By Col. (Ret.) Tom Cantwell
Thursday, 26 October 2017
After this week, the Trump administration will not only be leading the United States down a different path with respect to the Iran nuclear deal; it will also be employing a revised strategy on the Islamic Republic as a whole. On Oct. 13, President Trump announced the results of a comprehensive policy review, resulting in, among other items, a terrorist designation for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which he accurately described as “the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia.”
By means of its extra-territorial special operations Quds Force, the IRGC provides logistical and financial support, as well as arms and training to a variety of regional proxies and terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Shiite militants in Iraq and Syria who have been accused of human rights violations rivaling those of ISIS. IRGC’s support to these organizations now includes tens of millions of dollars thanks to the windfalls from the Obama administration’s signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The IRGC has a long history of attacking Americans and is responsible for virtually every Iran-backed terrorist incident since the 1979 revolution. Recently emboldened, it has increased its tempo of direct intervention in regional conflicts or its systematic violations of human rights within Iran.
Fortunately, the Trump administration recognizes the seriousness of the threat posed by the IRGC. Having suffered through a lethal roadside bombing campaign in Iraq fueled by Explosively-Formed Projectiles (EFP) from Iran, many Iraq veterans are watching these developments closely. Some of us were around when IRGC proxies destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut. We know that if the IRGC’s terror designation had come sooner, hundreds of American and probably Iranian lives might have been saved.
Recently, we have seen our hard-fought gains thrown away as those same Shiite militants have flourished under direct Iranian guidance. In our effort to destroy ISIS, we are transferring equipment and training to new Iraqi units. Some of this largesse and certainly some of the money is going to the same militias, now rebranded as Popular Militia Forces (PMF) organized, trained, and financed by the IRGC. The recent death of an American trainer by an EFP in Salah a-Din, an area controlled by the PMF, should give us pause.
This is the established Iranian sponsor-client model, seen in the IRGC’s domestic creation of a civilian militia known as the Basij, and also in the IRGC’s longstanding collaboration with Lebanese Hezbollah. Actually, the IRGC has been the backbone of a ruthless suppression of the Iranian people, including the massacre of 30,000 Iranian dissidents, primarily activists of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), in 1988 alone.
It seems absurd that the United States and its allies could fail to see that these were only the first of many tentacles that would unfurl from Tehran to extend the mullahs’ reach across the region. But because little was done to constrain the IRGC’s organizational role, the world must now put up with an entrenched Iranian presence in Syria, Yemen, and even post-war Iraq. This only worsens the instability of the region and threatens the further escalation of sectarian conflict.
If not for the uninhibited role of the IRGC, the carnage in Syria might have ended years ago with the removal of the dictator Bashar Assad and the saving of thousands of civilian lives. The Yemeni civil war might never have begun. And Iraq would certainly not be facing a new civil war that will potentially be bloodier than the Syrian conflict.
That history was appropriately highlighted by President Trump in the new Iran strategy speech:
“This radical regime has raided the wealth of one of the world’s oldest and most vibrant nations, and spread death, destruction, and chaos all around the globe.”
The White House understands that the pillaging of its neighbors by Iran must be constrained if there is to be any hope for peace and stability in the broader Middle East. As Defense Secretary James Mattis has pointed out on several occasions, Iran can be seen at the heart of virtually every regional crisis. And the IRGC, in turn, is at the heart of Iranian foreign policy.
Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization is a significant and long-overdue step toward confining the regime to its own borders and ending the cycles of sectarian violence that have claimed countless lives.
As Maryam Rajavi, the president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, pointed out, the designation should be complemented by immediately placing under sanction all the individuals, entities, institutions and companies affiliated with the IRGC and their trade counterparts. Money is a major component of their strategic center of gravity. In the meantime, the IRGC and its mercenary militias must be expelled from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon; and prevented from shipping arms and dispatching forces to those countries.
When the IRGC’s terrorist designation begins to confine its operations to the borders of Iran, then the ruling regime will have no alternative but to come face-to-face with the Iranian people’s demands. When that day comes, when the next Green Revolution arrives, the United States and the entire democratic world must be prepared to stand with those people who cry for freedom.
Tom Cantwell is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served in Afghanistan and in Iraq, including command of U.S. forces at Camp Ashraf in Iraq in 2003. He works as a consulting contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense.