The United States has designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. The announcement was made by the US President Donald Trump.
It is the first time that Washington has labelled another state's military as a terrorist organization.
The White House said that the IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.
Iran retaliated by declaring US forces in the Middle East a terrorist organization, Iran state news reported.
This action may serve as precedent and impetus for other states currently in a hostile relationship to follow in the US government’s step, say the opponents of this decision.
The measures will take effect in a week, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to him, the US will continue to sanction and pressure Iran to behave in a desirable manner. He also urged America's allies to take similar action.
“The leaders of Iran are not revolutionaries and people deserve better. They are opportunists,” said Pompeo, adding “we must help the people of Iran get back their freedom.”
Previously, the US imposed sanctions against dozens of Iranian organizations and persons associated with the IRGC, but the organization itself was not subjected to any sanctions.
The tension between Washington-Tehran has heightened since Trump withdrew the US from the international Iran nuclear deal, which was signed in July 2015 and entered into force in January 2016. In 2018, Trump withdrew from the deal despite the voiced opposition and the discontent of the allies in Europe.
Iran and Israel's reaction
Iran's national security council declared the US Central Command (Centcom) a terrorist organization after the country's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote to President Hassan Rouhani urging such a response, reported the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN).
Centcom is the Pentagon wing that oversees US forces in the regions of the Middle East, East Africa and Central Asia, most notably Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is battling for political survival in Tuesday's elections, cheered the US move.
“Thank you, President Trump for your decision to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. Once again you are keeping the world safe from Iran’s aggression and terrorism,” he wrote on Twitter.
The IRGC was set up shortly after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 as a force to defend the new regime and to provide a counterweight to the regular Iranian army.
The IRGC is estimated to have more than 150,000 active personnel. The corps has its own ground forces, navy, air force intelligence services and special forces. All this functions in parallel with the Iranian armed forces.
What the US is accusing the IRGC of
The US has repeatedly accused Iran of destabilizing the situation in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. They directly charge the guards with sending militants to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president had been planning to designate the IRGC a terrorist organization for a long time, a senior US official said on the condition of anonymity during a telephone briefing for the media.
“The IRGC tried to change the situation in the Middle East, they kill their enemies, their militants killed hundreds of Americans,” he said. “The IRGC has two tasks: it oppresses Iranians in their country and terrorizes people abroad.”
“The Corps financed terrorist actions around the world through proxy. They do not just support terrorism, but are directly involved in terrorist activities,” an employee of the presidential administration noted.
“The US attorney’s office will now have the opportunity to file charges against those backed by the IRGC. The US is sending a clear signal - stop doing business with the IRGC, otherwise you risk [receiving charges] of financing terrorism,” he added.
The US official stressed that the decision to designate the organization as a terrorist group is supported by both parties. According to him, the White House also urges other countries to isolate the IRGC in order to reduce the influence of the corps. “If we want to support the Iranian people and allow them to live better, all countries should [seek] to weaken the IRGC,” he said.
“Europe is also exposed to the Iranian threat, for example, Iran was recently planning a murder in Denmark. At the end of October last year, the Danish Security and Counterintelligence Service (PET) accused the Iranian special services of preparing an attack on the territory of the kingdom,” he noted.
Copenhagen suspects Tehran of preparing an assassination of a group of Iranian citizens who live in Denmark, in particular, on the leader of the Danish branch of the separatist group called The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA).
According to the Wall Street Journal, Pompeo and presidential adviser on national security John Bolton were in favor of introducing measures for the IRGC, but there were also those who doubted the correctness of this decision. Among them is Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Some representatives of the US armed forces believe that the current decision could provoke attacks on the US military in the Middle East.
Reportedly the CIA also opposed.
Continuation of previous sanctions
The State Department’s report states that the new measures against the IRGC are a continuation of the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration against individuals, companies, aircraft and ships associated with Iran, due to human rights violations, censorship, ballistic missile development programs, malicious Internet activities, support of terrorism or ties with the Iranian government.
As early as January 19, 1984, the US included Iran in the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Since then, Iran has been subject to a number of restrictions, in particular, to receive US assistance, a ban on the export and sale of weapons, control over the export of dual-use goods and other financial restrictions.
In 2017, the US Department of the Treasury added the IRGC to the list of organizations supporting terrorism in connection with assisting terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas.