Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) warned on Wednesday it would treat American troops as “terrorists” if President Donald Trump decides to designate the Islamic Republic’s most feared military arm as a “terrorist organization.” The threat against the US was speedily endorsed by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, widely portrayed as a regime “moderate,” and one of the key architects of the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran agreed to with six world powers.
A statement from the Iranian Parliament’s Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy on Wednesday declared, “The IRGC is entitled to treat the US forces the same way it treats terrorist groups.” The statement also repeated Iran’s now standard conspiracy theory that ISIS and other Sunni terrorist groups are “lackeys” of the US and Israel, claiming as well that “the IRGC has played a valuable part in restoring security to Iraq and Syria.”
The Trump administration has been deliberating since February on whether to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, given its intimate operational involvement with terrorist operations both in the region and outside. The IRGC’s elite Qods Force is specifically authorized to carry out operations abroad, with Qods Force commander, Gen. Qasem Solaimaini, frequently being photographed in conflict zones in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Regional terrorist groups backed by Iran through the IRGC and its related structures include its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, as well as Shia militias in Iraq and Yemen. Both independently and in concert with Hezbollah, the IRGC has also penetrated several Latin American countries, where it engages in criminal activities such as drug trafficking and money laundering. International terror outrages in which the IRGC was reported to be involved included the bombing of a tourist bus in the Bulgarian resort city of Burgas on July 18, 2012, in which five Israelis and one Bulgarian were killed.
The IRGC’s fingerprints were also on the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people died and hundreds more were wounded in the worst single terrorist attack in the Western Hemisphere prior to September 11, 2001. Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of the IRGC, is the target of one of five outstanding “red notices” identifying the suspects in the AMIA atrocity issued by global law enforcement agency Interpol. Rezaei remains in Tehran, where he serves on a committee directed by Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The IRGC’s new threat against US soldiers — more than 20,000 of whom remain stationed around the Middle East — was enthusiastically backed by Zarif, the chief negotiating partner of former US Secretary of State John Kerry during the formulation of the July 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the JCPOA. One year later, Kerry lauded Zarif as a “patriot who fought hard for his nation’s interests.”
But according to Zarif on Wednesday, those interests may now be steering in the direction of open conflict with the US itself. “If American officials make such a strategic mistake, the Islamic Republic of Iran will take a reciprocal measure,” Zarif said of the potential IRGC designation.
Without elaborating, Zarif added, “Some measures have been thought out in this regard and will be taken at the appropriate time.”
The White House debate over the IRGC comes in the context of wider discussions over whether to recertify the JCPOA, as the president is required to do by October 15. A vehement critic of the deal regarded by the Obama administration as its signature foreign policy achievement, Trump has repeatedly dropped hints that he will not certify that Iran is complying with the agreement.
The recent admission by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, that his organization does not have the mandate to fully monitor Iran’s nuclear activities has fueled the speculation that Trump will decertify the deal. However, even among opponents of the JCPOA, there is concern that a decertification by Trump will amount to little more than a unilateral withdrawal from an international agreement, with no alternative strategy in place.
A paper published this week by Israel’s respected Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) argued that while the JCPOA “in the long term embodies a strategic risk to the United States and Israel,” withdrawing now would be a serious mistake.
“The bottom line: now is not the time to withdraw from the agreement,” the paper’s authors, former IDF military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin and security analyst Avner Golov, wrote.
“Rather, suitable strategic conditions should be created for a future withdrawal, if necessary, and leverage built for a better option,” they said.