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.

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
Updated 6 sec ago

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
PARIS: A Paris court on Wednesday ruled against extraditing to Italy 10 former left-wing militants, including some former Red Brigades members, convicted of domestic terrorist crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy before they could be imprisoned to serve their sentences.
The crimes in connection with which they were convicted include the 1980 killing of a Carabinieri paramilitary general and the kidnapping of a judge in the same year.
All 10, only some of whom were linked with the deadly Red Brigades group, spent the last 14 months under French judicial supervision as judges deliberated on Italy’s extradition request following the activists’ arrests and police questioning a year ago.
The Paris Court of Appeal said in a statement it rejected Italy’s extradition request for each member of the group of 10 men and women, but didn’t explain its reasoning.
Wednesday’s ruling can still be appealed at France’s highest court.
Italy’s justice ministry said in a statement it respected the French judicial process as they await to hear the assessments of the ruling by the Paris attorney general, who is the only one authorized to appeal the court’s decision to deny the extradition of each of the 10 convicted militants.
“I am waiting to know the reasons behind the ruling that denies all extraditions without distinction,” said Italian Justice Minister Marta Cartabia.
“This is a long-awaited ruling for the victims and the entire country, which concerns a dramatic and still painful page in our history,” Cartabia said.
The French presidency said it will not comment on the court’s ruling.
The unwillingness of French authorities to detain convicted Italian former left-wing militants living in France has long been a thorny issue between Paris and Rome.
Italy has sought the extradition of around 200 convicted former militants believed to be in France over the years.
Italy’s far-left Red Brigades group killed about 50 people in a terror campaign in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
Updated 14 min ago

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
  • The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth and bold tax cuts
  • Otokita was elected to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo

TOKYO: Shun Otokita, member of the House of Councilors, believes that relations with the Middle East is important for Japan.
Otokita is the chairman of the Policy Research Council of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).
The ritzy Ginza district in Tokyo was part of his campaign trail where he gave his support to candidates, Kiyoshi Nakajo and Yuki Ebisawa, and appealed to passers-by saying, “We will stamp down the liar LDP.”
The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth, bold tax cuts and economic stimulus measures, as well as the elimination of the 1 percent GDP limit for Japan’s defense budget. The party sees a need for greater defense spending and military capabilities.
Otokita, 38, was elected to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 2013 and to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo. He serves on the Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defense and sees the Middle East as an important ally.
“Our relationship with Middle Eastern countries will become increasingly important due to soaring energy prices,” Otokita said. “I will do my best to continue building Japan’s diplomatic relations with them as well as with Asia and Europe.”

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
Updated 45 min 42 sec ago

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
  • Noor Mohammad, 48, departed from his home in Ghazni province in early May
  • He was stranded in Iran after failing to obtain Iraqi visa to continue journey by land

KABUL: A pilgrim from southeastern Afghanistan, who became a social media sensation when he embarked on a bicycle journey to Makkah last month, has reached Saudi Arabia, Afghan authorities said on Wednesday, after his expedition took a series of unexpected turns, including a sponsored flight.

Noor Mohammad departed from his home in Layeq village, in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province in early May, planning to cover more than 6,000 kilometers to reach the holy city of Islam by July and perform Hajj.

As he cycled through Afghanistan, a Taliban scholar offered him assistance in getting a plane ticket, but the 48-year-old refused, wanting to go the extra mile in fulfilling the sacred obligation.

Little did he know that soon the help would be needed when after three weeks he got stranded in Iran, trying to obtain an Iraqi visa in the border city of Khorramshahr.

“My Afghan friends promised to get me Iraq’s visa there,” Mohammad told Arab News, as he described his further attempts to get a Kuwaiti visa instead. Again, to no avail.

That was when he decided to reach out to the scholar.

“I had no other way. I contacted Shaikh Hammasi through WhatsApp,” he said. “He introduced me to an Afghan businessman who helped with the stay in Iran and return back to Kabul.”

In Kabul, he was immediately accepted for a Hajj preparation course, where officials took care of his departure. His flight was reportedly covered by acting Interior Minister Serajuddin Haqqani, a close aide of Anas Haqqani — the minister’s brother and senior Taliban leader — told Arab News.

