On April 6, an expert panel met with various members of the U.S. Senate to discuss Iran’s upcoming election and the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Middle East. Various U.S. officials and groups have debated the wisdom of designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. Current legislation in from of Congress would impose harsher sanctions on the IRGC, but would not go so far as to designate it a terrorist organization.
One of those experts was Michael Pregent, an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute and a senior Middle East analyst. He focused on what the IRGC was before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), what it looks like now, and the impact of not designating the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization.
“Before the JCPOA, the IRGC was able to provide lethal aid to proxy militias in Iraq that resulted in the death of Americans, resulted in the death of Iraqis, resulted in intimidation campaigns against Iraqi politicians who were willing to work with the United States,” said Pregent.
He noted that since those early years in Iraq, the IRGC has only gotten more emboldened. Their objectives are different, depending on the country within the region. He noted that in Iraq, the IRGC wants to take credit for winning the war against ISIS, but in Syria, the objective is to keep Assad in power.
“The IRGC, though its Quds force, is able to fracture and destabilize states that they disagree with and they’re able to prop up states which the rest of the international community disagrees with – be able to prop up their leaders,” said Pregent. “Post-JCPOA, the IRGC is stronger and they’re more emboldened. They’re training Houthis in Yemen on how to use advanced rocket systems to attack U.S. ships…[and] attack Saudi ships in the area. They’re able to do things they weren’t able to do before the JCPOA because of more funding into those areas…what they’re able to do with this money is actually more focused than what Gulf countries are able to do with their military budgets.”
He used an example of how the IRGC allocates its resources, thus allowing it to inflict more damage in more areas. The IRGC, according to Pregent, is a hybrid of the CIA/special operations that answers directly to the Supreme Leader. He also stated that if the U.S. did not designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, it would continue to grow economically and position themselves even more strategically throughout the region. One of the ways that they expand their influence is by buying up property and then moving in Shia pilgrims, which then pushes the Sunni population out.
With their tenticles throughout the Iranian economy, only a FTO designation could truly impact the range of the IRGC and curtail its power structure.
“Their goal again is to destabilize the Middle East, disrupt, attack us – again, they’ve continued to provide lethal aid to the top Taliban, they’ve harbored al-Qaeda fugitives or al-Qaeda leaders…This is an organization that will work with Sunni extremist groups or will work with anybody if it helps them target Americans,” said Pregent.
Without a designation, it seems that the IRGC’s economic power will continue to grow and so too will its influence within the region.