President Donald Trump announced Monday that the US is designating Iran‘s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign “terrorist organisation”, marking the first time Washington has formally labelled another country’s military a “terrorist group”.
Iranian officials have threatened to respond to the move in kind, with legislators reportedly preparing legislation that would label the US military as a “terrorist group”, according to Iran’s state-run media.
Trump on Monday confirmed earlier reports that the US was planning the designation, saying the US will continue to increase financial pressure and raise the costs on Iran “for its support of terrorist activity”.
Trump said in a statement that the move “recognises the reality that Iran is not only a state sponsor of terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft”.
The designation “makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to, the IRGC”, Trump said. “If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a strident critic of Iran, said the designation would take place in one week.
The designation allows the US to deny entry to people found to have provided the IRGC with material support or prosecute them for sanctions violations.That could include European and Asian companies and businesspeople who deal with the IRGC’s many affiliates.
It will also complicate diplomacy. Without exclusions or waivers to the designation, US troops and diplomats could be barred from contact with Iraqi or Lebanese authorities who interact with IRGC officials or surrogates.
The Pentagon and US intelligence agencies have raised concerns about what impact the designation will have if the move does not allow contact with foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with IRGC personnel.
Those concerns have in part dissuaded previous administrations from taking the step, which has been considered for more than a decade.
‘Another US disaster’
On Sunday, Iranian officials cautioned the US against the move, warning it could destabilise the region and draw a tit-for-tat response.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said such a measure was “another US disaster” in the making, and warned of the consequences it could have.
“#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for FTO designation of the IRGC fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region,” Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, Iran’s regional archenemy.
“In fact, they seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf. @realDonaldTrump should know better than to be conned into another US disaster,” Zarif added.
Separately, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the IRGC’s commander, had said US troops stationed in the Middle East would “lose their current status of ease and serenity” should Washington went ahead with “such foolishness” and warned of a “reciprocal move” from Tehran.
“If reports prove to be true that the stupid US administration intends to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, then the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards] will also specify the US army as a group like ISIL in all parts of the world, specially the Middle-East,” Jafari said, using the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, also known as ISIS.
Jafari’s remarks coincided with a statement issued by a majority of Iranian legislators confirming that the country’s parliament would respond-in-kind to any shift by Washington, according to a report by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.
Iran’s most powerful security organisation, the IRGC was set up to protect the country’s Shia clerical ruling system after its 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the Western-allied secular monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and led to the formation of the Islamic Republic.
The force is in charge of Iran’s ballistic missiles and nuclear programmes, and answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is estimated to have 125,000 personnel, comprised of army, navy and air units.
After the 1980s’ Iran-Iraq war, the IRGC also became heavily involved in reconstruction and has expanded its economic interests to include a vast network of businesses, ranging from oil and gas projects to construction and telecommunication.