The January 2020 neutralization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force commander has entailed the formation of a top secret special forces unit.
According to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat Arab regional publication referring to anonymous sources in the Iraqi security services and diplomatic circles of Western countries, they "adopted" the American-Israeli experience of actively using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for various purposes, and even went a little further.
In particular, by personal order and under supervision of new Qods commander Brig. Gen. Ismail Qaani, a new structure was created within the corps, designed to use domestic and combat foreign UAVs. According to Iraqi sources, the new formation comprises the following groups: controllers, intelligence analysis, weapons, technical support and maintenance, transport, security and protection.
As of May this year, total manpower hovers around 250 specialists. The unit's personnel were mainly selected both from among the citizens of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and the IRGC-loyal Hezbollah detachments, as well as civilians. The selection of candidates for serving in the special squad was carried out by counterintelligence officers and IRGC instructors. At that, each of the claimants passed thorough multi-level safety and intelligence tests, moral and psychological stability, knowledge and learning ability.
The main cadet group's training was conducted in Iraq and Lebanon as housed by Qods and Hezbollah training centers under the guidance of IRGC instructors. A separate group of electronic warfare (EW) specialists with enemy UAVs has been trained in Iran.
According to anonymous sources in Iraqi Hezbollah detachments, the new unit has already "come up big" as regards subversive activity. It was its fighters who carried out attacks with the use of UAVs against the American Ayn al Asad air base in May this year, against the Erbil airfield in April, and against industrial facilities of Saudi Arabia in January. According to rumors from Iranian sources, the drone strikes were purely demonstrative and aimed to demonstrate that the Shiite formations of Iraq do possess cutting-edge combat equipment able to cause painful damage to the military and other facilities of the Western coalition's armed forces.
At the same time, militants of the new special unit have achieved more success in Lebanon. Open source information says that the spring of 2021 has witnessed two Israeli Air Force reconnaissance UAVs crash over southern Lebanon. At the same time, one of them has been allegedly shot down by small arms fire, with another one crashing over communication failure. There is a good chance that both aircraft were eliminated by Iranian electronic warfare equipment. In any case, the Israelis then became much less likely to use their UAVs to a tactical depth of the Lebanese territory.
Thus, Iran has embarked upon actively testing domestic UAVs and electronic counteraction in a live fire situation outside its territory.