The US Designates the IRGC as a Terror Group Without a Coherent Strategy


When the United States declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), the decision provoked mixed reactions globally. The US President, Donald J Trump, justified the decision by stating, “This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a state sponsor of terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.” As a result of this decision, the IRGC becomes the world’s only regular military organization to be listed as a terrorist entity by another state. Back in 2007, Washington designated the IRGC-affiliated Quds force. This latest decision is aimed at encircling the IRGC economically while the decision by the George W Bush administration was aimed at capitulating the IRGC-affiliated Quds force militarily.

The White House aims to squeeze the financial pipeline for Iran’s praetorian guards, thus seeking an end to its sponsorship of deadly proxy militias stretching from Afghanistan to Lebanon and beyond. Regardless of the threats posed to Europe by the IRGC, the US designation was not lauded by European capitals even though the European states maintain no military-to-military ties with Iran and have also expressed concern over Iran’s ballistic missile program on several occasions.
Iran’s response was nothing but expected. Playing a victim, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated, “In spite of all the pressure in the past 40 years, Americans have failed to do a damn thing and their vicious move will bear no fruit.” He urged unity amongst Iranians in the wake of the decision by the United States and predicted that the IRGC will “grow more popular in Iran and in the region.” Devoid of any consequential impact, the Iranian government symbolically branded the US as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi was anything but diplomatic in his choice of words. While declaring the US military bases and its armed forces in the Middle East as terrorist entities, he vowed to confront them.
The US administration’s move is aimed at strengthening the firewall around Iran to deter foreign entities from doing business with its entities.  Since the IRGC’s front companies for business are not always declared or known, the partner organizations run the risk of landing themselves in unchartered territory. Ironically, US President Trump’s own organization is said to have engaged in business with an IRGC front company, Azarpassillo, for a Trump Tower project in Baku, Azerbaijan. The skyscraper could never be built though.
The sanctions specific to the IRGC will not only help restrain it economically but also limit its bilateral and multilateral military cooperation. Iraqi and Lebanese entities and their respective armies will in particular be closely observed. Similarly, the IRGC’s affiliated airlines and discreet banking channels will be securitized and penalized. The question arises as to whether the sanctions have limited the Quds force over the past 12 years? The data proves that the sanctions did not deter the Quds force as according to the US Central Command, some 196 US troops and combatants fell prey to the Quds force’s Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) between November 2005 and December 2011. Also, its Commander, Qassem Soleimani, moved freely during these 12 years and commanded Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Reportedly, the US Department of State, the Pentagon, and the CIA opposed the decision to designate the IRGC as a FTO as it can risk the security of the United States’ military assets as well as its personnel in the Arabian Gulf and  the Middle East. The proxy militias under the command of General Qassem Soleimani are capable of effective subversive actions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Various reports suggest that preventive measures against such likely attacks are yet to be taken by the US military and intelligence assets in the Middle East. Instead of US foreign and security policy imperatives, the haste in designating an already sanctioned IRGC coincided with elections in Israel. This correlation between the United States designating the IRGC as a FTO and the Israeli elections has been definitely noticed and propagated in Iran, not only to boost hatred against the US but also to prop up public support for the IRGC. Ironically, the lackluster response to the floods which have struck Iran has not helped the Iranian government or the IRGC.
The prospect of the IRGC limiting its subversive footprint in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan seem far from likely. Instead, Shiite extremists will be increasingly motivated to join IRGC-affiliated militias. The clerics are invoking the spirit of sacrifice in Karbala. The legal and economic punitive actions by the United States are devoid of supportive military and political countermeasures.
The coercive approach to bring Iran to the negotiating table may not succeed after all. The risk of Iran explicitly abandoning the nuclear deal has become ever more real. For Washington, the possibility of internal pressure is more likely to bring down the regime than a negotiated settlement concerning Iran’s nuclear program and its clandestine missile projects.
In the coming weeks, the United States aspires to reduce sanctions waivers to fewer than eight nations. Iran’s economic woes will worsen to unprecedented levels. However, the clerics will deem sitting down with the US as well as with other western nations for talks as humiliating. The future course of action depends on two factors: a). how the US Department of Treasury proceeds with punitive actions against IRGC-affiliated business entities and external companies that do business with them, b). if Iran’s armed forces initiate any provocative actions against US military assets in the Gulf and the Middle East.

Editorial Team