U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday succeeded in officially labeling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), a move his administration has reportedly considered soon after taking office in 2017 as part of efforts to neutralize Tehran’s influence and constrain its aggression in the Middle East and beyond.
Since its inauguration in January 2017, the Trump administration has sought to impose “maximum pressure” on Iran’s murderous regime, enacting a record-setting wave of sanctions on Tehran last year after pulling the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal that the new president denounced as ineffective in restraining the Shiite powerhouse.
Within weeks of taking office, reports surfaced that the Trump administration was weighing the FTO label for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The U.S. designation, announced on Monday, came soon after the Pentagon revised the estimate on the number of U.S. military fatalities at the hands of proxies backed by the IRGC between 2003 and 2011 to 603, up from about 500.
Iran’s IRGC serves as Tehran’s elite military force that protects the regime from internal and external threats.
According to the U.S. military and other experts, Iranian proxies like the IRGC are active in Latin America where they carry out recruiting operations along with Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah.
The White House announced the foreign terrorist organization label for the IRGC in a statement issued Monday, noting:
This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes 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 IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.
This designation will be the first time that the United States has ever named a part of another government as [an] FTO. It underscores the fact that Iran’s actions are fundamentally different from those of other governments. This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime. It makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to, the IRGC. If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism.
In February 2017, Reuters learned from American officials speaking on condition of anonymity that the Trump administration was considering designating the IRGC as an FTO.
Later that year, in October, the Trump administration authorized the U.S. Department of Treasury to sanction the “entire” IRGC as a terrorist organization “and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.”
Trump denounced the IRGC as “the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia.”
That same day — October 13 — the Trump administration unveiled its Iran strategy, which focused on “neutralizing” the IRGC.
President Trump pledged in the strategy:
We will work to deny the Iranian regime – and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – funding for its malign activities, and oppose IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people. … We will rally the international community to condemn the IRGC’s gross violations of human rights and its unjust detention of American citizens and other foreigners on specious charges. … We want to work with our partners to constrain this dangerous organization [IRGC], for the benefit of international peace and security, regional stability, and the Iranian people.
The IRGC’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization allows the American commander-in-chief to make good on his promise to combat the group.
“This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences,” the White House said, referring to Monday’s FTO designation. “We will continue to increase financial pressure and raise the costs on the Iranian regime for its support of terrorist activity until it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior.”
Weeks ahead of the White House’s announcement, the New York Times (NYT) reported that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and some White House officials were pushing for officially deeming the IRGC and Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq terrorist groups.
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is responsible for making the foreign terrorist organization designations.
“FTO designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business,” DOS points out.
The Pentagon’s office of the inspector general has identified the Baghdad-sanctioned umbrella organization of mainly Iran-allied Shiite militias — the Popular Mobilizations Forces/Units (PMF/U) — as a threat to the United States.
Former President Barack Obama’s administration acknowledged that Iran uses the IRGC to cultivate and support terrorists. The U.S. military has long warned against Iranian activities, via its IRGC and Hezbollah proxies, in the United States’s backyard — Latin America.