Why IRGC issue has become a red line for Iran regime
When Joe Biden won the US presidential election in November 2020, hopes were high among the advocates of the Iran nuclear deal that the 2015 agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would soon be revived. After all, the two key players, the Iranian regime and the US, both wanted to resurrect it. But after nearly a year and half of discussions, it has become evident that reaching a nuclear deal with Tehran is more difficult and complicated than ever before.
During the first few rounds of negotiations in Vienna between the Iranian nuclear team and the world powers known as the P5+1 (the UK, China, Russia, France, the US and Germany), the talks appeared to be progressing. That was until Iran put up a major hurdle by adding yet another demand: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps must be removed from America’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
In 2019, former US President Donald Trump added the IRGC to this list. This was the first time Washington had officially designated another country’s military organization as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The State Department said the IRGC was responsible for 17 percent of all deaths of US personnel in Iraq since 2003. It stated: “The IRGC has been directly involved in terrorist plotting; its support for terrorism is foundational and institutional, and it has killed US citizens. It is also responsible for taking hostages and wrongfully detaining numerous US persons, several of whom remain in captivity in Iran today.”
It was intriguing that, when Ebrahim Raisi became president in August last year, his Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian initially stated that Iran was willing to revive the nuclear deal even if the IRGC remained on the terrorist list. But then the regime made this issue a red line. There are several reasons why the Iranian regime has changed its stance and why the removal of the IRGC from the US terror list is critical for its leaders.
First of all, it is important to point out that, if the IRGC remains on the terrorist list, the financial benefits of the nuclear deal will be minimal for the regime. Tehran wants to attract foreign investment in its energy and industrial sectors, but the IRGC has a large stake in almost every sector of Iran’s economy. In other words, many business dealings and transactions with the Iranian regime will most likely have to be directly or indirectly conducted through the IRGC.
As a result, if the IRGC remains designated as a terrorist group, the foreign corporations, firms, European countries and officials who want to deal with Iran will still have to be extremely cautious, as they will risk being sanctioned by the US.
In addition, the IRGC needs more cash in order to ensure the survival of the regime. The regime would have likely collapsed a long time ago if it were not for the iron fist of the IRGC and its paramilitary group, the Basij. It is the backbone of the regime and the main tool the clerical establishment uses to maintain power, achieve its hegemonic ambitions and increase its influence in the region.
If the IRGC remains on America’s terrorist list, the financial benefits of the nuclear deal will be minimal.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Secondly, if the IRGC lacks the financial means, it will be extremely difficult for the Iranian regime to export its revolutionary ideals beyond its borders, as well as fund, arm and support militia and terror groups across the Middle East. The IRGC’s footprints can be seen in many nations and conflicts, specifically through its elite branch, the Quds Force. How can the IRGC assist the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria and Shiite militia groups in Iraq if there is a disruption to the flow of cash to its treasury?
Finally, from the perspective of the theocratic establishment, the US, the UK, Germany and France are now desperate to strike a deal. As a result, the Iranian leaders believe they will be willing to give more concessions to Tehran at these critical times.
In summary, if the IRGC remains on the terrorist list, the benefits of the nuclear deal will be significantly lower for the Iranian regime. Removing the IRGC from the US terrorist list is a red line for Tehran due to the fact the IRGC is the backbone of the theocratic establishment, it safeguards and ensures the survival of the regime, it suppresses opposition groups and dissidents, it has significant control over Iran’s economy, and is the patron of many militia and terror groups in the region.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.