“The ministry of Hajj processed my passport on an urgent basis,” Mohammad said, just days before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

He flew from Kabul on Tuesday, after all his travel documents were processed.

“His name was put on the first flight after that,” Mawlawi Israrulhaq, an official at the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, said. “He traveled to Jeddah from where he will join other Afghan Hajjis in Makkah.”

Mohammad was preparing for his flight days after a deadly earthquake wreaked havoc in eastern Afghanistan, killing an estimated 1,150 people last week.

He has been praying for the victims and said he would remember them too when he reached Makkah.

“As soon as I get to Makkah, I will pray to Allah to make it easy for the families who lost loved ones and their houses,” he added. “I am going to ask him to solve all problems of Afghans.”

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
Updated 29 June 2022

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
  • One million people will perform Hajj this year
  • Sarah Rana said she feels “special and honored” to be performing Hajj next month

LONDON: A British pilgrim has said she feels “very blessed” to be among the 1 million people performing Hajj this year.

Sarah Rana, a management consultant and chartered surveyor, is performing Hajj for the first time and said she feels “special and honored” to be part of the annual gathering.

This year’s Hajj will be the first post-pandemic pilgrimage open to foreign pilgrims, and 1 million people will perform it this year as people across the globe start traveling again. 

Around 2.5 million people performed Hajj in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and approximately 1,000 and 60,000 people from within the Kingdom performed it in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The chartered surveyor said that she started thinking about going to Hajj during the pandemic when she began reading the Qur’an more and learning about the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

A man reads the Qur'an at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana told Arab News that she has done “a lot of the emotional processing” and is now concentrating on preparing herself physically for the journey ahead which starts with her flight to the Kingdom on Friday.

“45 degrees is not going to be easy. That's going to be massive. If it goes over 30 degrees, my hands and feet start swelling,” Rana said. 

An employee hands out umbrellas at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to help beat the heat. (@ReasahAlharmain)

She said that although she walked the London Marathon last year, walking in the heat “is going to be a very different experience. So I’m not not taking it lightly. I’m thinking it through.”

Rana added that her friends and family have been giving her Hajj tips and that she is “quite well prepared.”

The Kaaba can be seen at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

“I’ve been buying clothes. I found that the stuff that was more expensive was more uncomfortable. So I’m just going to take my practical stuff,” Rana said.

Muslims believe that supplications that pilgrims make during Hajj, especially on the ninth day of Dhu Al-Hijjah, are definitely accepted.

A woman supplicates at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana said she believes that God knows her needs and will give her what is best for her. She will be praying for her kids, that the remainder of her life is a good one and for financial independence.

She said performing Hajj represents a new start for her and will give her closure from any painful experiences in the past. 

“As I turn 50 this year, I think it’s closure to a lot of stuff and genuinely about a new start, whatever that new start is. It’s very meaningful.”

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
Updated 29 June 2022

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
  • Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena
  • He spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates' Court

LONDON: A man was remanded in custody Wednesday after appearing in a London court charged with the murder and attempted rape of a woman who had been walking home alone in east London.
It was the latest in a string of similar incidents that have heightened concern over the safety of women and girls on the British capital’s streets.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena, who was attacked after a night out in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday.
McSweeney, who is also charged with attempted rape and robbery, spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates’ Court.
In a statement, Aleena’s family mourned her death and called for an end to violence against women. They highlighted the killings of other women who were targeted by strangers in London and elsewhere.
The family expressed sympathy to the families of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and others who were killed in recent months and whose deaths prompted widespread protests calling for more protection for women and girls.
The family said Aleena, a law graduate who was training to become a lawyer, “walked everywhere” and “believed that a woman should be able to walk home.”
“Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets. She was in the heart of her community, 10 minutes from home,” their statement said.
Police said Aleena suffered serious head injuries, confirmed in a post-mortem examination.
McSweeney was denied bail and remanded in custody until he is due to appear at London’s Central Criminal Court on Jul. 27.
A march remembering Aleena is planned in Ilford on Saturday.