Bringing down IRGC’s terrorist networks tricky but necessary

Bringing down IRGC’s terrorist networks tricky but necessary

IRGC troops march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1980-88 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in Tehran in September 2018. (AFP)

By order of President Donald Trump, the US State Department is designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the military arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in its entirety, including the Quds Force. The administration sees this as a necessary step to counter Iran-backed terrorism around the world. Criminal prosecutions are now easier but still complicated.

Many are divided on the designation, arguing that such a move means that the IRGC will quickly engage American troops or attack US targets anywhere in the world, but more specifically in the lands that Iran occupies or influences in the Middle East. Also, the US will pursue criminal cases against anybody who interacts with the IRGC or any of its octopus-like tentacles in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

It is important to understand that the driver of this policy is to end the ability of the IRGC to intervene or interfere in other states’ internal affairs, which has been happening for decades. It was only about 12 years ago that the IRGC first became designated and under sanction by the US Treasury, followed by the EU a few years later. In addition, the IRGC is also currently designated thanks to various executive orders, including sanctions designations in 2007 for its support to Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs, and in 2011 and 2012 in connection with Iran’s human rights abuses.

In other words, the IRGC has been under sanctions for at least a decade and has only increased its aggression, with no retreat yet seen. More than 900 Iran-related individuals, entities, aircraft and vessels have been sanctioned by the US for human rights abuses, censorship, the ballistic missile program, malign cyber-activities, support for terrorism, or associations with the government of Iran.

In fact, the IRGC has become more aggressive in a number of different Middle Eastern theaters, specifically the Levant and Yemen, with a technologically savvy ability to enhance the power of other terror groups. This type of activity must stop.

Looking through the FTO lens, the IRGC continues to provide financial and other material support, training, technology transfer, advanced conventional weapons, guidance, and direction to a broad range of terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq, Al-Ashtar Brigades in Bahrain, and other terrorist groups in Syria and around the Gulf. IRGC assistance also goes further afield in terms of recruiting and training in jurisdictions away from southwest Asia.

The IRGC has been under sanctions for at least a decade and has only increased its aggression, with no retreat yet seen.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

The IRGC FTO designation is built on a desire to correct historical wrongs, such as the 444-day hostage crisis and the parading of US Navy personnel captured in the Gulf in 2016. To be sure, the IRGC is responsible for the deaths of at least 603 American service members in Iraq since 2003. This accounts for 17 percent of all deaths of US personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, and is in addition to the many thousands of Iraqis and others killed around the world by Iran’s terror strikes.

The Quds Force’s terrorist planning has been uncovered and disrupted in many countries, including Bahrain, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Germany, Kenya and Turkey. In 2011, the Quds Force plotted a brazen terrorist attack against the Saudi ambassador to the US on American territory. In January 2018, Germany uncovered 10 IRGC operatives involved in a terrorist plot and convicted another IRGC operative for surveilling a German-Israeli group. In September, a US federal court found Iran and the IRGC liable for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, which killed 19 Americans.

On the one hand, the trail of terror is comprehensive, but in some of the plots the efforts were comical because the IRGC had to rely on hiring local criminals to conduct their “sophisticated” operations. Thus there is a question mark over its capability and reach, given the global dragnet that has been ongoing regarding its activity in recent years. Arab allies of the US are assisting Washington in this effort by helping to identify individuals outside of Iran who are tied to the IRGC network.

Let’s be clear about the IRGC: This 40-year-old elite military organization is expert at using front companies, transit, and economic exchanges across the world. The IRGC is able to use these networks to move personnel, monies or equipment as they see fit. The IRGC’s global web exists alongside many other terrorist networks and pathways. In theory, this FTO move is necessary to achieve key goals in cutting off these networks. It is notable that the first countries to support the Trump administration’s designation were key Gulf states, who have been saying to Washington for years that the IRGC is a terrorist organization.

Overall, the IRGC FTO designation is a significant step forward in the maximum pressure campaign against the Iranian government, with the aim of getting the IRGC back within its borders and bankrupt. The road ahead is mapped out in the sense that IRGC activity is known and can now be pursued and prosecuted in a sharp way. Although the Iranian government and Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani are clever, this step by the US administration is a further move toward achieving its goal of forcing a change in Iran’s terrorist behavior, which threatens so many states. Nobody said it would be easy or safe, but it is necessary.

  • Dr. Theodore Karasik is a non-resident senior fellow at the Lexington Institute and a national security expert, specializing in Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East. He worked for the RAND Corporation and publishes widely in the US and international media. Twitter: @tkarasik
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