Foreign Policy

Iran Revolutionary Guard Finally Gets Terrorist Label

The U.S. already recognizes Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, so this was a long time coming.

Lewis Morris · Apr. 9, 2019

The Trump administration announced Monday that it will designate the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. This marks the first time the United States has designated an official state body as a terrorist entity, and the change is designed to put heavy pressure on Iran to end its destabilizing activities in the Middle East.

The IRGC was established after the 1979 Iranian Revolution as a paramilitary group charged with the security of the ruling class of mullahs. It answers only to the country’s supreme leader, and neither the government nor the military has any jurisdiction over its actions.

The IRGC’s unique position in the Iranian power structure gives it influence over a significant portion of the country’s economy, especially in banking. These ties to domestic and foreign businesses have allowed the IRGC to provide materiel support to terrorists throughout the Middle East and beyond. It also controls the nation’s ballistic-missile program.

The new terrorist designation opens up IRGC front companies to sanctions, as well as bans any companies or governments that do business with the U.S. from doing business with the IRGC. “This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. “It makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to, the IRGC. If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism.”


The U.S. government has known for years that the IRGC takes part in terrorist activities, so this move is a long time coming. Back in 2015, then-Secretary of State Ash Carter testified that the Iranians, largely through the IRGC’s Quds Force, were responsible for the deaths of at least 500 American service personnel in Iraq. That number was recently revised to 608.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, chose to actually reward Iran’s terrorist behavior by signing on to a horribly weak nuclear deal and paying the Iranians $1.7 billion in cold, hard cash that he insisted at the time was not a ransom. Spoiler alert: it was.

At the time, Obama, who fancied himself an astute statesman, wanted to cement his legacy by creating better relations with Iran. The Iranians, seeing him for a sucker, made a complete fool out of Obama by getting the U.S. to agree to a payout to cover a $400 million business deal gone bad from around the time of the 1979 revolution, padded with 37 years of interest totaling $1.3 billion.

While Obama tried to insist that this was not a ransom payment, it was coincidentally timed with the release of foreign prisoners held in Iranian jails. The money was delivered on pallets in several different currencies via a military transport in the middle of the night. The deal had all the appearances of something you might see in a South American narco state, not a legitimate deal between two nations. But there was nothing legitimate about this deal, and nothing substantive was gained from it, either.

Iran did not alter its behavior. Shocking, we know. In fact, as is virtually always the case when going soft on totalitarian regimes, the Islamic regime doubled down. And why not? Obama basically rewarded them for taking U.S. sailors hostage, for pursuing nuclear weapons despite the so-called nuclear deal, and for supporting terrorism. In fact, Obama ended up supporting terrorism, too, because that’s almost certainly where much of the $1.7 billion ransom he paid out ended up.

At the time, we reported that Obama’s feckless foreign policy would only embolden our enemies. Thankfully, Donald Trump has worked to reverse that trend, first by pulling out of the sham nuclear deal, and now by ratcheting up sanctions against businesses tied to the IRGC.

The IRGC has threatened to retaliate against the U.S. for being labeled a terrorist entity, which essentially proves that the IRGC is indeed a terrorist entity. This should not stop America from acting in its own best interest. The IRGC has been actively plotting against the United States for the better part of four decades. At least now we’re calling it as we see it and doing something about it.

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