What terrorist delisting of Iran’s IRGC would mean for US interests, allies in Middle East

Special What terrorist delisting of Iran’s IRGC would mean for US interests, allies in Middle East
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Updated 24 March 2022

What terrorist delisting of Iran’s IRGC would mean for US interests, allies in Middle East

What terrorist delisting of Iran’s IRGC would mean for US interests, allies in Middle East
  • Tehran reportedly pressing Biden team in Vienna to remove sanctions against Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
  • Financial lifeline would enable IRGC to plunge vast new swathes of Middle East into chaos, conflict

WASHINGTON D.C.: US President Joe Biden’s administration is reportedly in the final stages of an attempt to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Insiders claim that Tehran is insisting that Washington agree to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

The American negotiating team, led by Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley, believes that it can obtain the concessions and guarantees from the Iranian government necessary for preventing it from becoming a nuclear weapons threshold power.

Analysts think a nuclear-capable Iran would significantly empower the IRGC and likely supercharge its asymmetric-warfare campaign throughout the Middle East.




A woman holds up an illustration of a portrait of Qasem Soleimani during a memorial service marking the second anniversary of his death at a school in Beirut. (File/AFP)

Iran has reportedly been pressing the Biden team to agree to an almost total overhaul of not only economic sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program, but those connected to terrorist activities specifically linked to the IRGC.

Sources report that one of Tehran’s conditions to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the nuclear deal, is the removal of the terrorist designation, which equates the IRGC with Daesh, and Al-Qaeda.

The Biden administration has not confirmed the leaks but has made clear it hopes to restore the JCPOA. But there are signs that it may acquiesce to Tehran’s demands.

Critics point to what they see as a serious flaw in the Biden administration’s strategic reasoning.




An Iranian missile launched during a joint military drill dubbed the ‘Great Prophet 17,’ in the southwest of Iran. (AFP/Iran's Revolutionary Guard via SEPAH NEWS)

Michael Doran, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Arab News that the deal under consideration by the Biden administration would neither prevent Iran from eventually developing nuclear weapons nor dissuade the IRGC from conducting terror attacks against American and allied interests.

He said: “Biden officials and, before them, (former US President Barack) Obama officials promised us repeatedly that the nuclear deal would not prevent the United States from working to contain the IRGC on the ground in the Middle East.

“Clearly, the nuclear deal is about much more than nuclear weapons. It will remove all meaningful restrictions on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, thus paving the way to Iran’s early acquisition of a nuclear bomb.”

The IRGC was founded as an ideological custodian of Iran’s 1979 revolution and entrusted with defending the Islamic Republic against internal and external threats. Its participation in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s led to the expansion of both its role and its might, making it Iran’s dominant military force, with its own army, navy, and air force and, later, its own intelligence wing.




A view of a damaged silo at the Saudi Aramco oil facility in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after the Houthis launched a missile attack on the facility, triggering an explosion and a fire in a fuel tank. (File/AFP)

Over time, it gained an outsized role in executing Iran’s foreign policy and currently wields control over vast segments of the economy. The IRGC has proven to be a favored tool of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to launch plausibly deniable asymmetric attacks using cadres and their proxies who are indoctrinated and trained by Iranian operatives with decades of experience in such operations.

Unsurprisingly, the general consensus of analysts was that lifting both nuclear and terror-related sanctions would inevitably lead to a major cash infusion into IRGC coffers that could only be an incentive for expansion of the organization’s terror activities.

“The move allows people and companies connected to the IRGC to engage in business deals with foreign entities with less scrutiny and move money across the globe more easily,” Saeed Ghasseminejad, a senior adviser on Iran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Arab News.

“This is in addition to tens of billions of dollars that become available to the regime after the deal, which benefits the IRGC as a key stakeholder of the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Tehran.

“Removing the IRGC from the terror list and lifting sanctions on companies connected to it boosts its financial resources, expands its operational capacity, and increases its political power and regional influence,” he said.

Tehran seems to have seized on signals from the Biden administration, which, while publicly claiming that the Vienna process will not be open-ended, has given Iran significant leeway in dragging out the nuclear negotiations in order to gain maximum leverage and concessions.




Iranian crude oil tanker Sabiti sails in the Red Sea. (File/AFP)

“Washington does not seem to be able to say no to Tehran because the Biden administration wants a nuclear deal almost at any price.

