Bob Blackman is MP for Harrow East.
In February, Donald Trump made waves when he initiated a process that could lead to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps being designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO). Similar action should be pursued by traditional U.S. allies, including not only the UK and the European Union but also Middle Eastern states, several of which recently took the surprising step of including the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia on their own lists of terrorist organisations.
The new U.S. administration’s initial moves on Iran policy, including its call for FTO designation and the decision to put the Islamic Republic ”on notice” over its ballistic missile tests, may preface a period of expanded international cooperation in confronting the threat coming out of Iran.
This development ought to be applauded, and I believe UK and European policymakers should strive to make that collaboration more apparent. After all, the threat coming out of Iran is very serious. It is by no means limited to the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon, regardless of whether the nuclear agreement succeeded in constraining Iran’s ambitions toward that end. The more immediate threats have been evident in Iran’s conduct in the region, including its efforts to secure a permanent foothold for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and local proxy forces in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.
The nuclear agreement and Western policy surrounding it has made it easier for forces like the IRGC and its many Iranian front companies to pursue their sinister objectives by loosening the reins on Iran’s economy. The effects of this permissiveness are steadily becoming clearer, with the help of some individuals and organisations who consider it their mission to expose the ongoing – and escalating – misconduct of Iran’s clerical regime.
Last week, the Iranian resistance organisation, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), held a press conference to identify the locations and detail the operations of approximately 90 docks that are being operated solely by the IRGC and thus are being used for the smuggling of arms and personnel to international terrorist groups.
The NCRI, with the People’s Mojahedin organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the leading Iranian opposition movement as its main constituent, previously held a press conference to discuss the IRGC’s terrorist training program, which has reportedly expanded greatly in recent years, most particularly since the beginning of the full scale Iranian involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Both disclosures by the NCRI relied upon intelligence gathered from within the Iranian regime and even from within the IRGC by the network of the PMOI.
The February revelations identified over a dozen camps, the operations of which were divided according to the type of training and also the national identity of the aspiring terrorists who had travelled to the Islamic Republic in search of more advanced paramilitary skills.
The newer NCRI revelations seem to provide greater context to the previous disclosures in that they explain how the IRGC facilitates its ongoing interactions with these paramilitary organisations and terrorist groups. It also goes a long way toward explaining how the IRGC finances those interactions, which involve virtually constant arms-smuggling. This should not have been a mystery to any Western policymaker with a decent understanding of Iran; the 90 IRGC docks comprise 45 per cent of the total number of commercial docks operating in Iran, but they are only one piece of the commercial empire that the hard-line paramilitary has constructed over the years.
The earnings from those docks are considerable, being estimated at about 12 billion dollars annually, and they stand to increase if the sanctions relief that was granted under the nuclear deal prompts many Western companies to do business with Iran while disregarding the likelihood of their financing the IRGC and its illicit operations, either directly or indirectly.
Through outright ownership of major commercial enterprises and minority ownership of a variety of others, the IRGC maintains control over the majority of the Iranian GDP, and this situation is only growing more lucrative for it. The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, had ordered that the Revolutionary Guards be subjected to no oversight in the operation of their own docks. This remarkable permissiveness is indicative of the growing power that the IRGC wields over the regime. That power will be greatly amplified if the supreme leader’s permissive stance continues to be mirrored in the decision-making of Governments of the West.
In order to avoid this outcome, it is imperative that new efforts in the U.S. to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organisation proceed to their natural conclusion. This new – and long overdue – designation must lead to greatly expanded sanctions on the IRGC and its front companies. It is also important that European policymakers follow suit and continue to build the sort of international consensus on Iran.
Without that consensus, the IRGC will have free rein to grow both its financial empire and its terrorist network and to go on exploring the ways in which these things support each other. Traditionally, the West has made the mistake of thinking that it could deal with the terrorism of the IRGC, or its foreign special operations Quds Force, in isolation from the IRGC’s financial and domestic activities. However these things are inextricably bound and it is impossible to seriously address one without addressing the other.
The new efforts to designate the IRGC as a terrorist group appear to reflect awareness of this fact. On this particular issue, America and Europe can and should speak in unison, loudly and clearly.