Donald Trump's move to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation is part of a larger campaign to isolate and weaken Iran while strengthening Israel's position in the region.
Iran has formally complained to the United Nations against the move by the US to blacklist Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including its Quds Force, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, described the move as “unprecedented, illegal and dangerous” warning that the US would be responsible for the “dire consequences” of the “hostile” action.
The measure which comes to into effect today was announced by the US president Donald Trump last Tuesday.
There is growing concern that the measure is part of a broader American campaign to take direct military action against Iran by revoking the Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) a law passed by Congress in 2001. While the FTO designation doesn’t provide legal authority itself, it could be part of the administration’s argument.
“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 behaviour,” said president Trump.
“Your action would boomerang on you,” replied the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Immediately following the announcement, Iran’s National Security Council declared the US “a state sponsor of terrorism” and US forces in the region as “terrorists”. The Iranian parliament followed suit.
To designate as an FTO an entire military apparatus with wide-ranging powers inside a state is both unprecedented and unwise. It creates major tension in the Middle East and endangers US forces.
You may agree with Trump’s argument that the IRGC “actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft” - but Trump’s record indicates a manifest disregard for such matters when it comes to its allies, like Saudi Arabia or Israel.
President Trump’s record in office shows that at the very heart of the US’s frustration with Iran is not so much the nuclear issue or terrorism but America’s unwavering support for Israel's ambition to control the region; an aspiration that has been dwarfed by IRGC’s Quds Force advances in Iraq and Syria.
The timing of the order which coincided with the Israeli elections strengthens that argument. The official Iranian press has quoted the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tweeting in Hebrew thanking President Trump for the decision.
Both Netanyahu and president Trump may be right in blaming Iran for its constant verbal threats against Israel but the narrative of Iran wanting to “eliminate Israel” has also been a winning electoral point for the longest-serving Israeli prime minister.
In keeping with that logic, it seems that challenging the IRGC would only increase the threat both to Israel and also to the US forces in the region.
“IRGC will turn the Persian Gulf into the mortuary of your soldiers,” reads the Wednesday headline of the hardline Kayhan newspaper, close to IRGC and Iran’s supreme leader.
Administration reports show Iran “already has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East” run by IRGC Air Force, and an elaborate naval strategy led by IRGC Navy. IRGC has expanded its capacity for “asymmetric warfare” developing forces and tactics to control the approaches to Iran, including the Strait of Hormuz.
"We consider the US troops in West Asia as terrorists, and if they make a mistake, we will confront them vigorously," says the Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri who was promoted to the post in 2016 from an IRGC background.
US forces in the region are within easy reach of IRGC not just in the Persian Gulf area but also in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq where they helped US troops fighting Daesh.
The Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani has developed an elaborate network of operatives in the region. His detailed military knowledge of the region and the intelligence connections he has gathered over the years come from his role in expanding Iran’s regional influence through the formation of pro-Iranian militias in several countries.
IRGC also has a host of proxies around areas close to Israel both on the Syrian and Lebanese sides.
Perhaps that is why after two years of deliberations the US Department of Defence objected to an FTO designation on IRGC because it argued, it would put American troops at higher risk.
The re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu attests to the starkly hardline right-wing vision dominant in Israeli politics. The populist Trump administration is entirely in line with that vision.
What makes the situation in the Middle East extremely precarious is that the US move has now poked the Revolutionary Guard - which is just as hardline and confrontational as the US or Israel.
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