WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump officially designated the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization on Monday, in a move that Israel has long pushed for and that will ramp up the administration’s pressure campaign against Tehran.
The decision, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said had come at his request, is the first time that an extension of a foreign government has been designated a terrorist entity by the US.
“This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft,” the president said in a statement.”The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”
The Trump administration’s decision is expected to ramp up tensions between the United States and Iran. Shortly after Trump’s decision, Iran labeled the US military a terrorist group, following up on a threat its leaders had issued days earlier.
Monday’s policy decision will mean that anyone who deals with the IRGC could face criminal charges, including aiding or supporting a terrorist group, the White House said.
“This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime,” Trump said. “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.”
In a briefing with reporters Monday morning, White House officials said the administration considers the IRGC an “active and enthusiastic participant in acts of terror” that aims to destabilize the Middle East.
“The Middle East cannot be more stable and peaceful without a weakened IRGC,” a senior administration official said.
The move comes less than 24 hours before Israelis head to the polls in a nail-biting contest between Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, and Benny Gantz, who leads the centrist Blue and White party.
Netanyahu thanked Trump for the decision and sought to claim credit for it, saying he had asked the president to declare the IRGC a terrorist organization.
“Thank you for accepting another important request of mine, which serves the interests of our countries and countries in the region,” Netanyahu tweeted. “We will continue to take action in various means against the Iranian regime, which threatens the State of Israel, the US and world peace.”
Some of the prime minister’s political opponents have construed the US administration’s increased pressure against Iran recently as an effort to assist Netanyahu’s re-election campaign, and analysts interpreted Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights several weeks ago as a boost to the Israeli premier. An official was asked Monday morning if the move was at all related, and replied that the decision had been planned for months.
“The Trump administration is simply recognizing a basic reality,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters. “The IRGC masquerades as a legitimate military organization, but none of us should be fooled. It regularly violates the laws of armed conflict and plans, organizes, and executes terror campaigns all around the world.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was formed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution with a mission to defend the clerical regime, in contrast to the more traditional military units that protected Iranian borders. It exists in parallel to Iran’s regular military. The Revolutionary Guards have amassed enormous power within Iran, becoming owners of significant industries and other economic interests on behalf of the regime.
The Guards’ prized foreign operations unit is the Quds Force, named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, which supports forces allied with Iran around the region, such as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group. It has also been linked to various terror attacks around the world, including a deadly bombing against Argentina’s Jewish community in 1994.
The Trump administration has already imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran after withdrawing last year from the nuclear agreement, under which Tehran scaled back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The Pentagon and CIA reportedly have reservations about the move by the Trump administration, with officials saying it could increase risks for US troops in the region without doing much more to damage the Iranian economy than existing sanctions and restrictions are already doing.
Reuters noted that in 2017 IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said such action by Washington would lead the Guards to “consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world.”