Report compares Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Daesh, Al-Qaeda

The IRGC’s interpretation of Islam bears a “striking” resemblance to the extremist teachings of Sunni groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh, the report said. (AFP)
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Updated 04 February 2020

Report compares Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Daesh, Al-Qaeda

  • The IRGC is able to operate “unhindered” by safeguards normally employed to monitor and restrict propaganda by Salafist-jihadist groups

LONDON: Western governments and international bodies, including the EU, should designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, the London-based Tony Blair Institute for Global Change said in a report published on Tuesday.

The IRGC acts as an “institutionalized militia,” and uses its vast resources to spread a “mission of jihad” through an “ideological army” of recruits and proxies, said the report, titled “Beyond Borders: The Expansionist Ideology of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” 

The IRGC’s interpretation of Islam bears a “striking” resemblance to the extremist teachings of Sunni groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh, the report added.

The institute published its findings on the back of work to translate training manuals, used and freely distributed by the IRGC online, into English from Farsi for the first time. 

Its analysis of the material uncovered what it called a “formalized system of indoctrination that seeks to radicalize its recruits with an extremist Islamist ideology.”

 Tony Blair, former UK prime minister and executive chairman of the institute, said the international community needs to recognize the role that the IRGC plays in spreading terrorism and extremism.

“The IRGC is not simply an arm of the state, it is a body dedicated to advancing an ideology based on an extreme and intolerant distortion of Islam. It is time we recognized this formally,” he said.

“Extremist ideology gives rise to violent extremism. Defeating it, and calling out those groups and organizations which promote it, is a vital part of a peaceful and prosperous future for the region.”

The report found that the IRGC’s indoctrination process includes promoting a universal Shiite Islamist worldview that it said is “violent and absolutist,” and that “casts both non-Muslims and regime opponents (including Muslims) as enemies of Islam and calls for armed jihad against them.”

The report said the IRGC exists as a way of life in the way it spreads edicts on the ideal structure of society, including promoting the subjugation of women.

The report’s author, Kasra Aarabi, said the IRCG’s use of the internet to radicalize people is something that tech companies in the West have yet to come to terms with. 

The IRGC is able to operate “unhindered” by safeguards normally employed to monitor and restrict propaganda by Salafist-jihadist groups, he added.

Recognizing this, and moving to prevent the IRGC’s dissemination of material, would be a key component of any strategy by the international community to combat its extremism, he said.

“These internal manuals reveal how the IRGC operates as an institutionalized militia, with a formal program of indoctrination that seeks to radicalize its members and proxies in the region with a violent distortion of Islam,” Aarabi added in the report. 

“As the new evidence in our report shows, the IRGC’s Shia extremist ideology has much in common with Salafi-jihadism and policymakers should therefore treat it with the same seriousness as Daesh (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda.”

Prof. Saeid Golkar, an expert on the IRGC at the University of Tennessee in the US, said: “Until now, there has been a void in any tangible evidence put to policymakers about the material and content distributed by the IRGC to its growing number of recruits.”

He added: “It is clear from the documents analyzed in this report that the IRGC has a comprehensive and harmful indoctrination system that seeks to radicalize its members with a violent Islamist ideology that will be hard to reverse without a concerted effort.” 

The IRGC was formed in 1979 in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, and has around 125,000 personnel, encompassing all areas of conventional military strength. 

Its proxies are known to be militarily engaged in a number of conflicts across the Middle East and further afield.

The IRGC is known to be providing assistance to groups in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

 It is thought to have been behind attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, and missiles launched against Saudi Aramco processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in 2019.

 The IRGC was catapulted into global news cycles at the start of 2020 when Gen. Qassem Suleimani, a senior figure and the commander of its elite Quds Force, was assassinated in a US drone strike in Baghdad. 

The IRGC has since admitted responsibility for the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet above Tehran in the immediate aftermath of the drone strike.

How the FSO Safer is an impending danger to the Red Sea and Yemen

Updated 21 September 2020

How the FSO Safer is an impending danger to the Red Sea and Yemen

  • Houthi refusal of passage to experts to carry out repairs has raised specter of a floating time bomb
  • Saudi Arabia has called for a meeting for Arab environment ministers to discuss ways to avoid a catastrophe

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Until the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah in late 2014, foreign and local experts had been regularly visiting a 45-year-old oil tanker moored in the Red Sea.

It was a practice that ensured that the FSO Safer, abandoned just a few kilometers off Yemen’s coast, did not touch off a disaster by exploding or sinking and spilling oil. But having witnessed the devastation caused by the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut and taken its lessons to heart, the Arab world cannot afford to ignore the imminent danger posed by Houthi stalling tactics.

Expressing concerns about the condition of the vessel, Saudi Arabia has called for a meeting for Arab environment ministers on Monday. According to a statement issued on Sunday by Kamal Hassan, assistant secretary-general and head of the Economic Affairs Sector at the Arab League, the aim of the special session is to discuss ways and mechanisms to activate Resolution No. 582, which was adopted by the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for Environmental Affairs in Oct. 2019.