“The IRGC is a terrorist organization and has not changed its behavior or mission. What has changed is that Washington is desperate to reach a deal with the ayatollahs,” Ghasseminejad added.

The IRGC has been implicated in attacks against civilians since the 1980s. Its terror operations have, by most accounts, killed thousands of innocent foreigners, targeting Arabs, Israelis, Americans, and Europeans, from Argentina to Thailand.

Its proxies, particularly the Houthis in Yemen, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, actively threaten the Arab world, while building missile capabilities that threaten the very existence of Israel. And while the Biden administration has of late condemned indiscriminate Houthi missile attacks on civilian infrastructure and population centers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, there has been conspicuous silence in the matter of addressing the root of the problem.

Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against a Nuclear Iran, told Arab News that there were compelling national security reasons for keeping the IRGC on America’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

“The FTO designation carries unique criminal and immigration prohibitions, and thus has a legal distinction that other counterterrorism designations, like Executive Order 13224 (issued by former US President George W. Bush in response to the 9/11 terror attacks in America), lack.




A view of an anti-aircraft missile launcher firing a salvo during a joint military exercise between the Iranian army and the IRGC. (File/AFP)

“Delisting the IRGC in exchange for a mere public commitment to de-escalation would set a troubling precedent as it risks cheapening the FTO list, which designates organizations due to their behavior,” Brodsky said.

He pointed out that the IRGC’s local branches in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen could not be disassociated from the resulting outcome of granting the organization what could be a game-changing strategic concession if approved by Biden.

Terror networks operating under separate names while belonging to a common ideological and operational umbrella overseen by the IRGC would not feel compelled by a nuclear deal to alter their behavior, he added.

“It also makes no sense to delist the mother ship from which manpower, money, and materiel flows — the IRGC — while including its satellites like Hezbollah on the FTO list.

“The (US) Department of State has already had a bad experience after it delisted the Houthis as an FTO, and it awkwardly has had to condemn every Houthi attack while trying to justify the decision. Delisting the IRGC as an FTO would be worse,” Brodsky said.

And he noted that the potential financial windfall resulting from the removal of terror sanctions would also play into internal power dynamics within the Iranian regime.




The IRGC take part in five-days military exercises in three Iranian provinces. (File/AFP)

“I would not underestimate the importance to Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi of the IRGC’s removal from the FTO list. He harbors ambitions beyond the presidency, specifically the supreme leadership, and he needs the IRGC’s support in that process. This may be one of the reasons why the Iranian establishment has made this a priority,” he added.

In reversing former US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, could the Biden team then be setting a precedent that might significantly weaken America’s standing and diplomatic influence in the Middle East?

Brodsky said: “In pressing for the IRGC’s removal as an FTO, Tehran is seeking a propaganda victory. Most importantly it sends a terrible message to US allies and partners in the region, with whom relations are already strained on a variety of issues.”

Biden’s predecessor took a decidedly different tack when it came to the question of how to react to threats emanating directly from IRGC plots. For instance, a decision such as the targeted killing in 2019 of the IRGC’s leader and most capable commander, Qassem Soleimani, in response to intelligence that he was preparing an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad, would be impossible to take were the proposed nuclear deal to go ahead.

Len Khodorkovsky, a former senior US State Department official, said the Biden team was making a fundamental negotiating error in not setting clear red lines for Iran.

“President Biden has decided to do whatever it takes to get back into the JCPOA. That desperation has been used by the Iranian regime to extract outlandish concessions. If you want to know what the IRGC will do after its delisting, just look at what the Houthis have done. Terrorists will always do what they do best — terrorize people,” Khodorkovsky added.

Put simply, if a nuclear deal is signed under the current conditions, Iran’s missiles would continue to threaten Jeddah, Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Irbil, and Tel Aviv while its long terror arm will be thrown a financial lifeline that will enable it to plunge vast new swathes of the Middle East deeper into chaos and conflict.


PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence
Updated 59 min 24 sec ago

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence
  • Pakistan is facing surging inflation, increasing debts and dwindling foreign reserves
  • PM Sharif said country needs ‘sincere struggle’ toward national reforms

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for national dialogue on Sunday as Pakistan marked its 75th year of independence amid a deepening political crisis and a struggling economy. 

The South Asian nation, which gained independence when the British left and split the subcontinent into the two states of India and Pakistan on Aug. 14, 1947, marked its diamond jubilee with gun salutes in the capital and festive rallies across the country. 

