly intercepted.
In March 2011, Israeli naval commandos intercepted a seemingly innocent merchant ship, Victoria, uncovering Iranian made C-704 land-sea missiles and 60mm and 120mm mortar shells destined for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza disguised as civilian cargo bound from Syria to Egypt.
In 2014, the Israeli navy stopped another Unit 190 vessel, the Klos C, carrying rockets to Islamic Jihad.
The Israeli Air Force is also reported to have intercepted shipments and destroyed stored weapons in two different incidents in Sudan.
By land, weapons have been intercepted en route by truck and train from Iran to Syria via Turkey. In addition to Israel’s successes, US and international intelligence have managed to stop multiple shipments. Each of these Iranian weapons shipments violates multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
“Outing Unit 190 is an important step,” one source told The Jerusalem Post, “but it won’t halt its operations. The battle continues.”