It is possible that the European Union and Britain will soon declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is considered a governmental military, political and economic force whose mission is to confront the threats to the rule in Iran at home, and to display its strength abroad.
Why can the Iranian Revolutionary Guard be declared a terrorist organization?
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he was considering the move after Iran’s execution of Ali Reza Akbari, Iran’s former deputy defense minister who settled in Britain and became a British citizen.
Cleverly added that he was “lured” to return to Iran, where he “was subjected to the regime’s notorious and arbitrary legal process”.
Akbari was convicted of spying for Britain. But Akbari denied the charge and said Iranian intelligence agents tortured him to extract confessions.
The British intelligence services also said that their Iranian counterparts had targeted 10 other people in the UK over the past year, including Iranian journalists.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have both urged the European Union to put the IRGC on its list of terrorist organizations.
They referred to the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in suppressing the recent protests that erupted in Iran after the death of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was under arrest by the country’s morality police when she died.
The European Parliament passed a resolution in favor of classifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group, but EU member states must agree to such a move.
The United States added the IRGC to its terrorist list in 2019 due to the IRGC’s longstanding support for armed groups such as Hezbollah.
What is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard?
The IRGC was established in 1979, after the Iranian revolution, to defend the new Islamic regime. It originally served as an alternative military force to the Iranian regular army.
“This organization used to consist of a single militia brigade, but it has grown into a huge group now,” says Dr Sanam Vikal of the Chatham House international affairs think tank in London.
The IRGC has its own land, sea and air forces. Its total number is estimated at 190,000.
This organization manages Iran’s missile and nuclear programmes.
The IRGC has also built a massive business empire, owning companies in sectors such as defense, engineering and construction, and is believed to control a third of Iran’s economy.
What does the Iranian Revolutionary Guard do in Iran?
The IRGC enforces internal security in Iran through its paramilitary wing, the Basij Forces, which has been primarily responsible for the suppression of anti-government protests over the past four months.
The US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency says at least 522 people have been killed in the crackdown.
“The Basij forces committed a lot of extreme violence and beatings to death, and that doesn’t help the government, because the violence sparked more protests,” says Professor Maryam Alemzadeh of the University of Oxford.
What does the Iranian Revolutionary Guard do abroad?
The Quds Force is the most well-known branch of the IRGC abroad.
The Quds Force provides arms, money and training to armed groups in the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite militias in Iraq and forces loyal to the Syrian government.
“The Quds Force supports pro-Iranian forces in places where the balance of power could shift in favor of Iran,” says Professor Alemzadeh.
For her part, Dr. Vikal says: “The Iranian regime considers the United States its greatest enemy, and sponsors groups to attack it in other countries.”
The United States has accused the Quds Force and the groups it supports of killing hundreds of American military personnel in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
What does declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group mean?
Designating the IRGC as a terrorist group would criminalize membership in or support of the group.
The group’s assets will be frozen in the countries where it is on the terrorism list, and no citizen or company there will be allowed to donate to it.
According to Dr. Vikal, “targeting the IRGC will harm Iran because it plays a major role in the government’s operations, both internally and externally.”
She went on to say, “This group represents a large part of the Iranian state, so it is a great target.”
But she warned that Iran might respond by declaring the armed forces of the United Kingdom and European Union countries to be terrorist groups, which could make them targets in the Middle East.
For her part, Professor Alamzadeh doubts the possibility of harming the operations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
“This measure will not make much practical difference, given that there are already many sanctions against Iran,” she adds, noting that “this step will be taken mostly as a symbolic measure.”