But celebrations this year took place against the backdrop of surging inflation, increasing debts and fast-depleting foreign reserves. Inflation reached 24.9 percent last month, driven mainly by rising food and energy costs, as the Pakistani rupee hit an all-time low against the US dollar. 

Pakistan is also mired in a political crisis, with former Prime Minister Imran Khan leading a campaign against the new coalition government led by Sharif after losing a confidence vote in April that Khan alleged was part of a US-backed conspiracy to oust him from power. 

“We need to have a national dialogue so that the mistakes of the past can be clearly identified,” Sharif said during a flag-hoisting ceremony in Islamabad. 

“We need to start a sincere struggle to reform [Pakistan’s] state of affairs.” 

The premier said that the national dialogue can commence through the “charter of economy,” as he envisioned Pakistan’s future as an economic powerhouse. 

“If we can become a nuclear power, why can’t we become an economic power?” 

Sharif also said in a statement that nothing is more dangerous than internal division, disruption and chaos. 

Pakistan’s political leadership must devise a plan to resolve its complex issues, Parliamentary Secretary for Information and Broadcasting Mohammed Shahbaz Babar told Arab News.

“We will have to sit together to work out a comprehensive plan to move forward,” he said.

“All political parties and other relevant stakeholders should understand the gravity of issues Pakistan is faced with and come up with viable solutions.” 

Babar also said the coalition government could reach out to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in the coming weeks. 

PTI Vice President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said his party was open to discussions with the government if some conditions are met, such as announcing dates for the next general elections. Khan and members of his party have been demanding new elections since he was dismissed in April. 

“We need freely, fairly and justly held elections,” Hussain said.

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Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol

Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol
Updated 14 August 2022

Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol

Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol
  • Police said the man was identified as Richard A. York III of Delaware
  • Added that the man then fired several gunshots into the air along East Capitol Street

WASHINGTON D.C.: A 29-year-old Delaware man died in an apparent suicide early on Sunday after crashing his car into a barricade near the US Capitol and firing shots into the air, police said.
While the man was getting out of the crashed car, it became engulfed in flames just after 4 a.m. (0800 GMT) at East Capitol Street and Second Street, US Capitol Police said.
Police said the man was identified as Richard A. York III of Delaware. “It is still not clear why he chose to drive to the Capitol Complex,” Capitol Police said in a statement.
Earlier, police said “it does not appear the man was targeting any members of Congress, who are on recess, and it does not appear officers fired their weapons.”
Police said the man then fired several gunshots into the air along East Capitol Street. As police responded and approached, the man shot himself, police said. No one was else injured.
The death is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, which did not immediately identity or any details of his motives.
There are security barricades around the Capitol Complex checkpoints that are closely guarded.
In April 2021, 25-year-old motorist Noah Green rammed a car into US Capitol police and brandished a knife, killing one officer and injuring another and forcing the Capitol complex to lock down. Police shot and killed Green.


Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage
Updated 14 August 2022

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage
  • The farm supplies berries to Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco
  • Brexit and the war in Ukraine have created chronic labor shortages in the UK’s agricultural sector

LONDON: Indonesian workers picking berries on a farm supplying four popular UK supermarkets say they have been burdened with debts of up to £5,000 ($6,071) to work in Britain per season.

Pickers at the farm in Kent, south-east England, were initially given zero-hours contracts, and at least one was paid less than £300 a week after the cost of using a caravan was deducted, The Guardian reported.

The farm supplies berries to Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco.

The fees the laborers paid to secure work included flights and visas. But many said they also faced thousands of pounds in extra charges from Indonesian brokers who promised them substantial earnings. This despite it being illegal to charge workers fees for finding them jobs under UK law.

One worker described how he had staked his family home in Bali as surety on the debt and was worried he would lose it.

“Now I’m working hard only to pay back that money. I cannot sleep sometimes. I have a family who need my support to eat and meanwhile, I think about the debt,” he said.

Brexit and the war in Ukraine have created chronic labor shortages in the UK’s agricultural sector, with many desperate farms and recruitment agencies forced to source labor from outside Europe, where it can be harder to track the methods local brokers use to find workers.

The revelations highlight the prospect of fruit pickers being trapped in debt bondage which would prevent them from leaving work for fear of financial ruin. Migrant rights experts said the situation put workers at risk of what was essentially forced labor.

