April 9, 2019
Next week, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) will join 67 other militant factions on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). But the IRGC will be the first foreign state entity to join the roster.
Not to be confused with Iran’s traditional armed forces, the IRGC is a parallel military body formed during the Islamic Revolution in 1979. It maintains its own air, land, and naval branches and protects Iran’s fundamentalist regime. Its special operations unit, the Quds Force, has helped establish proxy militias like Hezbollah in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
Declared a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984, Iran already faced sanctions, including restrictions on U.S. foreign aid, a ban on defense exports and sales and other miscellaneous financial restrictions. Since 2007, the Department of Treasury has targeted the IRGC for its connections to Iran’s human rights abuses, backing Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs, and supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.
Here are three reasons why the IRGC designation makes a difference and why other governments should follow suit.
1. New Measures Against the IRGC
The latest designation imposes at least two new restrictions, according to Matthew Levitt, Director for the Reinhard program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The U.S. can prevent terrorists from entering the country by denying visas to current and former members of a designated group. In addition, third parties – individuals, companies and countries – can face criminal charges if they don’t comply with U.S. sanctions against a terrorist group.
2. A Message From U.S. Leadership
The unprecedented designation of IRGC could give other countries the confidence to blacklist the IRGC and Hezbollah, another dangerous Iran-backed terrorist operation. Although the U.S. declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization in 1997, other countries have been reluctant. With only a few exceptions, most of the 28 European Union countries distinguish between Hezbollah’s militant and political wings and limit the terrorist label to its militant activity. Levitt calls this fiction, given the group’s ongoing sponsorship of antisemitic terrorist attacks across Europe and around the world.
“As European law enforcement officials can attest, banning only part of Hezbollah has not worked,” said Levitt. “Hezbollah called the EU's bluff and has continued engaging in terrorist and criminal activities notwithstanding the ban of certain parts of the group. The only remaining question is what Europe is willing to do about it.”
Jason Isaacson, AJC Director of Government and International Affairs at AJC, said the IRGC designation hopefully clears the way “for other states to adopt a similar approach to this and other Iranian forces and proxies, notably Hezbollah, that threaten peace and stability.”
Why EU’s Condemnation of Hezbollah Should Come Next
3. The Geopolitical Ramifications
Terrorists are not viewed as legitimate players on the international stage, said Aaron Jacob, AJC Director of Diplomatic Affairs. While an FTO designation might not add enough sanctions to weaken a terrorist group’s reach, he said, it does serve to delegitimize them. And the value of that should not be underestimated.
Legitimacy is an important currency in the international community, Jacob said. Just as the IRGC designation casts doubt on the legitimacy of the current Iranian regime, a similar classification for Hezbollah would cast doubt on its so-called political and social activity. And because Hezbollah shares Iran’s agenda of eradicating the Jewish people, a similar label not only would delegitimize terrorism, but antisemitism as well.
“Iran is the greatest existential threat for Israel, now that Israel's relationships with Egypt and Jordan are peaceful, Syria is on the ropes and Lebanon is volatile and divided,” Jacob said. “Anything that weakens the current Iranian regime would be good for Israel.”
But calling out terrorists doesn’t just have an impact on Israel. Hezbollah and the IRGC have murdered civilians around the world. Holding terrorists accountable, whether it’s the Iranian regime or its proxy Hezbollah, sends a message to the rest of the world and puts in place key measures to ensure the U.S. is actively countering threats its safety and that of its allies.