By Natasha Phillips
APR 12 – Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been placed on a blacklist which designates the group as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Middle East experts and government officials around the world have raised concerns over the designation.
The State Department announced that it would be adding the IRGC to its Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list in a press release issued April 8 for what it called the Quds Force’s involvement in a global terror campaign through its funding and training of terrorist groups.
“The IRGC – primarily through its Quds Force – is the primary arm of the Iranian government that carries out and directs Tehran’s dangerous and destabilizing global terrorist campaign. The IRGC provides funding, equipment, training, and logistical support to a broad range of terrorist and militant organizations, totaling approximately one billion dollars annually in assistance.”
It is the first time that the United States has designated another country’s military force as a terrorist organization.
The current designation will take effect on April 15 and is part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign against Iran. The classification toughens previous sanctions placed on the IRGC and includes restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales, and export controls on dual use items.
A further press release published by the State Department on Monday said the FTO designation and additional sanctions would have a significant impact on the regime by effectively isolating and starving the government of resources it could devote to terrorist activities.
The decision to blacklist the IRGC has divided politicians and Middle East security analysts who expressed conflicting views as to whether it would bring about peace in the region.
“I don’t think this latest designation will have much of an impact,” said Afshon Ostovar, a senior analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia, and Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in California, in an interview with Kayhan Life.
“The IRGC is already designated for numerous other reasons and sanctions applied against the IRGC currently affect most of Iran’s economic sectors. Russia and China, as well as India and other neutral states, will continue doing business with Iran in their own ways.”
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council countered the designation this week by declaring the United States and “all its affiliated forces, a terrorist group,” the semi-official Fars new agency reported on Monday. The Council also called the U.S.’s decision to blacklist the IRGC illegal.
The Council’s announcement followed a call from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to President Hassan Rouhani to place America’s CENTCOM forces stationed around the globe on Tehran’s list of terror groups. The request fueled a debate on social media, with experts questioning how the designation would work in practice.
The designations have led some commentators to believe that a U.S.-Iran war is imminent. The Independent newspaper warned that previous escalations in the Middle East featured a similar series of events: a war of words followed by policies and actions that became unmanageable in already volatile locations.
Ostovar said he did not think that a military confrontation was on the cards for either country. He noted that it was “unlikely for the designations to impact the security of the Middle East. Were Iran or its proxies to attack U.S. forces in the region in response to the designation, they would risk an American military response. Iran can ill-afford a war with the United States, so it is unlikely that they would do anything drastic.”
Lawmakers in the United States told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on April 10 that they would not give the State Department permission to go to war with Iran. The comment was made by Senator Rand Paul during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting. Senator Paul questioned Pompeo on the State Department’s decision to blacklist the IRGC, implying that the move was designed to lay the groundwork for a military strike.
Some international officials responded favorably to the IRGC’s classification as a terrorist group.
Saudi Arabia welcomed the IRGC designation through its state media on Tuesday, Reuters reported. Saudi Arabia considers itself a U.S. ally, with the two countries enjoying a Special Relationship built on decades of security cooperation and substantial business ties.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also embraced the move, appearing to take credit for the IRGC’s blacklisting in a tweet sent out on Monday from his Hebrew account which said, “Thank you, my dear friend, president Donald Trump, for announcing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. Thank you for responding to another important request that serves the interests of our country and the region. We will continue to act together against the Iranian regime that threatens the state of Israel, the United States and the Peace of the world.”
Conversely, Iraq and Russia condemned the classification. Seyed Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement, criticized the U.S. government’s decision in a statement released by his office, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency. “The White House’s move to include the IRGC on the list of terrorist groups is a rash action that complicates the crisis and turns it into an unbreakable knot” he was quoted as saying. “We, once again, call on all parties to use civilized ways to resolve disputes through dialogue,” he added.
Leonid Slutsky, the Chairman of Russia’s State Duma International Affairs Committee, told Iran’s official media outlet IRNA on Wednesday that Russian parliamentary officials did not support the designation and that Moscow opposed the U.S.’s move to sanction Iran as well as its decision to pull out of the nuclear deal.
Iraq and Russia both have diplomatic relationships with Iran.