The Home Office and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority are examining the allegations, while the supermarkets have launched an urgent investigation.

Hundreds of Indonesian farm workers have been recruited to work in Britain this summer on seasonal worker visas, the immigration route created to tackle a shortage of farm workers after the UK left the European Union.

Pickers were sent to Clock House Farm, which supplies berries to major supermarkets.

Clock House said it was “deeply concerned” by the allegations and would “not have entered into an agreement with, or taken workers from, any entity that was involved in such activity (the charging of fees).”

It said it was working with authorities to investigate the claims.


Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul
Updated 14 August 2022

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul
  • Indian diplomats were recently sent back to the embassy in Afghanistan
  • New Delhi is now looking to reshape its relations with Kabul, experts say 

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry has welcomed the “upgrade” of India’s diplomatic representation in Kabul, as the Taliban administration continued to struggle for recognition by the international community a year after it took over Afghanistan.

India had closed its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last August, but New Delhi deployed a technical team earlier this year in June to coordinate their humanitarian efforts and assess the security situation in the country. 

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar confirmed on Friday that a batch of diplomats, except for the ambassador, was recently sent back to the embassy in Kabul to address a number of issues, such as humanitarian and medical assistance, as well as development projects. 

The Taliban administration has welcomed the move and promised security and immunity for Indian diplomats in Afghanistan.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan welcomes India’s step to upgrade its diplomatic representation in Kabul,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement issued on Saturday. 

“The Afghan government hopes that upgrading diplomatic representation and dispatching diplomats would strengthen Afghan-India relations leading to the completion of unfinished projects by India and the commencement of new vital projects.” 

Though India was one of the few countries that opposed the reconciliation process with the Taliban in the past, experts said on Sunday that New Delhi is now looking to reshape its relations with Afghanistan. 

“India is keen to engage with the Taliban as New Delhi believes that the Taliban government is going to stay for over five years this time or maybe longer,” Farid Mamundzay, Afghan ambassador to India appointed by the previous government, told Arab News. 

“So it’s important for India’s geopolitical interest to forget the past and form new working relations with Kabul.

An Afghan Foreign Ministry official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media told Arab News that India did not want to be left behind its geopolitical rivals.

“India wants to have its own direct lines of communication to the Afghan government, as well as to counter Pakistani and Chinese influence in Afghanistan,” the official said.

India recently opposed plans by China and Pakistan to involve third countries in their ongoing multibillion-dollar infrastructure project, after Beijing and Islamabad agreed to extend the program to Afghanistan. New Delhi said last month that the proposed participation of third countries on those projects “directly infringes on India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

India’s efforts to improve relations with the Taliban government are aimed at protecting its own interests, Torek Farhadi, analyst and advisor to the former Afghan government, told Arab News. 

“When it comes to the Taliban, India will instrumentalize them against Pakistan when it is convenient for New Delhi,” he said. 

“What we need to understand about India is that it is a pragmatic player, driving toward its own interests.” 


Former candidate for Michigan governor defends Biden, says more than criticism is needed to achieve goals

Former candidate for Michigan governor defends Biden, says more than criticism is needed to achieve goals
Updated 14 August 2022

Former candidate for Michigan governor defends Biden, says more than criticism is needed to achieve goals

Former candidate for Michigan governor defends Biden, says more than criticism is needed to achieve goals
  • During “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday, El-Sayed told Arab News that Arab and Muslim Americans must run for office

CHICAGO: Former candidate for Michigan governor, Abdul El-Sayed, has defended US President Joe Biden, saying that Arab and Muslim Americans can’t simply focus their energies on criticism and must instead engage in positive focused activism, embrace consensus and achieve the policies they want.

El-Sayed ran for the Democratic nomination for Michigan governor in August 2018. Although he did not win, coming second with more than 30 percent, or 342,179 votes behind Gretchen Whitmer who became governor, El-Sayed was able to raise many important issues on behalf of the Arab and Muslim community.

During “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday, El-Sayed told Arab News that Arab and Muslim Americans must run for office but need to look beyond “differences that separate our (Arab and Muslim) communities” and focus instead on finding solutions rather than only expressing criticism.

 

“I think he is a good-hearted man whose intentions are in the right place. He has had some real successes in office and he has made some really courageous decisions for which he has suffered politically,” El-Sayed said.

