Iran retaliates after revolutionary guard terror designation
President Trump on Monday officially designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, saying its sponsorship of terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere is unacceptable and that he needed to send an “unprecedented” message that it won’t be tolerated.
The announcement is a first for the U.S. The government has never designated an entire segment of a foreign government as a foreign terrorist organization. The IRGC is a critical component of the regime, a powerful force in the region that also styles itself as the ultimate defender of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It has played a major role in supporting allies in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, among other places.
Individuals or companies doing business with the IRGC, including its special operations arm known as the Quds Force, will face criminal prosecution, American officials said.
“This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences,” Mr. Trump said in a White House statement.
Coupled with Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 multinational Iran nuclear deal and harsh economic sanctions on Iranian oil exports, the move escalates a standoff that many fear now no longer has a diplomatic resolution.
A defiant Iran reacted angrily, calling the move foolish and retaliating by placing U.S. military forces on its blacklist of “terrorist organizations,” Iranian state-run media reported.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted a message on Twitter saying the U.S. designation was ”’a(nother) misguided election-eve gift to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and a(nother) dangerous U.S. misadventure in the region.”
Defending Mr. Trump’s move, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American service members and the organization’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He also called out IRGC Gen. Qasem Soleimani, saying the commander was responsible for killing over 600 U.S. troops during the Iraq War.
“You can’t have peace, security and stability in the region without weakening the IRGC,” Mr. Pompeo told Fox News on Monday evening.
Once the designation takes effect next week, it will be against the law to knowingly or attempt to provide material support or resources to the Iranian military force, the Justice Department said after the announcement.
Mr. Pompeo warned that global banks and businesses “have a clear duty” to shun any ties to the organization.
Administration officials said the Iranians “forced our hands” in designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, citing actions in Iraq that have killed Americans and its work as the “central banker” and chief state sponsor of terrorism around the globe.
Iranian officials were quick to warn of potential repercussions for the U.S., and analysts said the move could have some blowback for the Pentagon. IRGC advisers have worked closely with Shiite militias inside Iraq, and there are still questions whether and how U.S. forces will work with the Iraqi military.
In anticipation of the announcement, IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari on Sunday warned, “If [the Americans] make such a stupid move, the U.S. Army and American security forces stationed in [the Middle East] will lose their current status of ease and serenity,” according to the Iranian Fars news service.
Top congressional Republicans applauded Mr. Trump’s move, citing their longtime support for cracking down on the force.
Sen. James E. Risch, Idaho Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that “stability in the Middle East will never be possible without weakening the IRGC, and this is an essential step in doing that.”
Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced plans for legislation in response to the designation that would lower the minimum threshold for sanctionable transactions and penalize Iran’s development of funding ballistic missile technology.
“This designation ends the facade that the IRGC is part of a normal military,” Mr. Mcaul said in a statement. “They behave like a terrorist organization and will now be treated accordingly.”
Mr. Netanyahu, facing a close national election Tuesday, praised Mr. Trump as a “dear friend.”
The IRGC designation is seen as the latest in a series of steps Mr. Trump has taken to boost Mr. Netanyahu’s fortunes, including U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“Thank you for the answer to another important request that serves the interests of our country and the region,” Mr. Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew. “We will continue to act together in any way against the Iranian regime that threatens the state of Israel, the United States and the peace of the world.”
But at least one congressional Democrat warned of unintended consequences from the continual heightening of tensions with Tehran. “You won’t wake up to war with Iran. It’ll happen because each and every little step towards war seems vaguely reasonable,” Rep. James A. Himes of Connecticut said in a Twitter message.
He said a number of national security officials were wary of the designation even as Mr. Trump “listens to a number of people who want the U.S. to go to war with Iran.”
Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, noted that U.S. administrations have designated parts of the Iranian regime including the Quds Force and senior members of the IRGC as terrorists without taking military action, and many in Iran did not expect an escalation on the ground from Monday’s move.
“U.S. hostility toward the IRGC, and vice-versa, is nothing new,” Mr. Vatanka wrote in an analysis Monday, “and dozens of IRGC-affiliated organizations ... companies and individuals were already on the U.S. sanctions list.”
“What remains to be seen,” he said, “is if the IRGC’s designation in its entirety will change the ground rules in the region, where U.S. and IRGC-linked forces often operate in close vicinity to one another in places like Iraq and Syria.”
But the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of leading exile organizations opposed to the regime in Tehran, hailed the move and said Mr. Trump should go even further.
“This action, which was long overdue, should now be completed by designating the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security,” said Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the council.