In an unprecedented move, US President Donald Trump this
week announced that he is designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC) as a terrorist organization. This is the first time that the US has
officially designated another country’s military organization as a Foreign
The move is significant due to the fact that the IRGC is the backbone of the Islamic Republic and it is the main tool for the clerical establishment to maintain power, achieve Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions, increase its influence in the region and export its revolutionary ideals.
Formed shortly after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the IRGC has grown to play a critical role domestically and regionally. After the death of Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, his successor Ali Khamenei shifted the regime’s policy and made a tactical move by granting more power to the country’s military institutions, while sidelining those clerics who were considered a threat to his rule. The senior cadres of the IRGC now enjoy significant influence in dictating Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.
Inside Iran, the IRGC is responsible for maintaining Khamenei’s power and the regime’s revolutionary ideals. These objectives are achieved domestically by several methods, including cracking down on and silencing opposition to Khamenei’s rule, engaging in the repression of dissidents, suppressing the freedoms of speech, press and assembly, and imprisoning and torturing opponents through the revolutionary courts.
The designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization will also have a significant impact on paramilitary group the Basij. The Basij is a crucial pillar of the IRGC and has been expanded significantly in the last two decades. In 1981, two years after its creation, the Basij became an official part of the IRGC and it established centers across the country. The group was granted extensive powers by the IRGC that allowed its members to act as religious and moral police, enforce the regime’s revolutionary laws, monitor people’s daily activities, suppress anti-regime protests, operate in foreign countries, organize religious events throughout Iran, and recruit and train child soldiers for the IRGC. Basij members have been implicated in the deaths of many civilians during protests and demonstrations.
When it comes to regional politics, the IRGC’s footprints can be witnessed in many nations and conflicts, specifically through its elite branch, the Quds Force, which is headed by Qassem Soleimani. The IRGC can be regarded as the force behind many militia and terror groups in the region. In Syria, the IRGC and Quds Force have employed various acts of terror to keep Bashar Assad in power and to build permanent military bases. The IRGC continues to build a coalition of Shiite forces and militias in Syria that have committed crimes against humanity. Some of these militias’ members come from countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon. They advance Iran’s interests and are turning into the bedrock of Syria’s sociopolitical and socioeconomic infrastructures.
Regarding the Yemeni conflict, it is inconceivable to argue that the Houthis could have obtained the military capability and advanced weapons they possess without the assistance of the IRGC and the Quds Force. Several of the ballistic missiles that were fired at Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Houthi militias were reportedly designed by Iran.
The IRGC has been smuggling advanced weaponry to its militias and proxies, such as Hezbollah, that can turn unguided rockets into precision-guided missiles. It also provides ideological, military and tactical training to foreign recruits, who are later dispatched to countries in the Middle East and beyond to conduct terrorist activities.
Terrorist and militant groups across the Middle East that are controlled by the IRGC are among the key reasons for the ongoing tensions, conflicts and instability in the region. One of the Islamic Republic’s fundraising tactics most likely relies on illicit activities such as kidnapping and extortion conducted by the IRGC and its militia groups and proxies.
The IRGC being designated as a terrorist group means that the European countries and officials dealing with Iran should be extremely cautious, as they will seriously risk being sanctioned by the US because the IRGC runs a significant portion of Iran’s economy. More fundamentally, many business dealings and transactions with the Islamic Republic are directly or indirectly conducted through the IRGC because it has the largest stake in Iran’s economy and political affairs. The revolutionary guards control more than half of Iran’s gross domestic product and own several major economic powerhouses and religious endowments, such as Astan Quds Razavi in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Many Iranians, particularly those who are suffering under the iron rule of the IRGC, view its designation as a terror group an important step in the right direction,
In conclusion, the designation of the IRGC — the creator and backer of militia and terrorist groups in the region — as a terrorist organization will put an unprecedented level of economic and geopolitical pressure on Iran’s theocratic establishment.