The Trump Administration has asked several U.S. agencies to consider designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. This has critics of a hard line on Iran defending why the IRGC shouldn’t have this designation.
An article, in the Washington Post on February 8, listed their reasons why this designation shouldn’t take place. The core argument in the Post article is that “to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization could endanger U.S. troops in Iraq”. The argument is that if this designation occurs, then its proxies would resort to terrorism against U.S. troops, thus endangering American lives.
They also argue that the designation would undermine the fight against ISIS. In order to justify this argument, they believe that the IRGC designation could undermine cooperation between U.S. forces and the IRGC and its proxies. This argument is the de facto acknowledgement of something which the Obama Administration consistently denied when criticized for its conciliatory policies on Iran.
The biggest argument from Tehran’s lobby is that such a designation will lead to war. This is a scare tactic that is used to intimidate those who are critical of the appeasement policies that have been in place with Iran to date. The international community is placed in a position of serving the interests of the regime by avoiding this “war”. They also argue that the IRGC is a state institution, similar to an regular army, thus it shouldn’t be allowed to receive a designation that would be applied to a non-government organization.
Ultimately, these critics of the designation believe that it will end up serving the hardliners in Iran and negatively impact the progress of change in Iran.
Yet, these arguments are based on a policy of appeasement, which negatively impacts the region, because Iran is able to continue exporting its brand of terrorism through the IRGC.
It is clear that the IRGC has been and continues to be involved in terrorism in countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and other countries within the region. According to the U.S. State Department, “The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.” In 2015, the U.S. State Department acknowledged that the IRGC “continued to transfer arms to Hezbollah” and that “in late November (2015), Kenyan security agencies announced that they had arrested two Iranian citizens [planning] to execute a terrorist attack.”
Additionally, paramilitary groups in Iraq affiliated with the IRGC are engaged in terrorism and crimes against humanity. The U.S. State Department declared Kataib Hezbollah a terrorist organization in 2009. Their leader, known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, began working with the IRGC in Kuwait in the 1980s and was responsible for the bombing of the U.S. Embassy there. Currently, that leader reports directly to the Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani.
The admission that Americans would be endangered by making the IRGC a designated terrorism group is itself an admission of the IRGC’s terrorist nature. It implies that public acknowledgement of that fact would lead to retaliation in the form of terrorist attacks on the U.S. soldiers. It implies that the U.S. government could be blackmailed by the threat of terrorist attacks and that admission further emboldens the regime and terrorist organizations. Past experience has shown that standing firm to the Iranian regime has results. The regime understands the language of firmness. Sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiation table in the past and continuing to adhere to a firm policy against their exportation of terrorism and support of terrorist organizations.
The IRGC is not working against ISIS, but in fact, through its exportation of terrorism, has been key in helping to create and strengthen ISIS. John Kerry, former Secretary of State, said in November of 2015 that ISIS was “created by Assad” and by former Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki, both of whom released al Qaeda prisoners at the behest of the Iranian regime. “Make no mistake: Assad has cut his own deal with Daesh. They sell oil. He buys oil. They are symbiotic, not real enemies in this,” said Kerry.
Instead of seeing this designation as assisting ISIS, it would strengthen the war on ISIS. It would send a message to those disaffected Sunnis that the U.S. is no longer siding with the Iranian regime and its militias.
Additionally, war is already happening as the IRGC’s support of the Assad government has empowered him to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. This goes back to the true mandate of the IRGC, which is not as a state institution, but as an exporter of terrorism. “The mandate of the Army is to defend the country’s border and its geographic jurisdiction is Iran. But the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps does not have the extension of ‘Iran’. That means its mandate is to defend the Islamic Revolution and its achievements without border…IRGC is tasked to engage in any issue that it feels may endanger the revolution. We have free hands in engaging in any geographic location, in any political, social and cultural issue,” said Brigadier General Ahmad Gholampour, an IRGC commander. This mandate and its conduct makes the IRGC well qualified to be designated as an FTO.
For those who believe that this designation is catering to the hardliners, the reality is that there is no moderate faction within the Iranian regime. The current system is incapable of reform from within. Therefore, this argument is simply a cover to justify making concessions to the mullahs’ regime.
In the end, the designation of the IRGC would be key to taking a firm stand with Iran, once more sending the message that the international community will no longer allow the exportation of Iranian terrorism through the IRGC.