President Trump on Monday designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, saying its sponsorship of terror in Iraq and elsewhere is unacceptable and that he needed to send an “unprecedented” message that it won’t be tolerated.
It is the first time the U.S. government has designed a segment of a foreign government as a foreign terrorist organization, or FTO.
The designation is designed to warn individuals or companies off doing businesses with the corps, including its Quds Force, because doing so would be considered a criminal offense by the U.S.
“This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences,” Mr. Trump said in a White House statement. “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 behavior.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that global banks and businesses “have a clear duty” to not work with the organization.
“We want Iran to behave like a normal nation,” he said during a press conference following the White House’s announcement
The IRGC was established after the 1979 revolution to protect the Islamic system in Iran — as opposed to regular actions by the military, such as guarding the border.
Mr. Pompeo cited the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American military members, and the organization’s support to Syria’s Assad regime in the designation.
He also said that IRGC Gen. Qasem Soleimani was responsible for killing 603 U.S. troops during the Iraq war.
Mr. Trump, who has taken a hard line on Iran alongside National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, said the corps is acting as the central banker for terrorism, placing it apart from normal global behavior.
“This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime,” Mr. Trump said.
Administration officials said the Iranians “forced our hands” in designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, citing actions in Iraq that have killed Americans and its work as the “central banker” and chief state sponsor of terror around the globe.
Congressional Republicans applauded Mr. Trump’s move, citing their longtime support for cracking down on the force.
“A formal designation and its consequences may be new, but these IRGC butchers have been terrorists for a long time,” Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said. “This would be an important step in our maximum-pressure campaign against Iran, the largest state-sponsor of terror and the biggest chaos agent inside the Middle East. This would greatly expand our ability to roll back Iran’s ability to fund and export terror abroad.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he “completely” supports the decision and said the announcement is “another example of [the administration’s] commitment to reigning in the destructive and murderous Iranian regime.”
Following the announcement, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Michael McCaul announced plans to roll out legislation in response to the designation that would lower the minimum threshold for sanctionable transactions and penalize Iran’s development of funding ballistic missile technology.
“This designation ends the façade that the IRGC is part of a normal military,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement. “They behave like a terrorist organization and will now be treated accordingly.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces a nail-biter reelection vote Tuesday, praised Mr. Trump as a “dear friend.”
The IRGC designation is seen as the latest in a series of steps Mr. Trump has taken to boost Mr. Netanyahu’s fortunes, including U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“Thank you for the answer to another important request that serves the interests of our country and the region,” Mr. Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew. “We will continue to act together in any way against the Iranian regime that threatens the state of Israel, the United States and the peace of the world.”
Iranian officials were quick to warn of potential repercussions for the U.S. upon designating IRGC as a terrorist organization. Iranian media reported that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the U.S.’ announcement and advised the country’s Supreme National Security Council to add U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to its list of designated terrorist groups.
In a letter to President Rouhani, Mr. Zarif said the council should designate American forces as terrorists based on Iran’s “Countering America’s Human Rights Violation and Adventurous and Terrorist Actions” law passed by the Iranian Parliament in 2017.
He cited “overt and covert support of U.S. military forces in the region for terrorist groups and their direct involvement in terrorist acts,” as reason to add CENTCOM to their list.
“The Foreign Minister condemned the U.S. possible blacklisting of the IRGC as terrorist group and said such a measure entails numerous dangers,” Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.
In anticipation of the announcement, IRCG commander Maj. Gen. Ali Jafari on Sunday warned, “if (the Americans) make such a stupid move, the U.S. Army and American security forces stationed in West Asia (Middle-East) will lose their current status of ease and serenity,” according to Fars.
Back in the U.S., at least one Democrat warned of unintended consequences, saying Mr. Trump’s steps may seem reasonable on the surface but could lead to a full-scale conflagration.
“You won’t wake up to war with Iran. It’ll happen because each and every little step towards war seems vaguely reasonable,” Rep. Jim Himes, of Connecticut, wrote on his Twitter account. “Those steps will be cheered by hawks and the right. The temp will rise. There will be a mistake or some confrontation. Then the dogs will be let slip.”
He said a number of national security officials are wary of the designation, even as Mr. Trump “listens to a number of people who want the U.S. to go to war with Iran.”