Bob Blackman MP: It is right to reject appeasement of Iran and its Revolutionary Guards
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps 'unquestionably' fits the United States' criteria of a foreign terror organisation, argues Bob Blackman MP.
It has recently been reported that President Donald Trump has initiated a review process whereby the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps could finally be listed as a foreign terrorist organisation. This would break with longstanding US and European policies which seemingly regarded the hard line paramilitary organisation as a legitimate instrument of Iran’s national defence, despite it sponsoring Hezbollah and various other terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East and across the world.
Prior to this change in approach, the State Department had only seen fit to give a punitive designation to the special foreign operations wing of the IRGC, known as the Quds Force. Yet even this designation was somewhat anaemic in that it only saw fit to identify the Quds Force as a “material supporter of terrorism”, and not as a full-fledged terrorist entity.
Designation as a foreign terrorist organisation requires that the group in question be based outside of the United States, that it presents a threat to American citizens or American national security interests, and be “involved in terrorism or terrorist engagement, or retaining the ability and intention to engage in terrorism or launch terrorist activities”. The IRGC as a whole unquestionably fits these legal criteria.
If there was any question about the organisation’s terrorist intentions or capabilities, this should have been cleared up last week by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The leading Iranian opposition movement held a press conference in which it revealed the locations and details of the operations of IRGC training facilities throughout Iran. The revelations drew upon intelligence gathered from the Iranian network of the coalition’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, known as MEK. The group specifically identified over a dozen training centres and determined that hundreds of prospective operatives travel to Iran each month from areas where the Tehran regime wields influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere.
The MEK information pointed out that the IRGC pulls double duty in offering training for paramilitary affiliates and for individual operatives who are dispatched to terrorist cells. The former category generally makes up the Iran-backed units that are fighting in Syria, ostensibly on behalf of the Assad regime although many of them publicly swear allegiance to the Iranian supreme leader.
The individual operatives, by contrast, tend to be dispatched to areas that are not currently in open conflict, such as Bahrain. This is very much in keeping with what most foreign policy analysts know about Iran’s theocratic regime: that it has been spending many years and abundant resources in an effort to deepen sectarian divisions throughout the region.
Clearly, widespread instability has resulted from these efforts, not the least of which was the amplification of conditions leading to the rise of the Islamic State. Not only did the IRGC’s extensive contribution to the Syrian War save Bashar al-Assad from the brink of overthrow, it also attached religious significance to the intervention and encouraged the increasingly sectarian aspects of the conflict.
Similarly, Daesh’s successes in Iraq came only after Tehran encouraged a purge of Sunnis under the government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The resulting conflict in that country has allowed for IRGC-backed Shiite militant groups to take on an ever more extensive role in the country’s military affairs and, by extension, in its political affairs as well. This has in turn diminished American and European influence and perpetuated a climate of division, which is indisputably harmful to Western interests. It does, however, benefit Tehran’s constitutionally mandated mission to extend the Islamic revolution beyond the borders of the Islamic Republic.
It would be absurd to suggest that the IRGC’s proxies in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are somehow not terrorist operatives, in the same way its proxies in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Nigeria are. Each of them are trained by similar means within the same Iranian network, and each of them serve the same intrusive foreign policy goals of the Islamic Republic, which are plainly contrary to the interests of the US and its allies.
The Obama administration has been widely, and rightly, criticised for “appeasement” of the mullahs’ regime through his cherished nuclear agreement and associated “side deals”. However, its policies were only a continuation of an American habit towards conciliation with Iran, based on the misguided idea that moderates can be identified within the theocratic regime and promoted through incentives. Every such effort since 1979 has failed, including Obama’s. There has been no sign whatsoever of moderation in key areas – not in Iran’s human rights violations, nor in its anti-American and anti-western rhetoric, or in its promotion of international terrorism.
The NCRI report on IRGC training centres underscores this fact. The IRGC’s recruitment of foreign fighters has been steadily increasing since 2012, as part of a broader effort to expand the regime’s terrorist network, undertaken with the explicit blessing of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
It seems as though the Trump administration has, at long last, brought the US to the realisation that the theocracy ruling Iran will always stay true to its hard line roots, regardless of what outreach the US and its allies offer.
The White House should be actively encouraged to continue along this path, because continuation of conciliatory policies will only embolden the IRGC as it continues to grow its terrorist training and operations network. There is little rational basis for further arguments in favour of conciliation and appeasement, especially as Congress and American allies like the UK, as well as other Middle Eastern countries, sense the urgency to stand up against Iran's malign influence in the region.
Bob Blackman is a Conservative member of the UK House of Commons representing the Harrow East constituency