“The decision to pull us out of Afghanistan, even though the pullout itself could have gone a lot better. The decision to finally pull us out of 20 years of war was an important decision and the courage in doing that should not be undermined. At the same time, I do think that his efforts and his intentions are one thing, and the politics, the political process, is another. I think sometimes we pay too much attention to the individual, the personality occupying the political power, and less to our role in shaping that. And so, if we want different policies out of the president, different policies out of the Congress, then the question we have to ask ourselves is what are we doing for it?“

El-Sayed added that the real question Arab and Muslim Americans must focus on is how they are leveraging power around that person to move their politics and move their policy.

“I have been to too many dinner parties where politics is discussed and the president is either praised or mocked, regardless of whom the president is. And then you ask, what are we doing to shape their policies and we act as if politics is something that happens in a glass house that we can’t actually engage with,” El-Sayed said.

“We see what’s happening inside but we can’t penetrate the walls. When actually, the privilege of growing up in a place like this and being and living in a place like this is that we can influence that and we have to. So, whatever you feel about the president’s politics whether abroad or here at home, the question we ought to be asking ourselves is what are we doing to shape those politics? If we want better health care, what are we doing to drive for it? If we want better access to affordable prescription drugs, what are we doing to get there?“

El-Sayed said the only way to be successful in American politics was to get involved, be open, and focus on the solutions not the disagreements that often divide the Arab and Muslim community in America.

A Democrat, El-Sayed also urged Americans not to simply focus on the negative aspects of politics, addressing growing concerns Arab-Americans and Muslims are having with President Joe Biden because of some inconsistencies in his approach to the Middle East and Arab World issues.

 

“I think sometimes we are more concerned with disagreeing with what someone said than finding the opportunities to agree and really promoting what we agree on. Part of it, it has gotten harder with the nature of our public conversation that has become so intermediated by social media, which promotes the disagreements rather than the places of agreement,” El-Sayed said.

“So, we tend to see a lot more of what we disagree with and that just enriches our disagreement rather than trying to find and preach what we agree on and hope that we can persuade people to come to see it our way, if not today then tomorrow. That implies that we are still listening. We are still talking. We are interacting with each other. But far too often, we find those points of disagreement and we use them as a pretext to end a conversation and then we find ourselves down on islands rather than working together to build a unified voice for the well-being of our particular community, for the well-being of our particular country, for the well-being of the world.”

Finding consensus and focusing on solutions rather than criticism was critical to political success, he said.

 

“There is always more that can be done. In the first place, I would say, let’s find the opportunities for agreement. What are those places where we all agree? What does that agreement look like? And how do we make that the framework for where we go moving forward?” El-Sayed said.

“The second thing I would say is that rather than concentrating on identities, let’s concentrate on the ideals that we bring to the table. It is important for us to come together as an Arab-American community. Personally, that is important to me as is my faith. And at the same time, both of those things come together with a certain level of ideals that they imprint upon me. The ideal of hospitality. The ideal of hope and inspiration. The ideal of justice. And let’s frame our engagement around those ideals.

El-Sayed said that it was easier for him to rise above tribal tendencies and engage the Arab community in a wider manner because he is Egyptian and there were so few Egyptian Americans in Michigan.

He believes that Arab Americans are still breaking through the barriers they brought with them from their original homelands when they came to America.

“A lot of our communities come from places where the opportunity to voice your positions or perspectives are muted at best and can wind you up in jail or worse. So, I think there is a real fear in engaging in the system. Sometimes that means people just stay quiet,” El-Sayed said. “Or it means that people engage in a politics of clientelism, meaning we have to find someone from outside of our community who is going to carry our interests. There are other interests they trumpet and those are going to be the ones they voice and we are just going to have to put up with it.” 

A physician, epidemiologist, educator, author, speaker and podcast host, El-Sayed is also a commentator at CNN. His newsletter, The Incision, examines the trends shaping current debates. He is the author of three books, including “Healing Politics: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Our Political Epidemic” (Abrams Press, 2020). He is a senior fellow at the FXB Center for Health & Human Rights at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and a scholar-in-residence at Wayne State University and American University, where he teaches in the area of public health, public policy and politics. 

El-Sayed has a bachelor degree in biology and political science from the University of Michigan (2007), a doctorate in philosophy in public health from the University of Oxford (2011), and a masters degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (2014).

El-Sayed said that he was currently focused on his family and young child and is not thinking about running for office again, although he has not ruled it out in the future.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.