Offers Clarity on Iranís Terrorist Aims
By Eli Lake
April 8, 2019
For more than 30 years, successive U.S. administrations
have called Iran what it is: a state sponsor of terrorism. Leaders of its
military and intelligence agencies have been sanctioned, while the terror groups
Iran supports have faced military action as well as sanctions.
Until now, however, the main organization responsible for
founding, funding and training many of these groups has not been placed in the
same category as its clients like Hezbollah. On Monday, President
Donald Trump upended that
precedent and designated Iranís
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, known as the IRGC, as a foreign terrorist
This is a dramatic escalation with real consequences. There
is a difference between saying a state is a sponsor of terrorism and calling an
arm of a state an actual terrorist organization. The designation will make the
IRGC even more financially toxic than it already is, says Mark Dubowitz, the
chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The threshold is now lower for proving that someone is
providing material support to the IRGC. The designation also makes any
non-Iranians who wittingly or unwittingly do business with the IRGC vulnerable
to having their U.S. visas revoked. This is an even more powerful disincentive
for Europeans to invest in Iran, says Dubowitz, because the IRGCís tentacles
reach into most aspects of Iranís economy.
Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the IRGC, and
particularly its elite Quds Force, have been devoted to spreading that
revolution abroad. Despite the efforts of past U.S. administrations, Iran has
never ended its support for terrorist organizations. Indeed, following the
completion of negotiations over Iranís nuclear program in 2015, the IRGC
became even more aggressive in supporting terrorist proxies in Iraq, Lebanon,
Syria and Yemen.
All that said, there are two basic objections to this move.
The first is that this designation may provoke Iran to target U.S. forces. Dan
Coats, the director of national intelligence, obliquely made this point in
testimony to Congress in January. ďWe assess that unprofessional interactions
conducted by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy against
U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf, which have been less frequent during the past
year, could resume should Iran seek to project an image of strength in response
to U.S. pressure,Ē he said.
The New York Times reports similar
worries among other top military and intelligence officials.
Make no mistake: These threats are real. Already, Iranian
government officials have promised a response to the designation. The mistake is
thinking that pressure alone is provocative to Tehran. So are entreaties. In the
up to the final implementation of the nuclear deal in 2016, for
example, the IRGC briefly took U.S. sailors hostage and released a humiliating
video of the incident after they were released.
The second objection is the designation further undermines
the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. A progressive group chaired by alumni of the Obama
administration made this point in a Twitter
thread Monday. They say itís an effort to deter investment in Iran
and possibly provoke the Iranians into breaking the dealís limits on uranium
enrichment, with which they have largely abided since Trump vacated the deal
nearly a year ago.
Some see this objection as a point in Trumpís favor.
ďIt makes it much more difficult for a Democratic president to go back into
the Iran deal in 2021,Ē says Dubowitz, who favors the designation. Any future
administration would have to make a determination that the IRGC was out of the
Determining that the IRGC is no longer engaged in terrorism
is about as likely as determining that the IRS is no longer engaged in
collecting taxes. Itís in the organizationís nature. This is why Trumpís
statement said the designation ďunderscores the fact that Iranís
actions are fundamentally different from those of other governments.Ē
This is a point that the narrow nuclear agreement, by
dealing only with Iranís nuclear program and not its support for terrorism,
tried to evade. Now the U.S. government has formally recognized that a key part
of Iranís military is legally indistinguishable from the terrorist groups it
has been sponsoring for decades. Trumpís strategy, unlike his predecessorís,
begins with the premise that Iran is an outlaw state ó and treats it as such
until it changes its behavior.