Washington Finally Serious About Designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as Terrorists
On Friday, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions on a host of Iranian companies and individuals. It is a welcome development, which hopefully sends a signal to Tehran to rein in its global terror support, ballistic missile testing and oppression of its people.
The action targets people and entities involved in procuring technology and/or materials to support Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well as acting for, or on behalf of, or providing support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force.
The Iranian entities operate out of Lebanon, the base of Hezbollah (Party of God), an IRGC proxy, which was designated as a terrorist entity by the US in 1997.
Friday’s sanctions could help liberal democracy grow in Iran by showing Iranians that their leadership will face consequences for violating civil liberties at home and international relations norms abroad.
According to its constitution (See Articles 107, 110), Iran is a theocratic dictatorship. Its parliament is under the sway of the Supreme Leader and other ayatollahs, who select themselves. There is no such thing as a separation of powers.
Iran’s military is subordinated to the IRGC, which also controls most of the country’s economy. Electoral results that do not satisfy the leadership are ignored, and protests of anti-democratic governmental action are ruthlessly and systematically suppressed.
In the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections, the Greens and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) led protests. There is evidence that the NCRI continues to exist, despite facing heavy persecution. But the Greens have faded away, with their leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest in Tehran, subject to the whims of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Candidates for Designation
A 2015 study by Israel’s Meir Amit of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Portrait of Qasem Soleimani, Commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, provides ample evidence of the IRGC’s role in fomenting global terrorism.
This should qualify the IRGC for destination as a global terrorist organization.
Since 2012, the IRGC has recruited several thousands of Shiite volunteer fighters from among Afghan refugees living in Iran. The IRGC has also cultivated terrorist networks in the Golan Heights. On August 20, 2015, local forces, including Hezbollah operatives supported and supplied by the IRGC, fired four rockets at Israel from the Syrian-controlled Golan. Two of the rockets hit Israeli territory in the Upper Galilee, and two fell in the Golan.
Last April, Hezbollah — with the backing of the IRGC, began building new military installations in Syria, according to a report released by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. These appear to be geared toward a future, conventional war with Israel.
A study published last fall by Iranian specialist Alireza Jafarzadeh and his colleagues also shows how Iran fuels the Syrian civil war by placing the IRGC on the ground and transporting some Afghan refugees living in Iran to fight in Syria. The IRGC combined its troops and those of surrogates on the ground in terrorist assaults on civilians in places like Aleppo. This combination of forces on land with Syrian airstrikes proved to be a toxic mix of terrorism: “Syria is our 35th province, and is a strategic province for us,” Mehdi Taeb, a former commander of IRGC intelligence said in 2013. Because Taeb retains influence in the IRGC, his statements were and are indicative of the depth of the IRGC commitment to supporting the Syrian regime.
“If the enemy attacks us and seeks to take Syria or Khuzestan [an Iranian province], our priority would be to keep Syria, because if we keep Syria, we can retake Khuzestan. But if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran,” he said.
The IRGC meets the legal criteria for a Foreign Terrorist Organization designation: 1) It must be a foreign organization; 2) engage in terrorist activity or terrorism, or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism; and 3) the organization’s terrorist activity or terrorism must threaten the security of US nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations or the economic interests) of the United States.
On Friday, MSNBC reported on a bipartisan letter to President Trump in favor of sanctions against the IRGC. In addition, “The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Terrorist Designation Act” was introduced in the House and Senate in January. These identical bills emphasize that the IRGC meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization under US law.
“If a foreign organization looks like a terror group, operates like a terror group, and supports terrorism, then it should be called for what it is – a foreign terrorist organization,” House co-sponsor Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said. “As obvious as that seems, for years the IRGC has been allowed to operate clandestinely using front companies and illicit networks to evade formal designation.”
Fellow Texas Republican and Senate co-sponsor Ted Cruz added that, by designating IRGC as a foreign terror organization, the US would be “signaling to financial institutions and companies who facilitate or conduct business with the IRGC that they may be held liable.”
The Way Forward
There are two major benefits that designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization might produce.
First, tagging the IRGC would give succor to democratic forces within Iran by imposing costs on anti-democratic ones, including those who lead the IRGC. The IRGC leader, Qasem Soleimani, who goes virtually unchallenged, would be weakened. A weaker Soleimani could give rise to splits within the regime and place Iran on its back foot.
Second, designating the IRGC would send a strong signal to the Arab Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia that Washington is serious about regime change in Tehran. Prince Turki al Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief, reported that the people of Iran are clamoring for regime change.
The bottom line is that designation could help bring liberal democracy to Iran by weakening the grip of its key repressive institution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and proxies like Hezbollah.
Dr. Raymond Tanter served as a senior member on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Edward Stafford is a retired Foreign Service officer; he served in Political-Military Affairs at the State Department, as a diplomat with the US Embassy in Turkey, and taught at the Inter-American Defense College. This article was originally commissioned and published by the Investigative Project on Terrorism.