US removing IRGC from terror list would be illogical
The US is reportedly considering removing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its terrorist blacklist. In return, Tehran has promised that it will not harm Americans. However, this step would greatly upset America’s allies in the region, which are already drifting away from Washington. The question is would this move bring stability to the Middle East, especially in the wake of President Ebrahim Raisi making it clear that Iran would not give up its “regional presence?” Another question is will Iran finally become a friend to the US? This is very unlikely.
To start with, removing the IRGC’s terror designation would be in line with President Joe Biden’s campaign promises to roll back decisions made by Donald Trump. It was Trump who designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019 in response to Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. Since then, Tehran’s malicious behavior has only increased. Only last week, it fired missiles at a target near the American Consulate in Irbil. That does not give any signal of de-escalation. The fact that Iran attacked the Iraqi city directly was a show of confidence. The US responded with evasion, shifting the issue to the Iraqis by saying it was an attack on Iraqi sovereignty, since the missiles did not directly hit the consulate.
While Iran is growing increasingly confrontational, the US is becoming increasingly submissive. Despite being endowed with the most powerful military in the world, America’s lack of resolve puts it in a weak position. Its adversaries know that the US can be easily deterred as it wants to avoid confrontation and risk at any cost. However, very little in life can be won without taking any risks. For sure, Washington does not want a military confrontation with Iran. That was also the direction Trump took.
However, the US is not using any pressure to improve its bargaining power with Iran. Instead, it is accommodating Iran and hoping that Tehran will, out of the goodness of its heart, change its behavior and transform from an aggressive state that seeks to destabilize its neighbors to a country that wants peace and economic prosperity. I doubt this will happen. On the contrary, the Iranians will increase their regional efforts, as was clearly stated by Raisi. Iran will not give up on its regional policy and will use all means possible to blackmail its neighbors.
The next question we need to ask is what will Iran’s neighbors and US allies do? Will the UAE and Saudi Arabia sit idly by and just accept Iranian hegemony? I doubt this too. They will devise their own plans and craft their own alliances to counter Iran. We have already seen the UAE-Israeli partnership strengthened to fend off Iranian threats. On the other hand, this rapprochement seems to give Iran an excuse to pursue its aggressive behavior. In January, Tehran made sure its Houthi proxy in Yemen launched an attack on the UAE while the Israeli president was visiting. Hence, the entire dynamic triggered by US action will only breed greater regional turbulence.
The lifting of the IRGC’s terrorist designation would push the Arab Gulf states to distance themselves from the US and seek new global allies. Are we surprised that the Saudis are reluctant to cater to the US demand to increase oil production in order to keep global energy prices down? Not really. It is a zero-sum game and any American rapprochement with Iran will cause tensions with the Arab Gulf states.
But is it worth it? The Gulf states have, for decades, proven to be reliable allies to the US. They supported Washington during its Cold War with the Soviet Union and have coordinated their oil production policy with their American ally. This alliance continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, under Barack Obama, the American policy started taking a turn. This was in great part due to the perception that the US and the West do not need Gulf oil as much as before. The revolution in shale oil production and technological innovations in terms of alternative energy sources drove this perception. However, today we see that the world and the US do need the Gulf to keep a stable flow of energy.
While Iran is growing increasingly confrontational, the US is becoming increasingly submissive.
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
Saudi Arabia is the country that has the most capability to increase production. So, unlike what the Obama administration wished for, the Arab Gulf is still important, especially now that the US is trying to pressure Russia to agree to a negotiated solution over Ukraine. If Washington wants to even partially sanction the Russian energy sector, which is critical to the country’s economy, it cannot do so without liaising with Saudi Arabia. Instead, the US is courting Iran. What is the American administration thinking? That it will replace Saudi Arabia with Iran? And what is the logic behind replacing a trusted and tried ally with an enemy whose ideology is based on hatred for the US — an enemy that wishes death for America in its Friday prayers?
The Iranian government could not change its attitude toward the US even if it wanted to. If it did so, the regime would lose any credibility it had with its constituency. It would be signing its own death warrant. Iran’s leaders need this animosity toward the US to stay alive to prove they are true to the Islamic revolution’s ideals.
In a nutshell, there is no logic behind the step that the US is considering taking — it is simply acute risk aversion that is driving policy alternatives, and that is why we end up with ideas like this.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.