Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: Fueling Middle East Turmoil

FPI Hearing Wrap-Up

December 4, 2015

The IRGC’s Objectives in Syria

“If one examines the public statements of the IRGC leadership and the activities of the IRGC in Syria, it’s clear that the Islamic Republic is pursuing the exact opposite goals [of the United States]. For the Guards, the primary objectives are to: (1) keep Assad in power by deploying IRGC forces and non-Iranian Shiite militias in Syria; (2) highlight ISIL as a worse alternative to Assad while making no serious military effort against the Islamic State; and (3) concentrate Iran’s military resources against Syrian rebel forces threatening the Assad regime, including the secular opposition, which might offer an acceptable alternative to Assad.” – Ali Alfoneh (Written Testimony)

“The IRGC program to identify non-Iranians to train, equip, and command in foreign conflict zones creates conflicts that would not normally exist. Iran’s Qods Force recruits, trains, and deploys Afghan Shia to fight in Syria-based IRGC Qods Force units (known as the Fatemiyoun Brigades). Iran’s transport of foreign fighters serves its greater mission of externalizing the Islamic Revolution, but adds fuel to a sectarian fire already raging out of control.” – Scott Modell (Written Testimony)

The Role of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

“…I do not share the optimism of some of my colleagues here in Washington, who believe that [the] emergence of President Rouhani, his promise of engaging in bilateral talks with the U.S., the nuclear negotiations, and the deal which was negotiated, and even emergence of a common threat of Islamic State is going to make life easier with the Islamic Republic of Iran, because of the very simple reason that President Rouhani and his technocratic government, they are not in charge of the portfolios which are of interest to us today. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is in control of Iran’s regional policies.” – Ali Alfoneh (Oral Testimony)

The Response of the Obama Administration

“The Administration has prioritized the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] above all else, opting to cordon off the deal from Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and its repressive activities at home. The Administration has maintained terrorism and human rights-related sanctions, which have little to no bearing on Iran’s economic recovery, and offered occasional strategic reassurance to old allies in the Gulf and Israel. The White House seems to believe that by ignoring Iran’s hardliners, a moderate-seeming President like Hassan Rouhani will somehow transform the Islamic Republic into a newer, nicer version that no longer adheres to the great but dangerous ambition set forth in its own revolutionary ideals.” – Scott Modell (Written Testimony)

The Impact of JCPOA Sanctions Relief on IRGC Capabilities 

“Once sanctions are lifted, Iran will be in an even stronger position to carry out plans that have been necessarily put on hold due to budgetary shortfalls. Entire IRGC units and IRGC support to Iran’s proxies, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have already started to creep back up after having plummeted due to the power of multi-lateral economic sanctions. The impact of sanctions on lost operational capability should not be underestimated. It meant less money for training, running intelligence source networks, funding local businesses, cultural centers, and other ‘dual use’ operational infrastructure.” – Scott Modell (Written Testimony)

Holding the IRGC Accountable

“Congress should encourage the administration to designate [certain] units from the IRGC Ground Forces in order to hold them accountable on the international stage. The Obama administration should designate these units under authorities targeting individuals and entities that support the Assad regime and authorities targeting international terrorism. These IRGC units support a state sponsor of terrorism and may fit the legal definition of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” – Ali Alfoneh (Written Testimony)

“More SDN designations, sanctions, and other forms of public exposure and punishment linked to IRGC involvement in narcotics trafficking and money laundering would hurt its credibility, cut into profitable streams of revenue (that not only enrich IRGC commanders but also regional suppliers such as the Taliban), and weaken illicit networks across the region that support a wide variety of transnational organized crime.” – Scott Modell (Written Testimony)

“Designating the entire IRGC a terrorist organization would force the regime to make some very hard choices, but it would almost certainly make it more difficult for Iran to project power across the region. It would make it easier for allied countries in the region to justify taking stronger measures against IRGC-affiliated individuals and commercial networks.” – Scott Modell (Written Testimony)