The objective is to “find an appropriate solution to avoid an environmental catastrophe due to the failure to maintain the oil ship Safer anchored off the Ras Issa oil port in the Red Sea since 2015.”

When the Houthi militia gained control of Hodeidah, the FSO Safer was carrying 1.1 million barrels of oil, or almost half of its capacity, according to local officials. No sooner had the fighters tightened their grip on the city than technical experts fled the area, realizing that it had become too dangerous for them to stay on.

Over the past two years, the FSO Safer has attracted regional as well as international attention on and off, thanks in part to the regular appearance on social media of photos of rusting pipes and water leaking into the engine rooms, raising the specter of a floating powder keg.


45 Age of oil tanker FSO Safer

1.1m Barrels of crude oil in tanker

During the same period, Yemeni government officials, environmentalists and foreign diplomats have sounded the alarm over possible outcomes that could both exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and take a heavy environmental toll on the Red Sea littoral states.

The UN has suggested sending a team of experts to Hodeidah to assess the damage to the FSO Safer, but the Houthi militia, who want to pocket the proceeds from sale of the oil, have rejected the proposal. The oil in the FSO Safer’s storage tanks was once estimated to be worth $40 million, but its value now may be less than half of that as crude prices have fallen a lot since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

The internationally recognized government of Yemen has repeatedly accused the Houthi militia of using the decaying tanker as a bargaining chip, citing demands such as the resumption of salaries for public servants in areas under its control, removal of government forces from Hodeidah, and more relaxed inspection of ships bound for the port.

An oil spill would devastate the livelihoods of nearly four million Yemeni people, with fishing stocks taking 25 years to recover. (AFP)

In July, the government requested the UN Security Council to convene an urgent session to discuss the Safer issue amid concern that time was running out. In almost all their meetings with foreign envoys and diplomats, Yemeni officials bring up the matter of the tanker and the attendant risk of an environmental disaster in the Red Sea. For the past several months, Western and Arab diplomats, UN officials, aid organizations and experts too have underscored the urgency of breaking the deadlock in order to avert a human, economic and environmental catastrophe.

In July, the UN described the rusting tanker as a “ticking time bomb,” adding that the tanker’s cargo of oil could cause an environmental disaster four times bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska. Last week, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added his voice to the growing concern over the deadlock by appealing to the Houthi militia to give UN experts access to the oil tanker.

As for the Trump administration, its views were conveyed via a tweet by the US mission to the UN that said: “The US calls on the Houthis to cease obstruction and interference in aid ops and fuel imports. We urge the Houthis to cease their assault on religious freedom and to permit UN technical teams immediate, unconditional access to the Safer oil tanker.”

In comments to Arab News in June, Michael Aron, the British ambassador to Yemen, said unless the Houthi leadership allowed experts to address the FSO Safer’s problems, the potential damage to the environment is far greater than that caused by the recent spillage of 20,000 tons of fuel in Russia’s Siberia. “The threat to the environment in the Red Sea is enormous, and will impact on all the countries who share this coastline,” he said.

Independent researchers too say the condition of Safer is deeply concerning. In a paper for the Atlantic Council in 2019 entitled “Why the massive floating bomb in the Red Sea needs urgent attention,” energy experts Dr. Ian Ralby, Dr. David Soud and Rohini Ralby said the potential consequences of an oil-tanker disaster in the area include an end to the two-year ceasefire in Hodeidah and an aggravation of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

“The risk of explosion increases by the day, and if that were to happen, not only would it damage or sink any ships in the vicinity, but it would create an environmental crisis roughly four and a half times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” the three scientists said. Other experts have speculated that just a stray bullet from an exchange of fire between rival factions could trigger off an explosion of the FSO Safer’s oil cargo.

Yemeni NGO Holm Akhdar says 126,000 people working in the fishing industry could lose their jobs in the case of a disaster.

“Even worse, given the complexity of this war, an errant bullet or shell from any one of the combatants could trigger a blast as large as Beirut’s August 4th disaster, prompting a historic oil spill,” Dave Harden, managing director of Georgetown Strategy Group, wrote in an op-ed in The Hill last month. He added: “Clean-up efforts would be daunting — given the insecurity of being in a war zone and the additional health risks from COVID-19.”

Similar concerns have been expressed by local government officials and fishermen in Hodeidah. Waleed Al-Qudaimi, deputy governor of Hodeidah, said that any spillage from the FSO Safer would create a humanitarian crisis as severe as the one caused by the Houthi insurgency.

“It (the oil spill) will add an additional burden that will affect Yemen for the next decades, deprive thousands of people of their jobs and destroy marine biodiversity in Yemeni waters,” he said. Al-Qudaimi appealed to the international community to keep up pressure on the militia to allow maintenance work to be carried out.

For a country reeling from a combination of conflict, humanitarian crisis, plunging currency and crumbling economy, repairs to an abandoned oil tanker off its coast might not carry the ring of urgency normally associated with a major disaster.

But now that the world knows what happened when Lebanese officials ignored warnings for years over a cache of highly explosive material stored in a Beirut port warehouse, the importance of resolving the FSO Safer issue cannot be overstated.


Twitter: @saeedalBatati