Trump turns up heat on Iran

Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps © Rex Features
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard: America says it is a terrorist group

The US president has made Iran an outlaw state. Matthew Partridge reports.

On Monday the US designated the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) “as a foreign terrorist organisation” as Washington “sought to increase the cost of Tehran’s military adventurism”, says The Times. The move, which has been “fiercely debated” within the administration for months, “is the first time the US has labelled a foreign state entity as a terrorist group”. The IRGC is already under economic sanctions, but this new move “exposes anyone who supports or does business with it to criminal prosecution in the US”.

A maximum-pressure campaign

Increasing sanctions on an organisation that controls much of Iran’s economy, “including construction, banking and telecommunications”, “will upset those who want to do business with Iran”, says The Wall Street Journal. But something had to be done, since the IRGC’s Quds Force (its paramilitary wing) “trains terrorists and exports weapons throughout the Middle East”. The IRGC was “responsible for killing hundreds of Americans with roadside bombs during the Iraq war”, and it currently “spends $1bn a year backing militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere”. The move should also deepen Iran’s international isolation, another step in the “maximum-pressure campaign against the regime for its nuclear programme”.

Hold on, says David Gardner in the Financial Times. While the IRGC is clearly “not Iran’s version of the Boy Scouts”, it is “not clear what designating the IRGC as terrorists will do”. After all, the Quds Force was already designated by the US as a supporter of terrorism in 2007. Ironically, many experts argue that the “economic distortions” created by existing international sanctions have helped the IRCG consolidate its business “empire”. Trump’s decision last year to pull out of the agreement that relaxed sanctions on Iran in return for it suspending nuclear enrichment “essentially re-empowered the guards and their hardline leaders”.

Siding with the hawks

By deciding to take a hard line with Iran, President Trump has sided with hawks within the administration, such as National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, says Jacob Heilbrunn in The Spectator. It is also good news for current Israeli leader and Trump ally Benjamin Netanyahu, “who has for decades been depicting Iran as Public Enemy Number One”, and has fought a close campaign to win a fifth term in office. The Saudis, who “have been pushing Washington to oppose Tehran”, will also view Trump’s move with “complacent satisfaction”.

Even if Trump isn’t re-elected next year, the designation will have implications beyond his presidency, says Eli Lake on Bloomberg. It makes it “much more difficult” for a Democratic president to revive the Iran deal, should they win in 2021. To lift the sanctions, any future administration “would have to make a determination that the IRGC was out of the terrorism business”. Given that terrorism “is in the organisation’s nature”, such a reversal would be like saying that “the IRS is no longer engaged in collecting taxes”. In effect, Trump has designated Iran an “outlaw state”.