U.S.-Iran tensions rise over IRGC terror listing

Less than a day after the U.S. decision to designate Iran‘s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has officially taken effect, the Iranian Parliament approved a countermeasure to the American move by adopting a bill that labels the United States Military in the Middle East as a terrorist entity. The Iranian bill, which was introduced by Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami, was voted on by 207 out of the 290-seat chamber. 204 Iranian lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, while only two voted against and one abstained.

An Iranian political analyst told TV7 that contrary to previous reports, Tehran’s Parliament, called the Majless in Farsi, designated only part of the U.S. military on its terror list, specifically the CENTCOMM, which is the U.S. Central Command – tasked with American Military operations across the Middle East and southwest Asia. According to the contents of the bill, the Iranian government was granted the necessary legal authorization to “act firmly in response to (- what it termed -) terrorist actions by U.S. forces in the region.” Furthermore, the bill instructs the government to actively pursue “legal, political and diplomatic measures to neutralize the American measure vis-à-vis the Islamic Revolutionary Guards,” yet stopped short from elaborating on any specific courses of action.

That said, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif embarked on a vigorous campaign against the U.S. decision to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, commonly known by its acronym IRGC, as a terror entity. While the top Iranian diplomat consistently avoids dissection of the IRGC’s actions that led to Washington’s decision, Zarif stressed during a visit to the Syrian capital Damascus yesterday that “Washington’s policies are (clearly) based on serving the interests of (the state of) Israel.”

During his visit to Israel’s northern neighbor, the Iranian Foreign Minister met with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moualem and President Bashar al-Assad, after which he declared that the two countries will continue to cooperate to bolster their bilateral relations and implement additional measures “in order to improve the economic situation in both (Syria) and Iran.” According to the Iranian Foreign Minister: “We have always been on the side of the Syrian people. We will continue to be working with the Syrian government and the Syrian people in order to improve the economic situation both here and in Iran.”

According to Mazen Bilal, who is a Syrian political analyst, Damascus and Tehran will work together to strengthen cooperation on the ground that will aim to mitigate – what he termed as: “the negative impact of the (U.S.) decision on Iran.” “Syria will certainly condemn such a decision. Syria and Iran have close strategic relations. So, for Syria, Iran’s IRGC is a state institution and should not be labeled [as a terrorist organization]. Therefore, Syria definitely will condemn such a decision and will work with Iran and its other regional allies to strengthen cooperation to mitigate the negative impact of the decision on Iran,” Bilal said.

While Iranian official are making extensive efforts to mitigate the impact of the U.S. decision, those efforts clearly signal the mounting pressure on the Islamic Revolutionary regime. The Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pointed to the IRGC as a prominent pillar in the regime’s operations on all levels yet stressed that the American measure will achieve nothing. Ali Khamenei said: “The Guards are a very prominent structure in our country. If it’s to confront an enemy from a political standpoint, the Guards are leading it. If it’s to confront an enemy in the field and theatre of military operations, the Guards are leading it. If the enemy is already inside the country and on our streets, the Guards are confronting it. That is why you see the Americans resort to such tactics, which of course will achieve nothing.”

With all the Iranian efforts to counter the U.S. decision, Washington does not appear overly troubled. Instead, during a Question and Answer session held by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Texas A&M University, the American top diplomat warned of “vigorous” consequences to any international dealings with the IRGC. When posed with the question: “Mr. Secretary, with the new designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization, I was wondering how heavily the United States would be pursuing sanctions against companies with alleged dealings with this organization?” Secretary Pompeo replied: “Vigorously. Our mission is to try and create peace and stability in the Middle East. That’s the macro objective. And so, we’ve worked on that by building out an enormous coalition to defeat ISIS. We’re still working to take down the remnants of ISIS. There are various estimates, from 5 to 12 to 21,000 members of ISIS who are still there, moving around in Iraq and Syria and Turkey. Our efforts to continue to prevent them from attacking around the globe are real and serious and will continue. The second piece of that has been to identify the other great threat, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which remains the largest sponsor of terror.” / “So, the second piece of this is to convince Iran it’s not in their best interest to continue to foment terror and engage in malign activity all throughout the Middle East. So, a – so the next step down from that is how do you do it. One of the pieces of that is our sanctions effort. We have lots of efforts apart from that. With respect to the designation, which actually came into effect just this week, some – the unclassified – some 20 percent of the Iraqi economy is controlled by the IRGC. So my wisdom for those of you who are connected to companies that might be doing business with them or if you’re the general counsel for a European bank that’s doing business with a company that might have a 20 percent shareholder, the IRGC, is you should check your work.”

It is important to note that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is comprised of an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units. It also commands the so-called “Basij”, which is a religious volunteer paramilitary force, and maintains control over Iran’s missile programs. The IRGC also controls a foreign branch, which is called the Quds force, that oversees Iran’s proxy wars in the region, that also includes the country’s efforts to entrenchment militarily along Israel’s northern frontier.