The US Treasury Department announced sanctions on a host of Iranian companies and individuals on Friday. It sends a signal to Tehran to rein in its ballistic missile testing.
The 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 are the targets of the sanctions.
According to Dr. Raymond Tanter, senior member on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, and Edward Stafford, retired Foreign Service officer who served in Political-Military Affairs at the State Department, in their article for Algemeiner on February 8, 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.”
Whether Friday’s sanctions will help liberal democracy grow in Iran is the question. Iranians now see that their leadership faces consequences for violating international relations norms abroad.
Iran is a theocratic dictatorship, according to its constitution (See Articles 107, 110). Tanter and Stafford say that Iran’s 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.”
The IRGC controls Iran’s military and 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,” say Tanter and Stafford.
The Greens and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) led protests after the 2009 presidential elections. The NCRI continues to exist, despite facing heavy persecution, but the Greens are no longer. Their leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, are under house arrest in Tehran, subject to the whims of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Israel’s Meir Amit of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, conducted a 2015 study, Portrait of Qasem Soleimani, Commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, which provides evidence of the IRGC’s role in fomenting global terrorism. According to Tanter and Stafford, this alone should qualify the IRGC as a global terrorist organization.
The IRGC has been recruiting Shiite volunteer fighters from among Afghan refugees living in Iran by the thousands since 2012. The IRGC also has terrorist networks in the Golan Heights. Tanter and Stafford write that, “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.”
Iranian specialist, Alireza Jafarzadeh, and his colleagues published a study last fall that 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. That study point to IRGC combining 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,” said Mehdi Taeb, a former commander of IRGC intelligence, in 2013. Taeb retains influence in the IRGC, so his statements indicate 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.
Tanter and Stafford believe that 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.
MSNBC reported on Friday, about a bipartisan letter to President Trump favoring 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 bills show that the IRGC meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization under US law.
House co-sponsor Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said, “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. 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.”
Ted Cruz, fellow Texas Republican and Senate co-sponsor 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.”
Two major benefits of designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization Tanter and Stafford say might be:
1. 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.
2. 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 designation may help bring liberal democracy to Iran, in that it weakens the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and proxies like Hezbollah.