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Assessing Iran's Reaction To IRGC ‘Terrorist’ Designation

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (seated C) and members of parliament wearing IRGC uniforms as they gather under a portrait of the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei at the Islamic Consultative Assembly in Tehran. April 9, 2019.

Iran responded to the U.S. State Department's designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization within less than an hour by naming CENTCOM and its affiliated forces as terrorist groups.

The reaction shows that Iran was prepared to launch a counter-measure to try and minimize the psychological impact of the U.S. decision on the Iranian public.

The Iranian Parliament also rushed to pass legislation designating the U.S. military as a terrorist entity.

Iran previously passed legislation in 2017 supporting the IRGC and designating the U.S. military and intelligence forces as "supporters of terrorist groups in the region." At the time, the Iranian government tasked the Foreign Ministry with publishing a list of U.S. citizens who would be subject to the law, in collaboration with the IRGC's Quds Force, the Defense Ministry, the Intelligence Ministry, and the Iranian Central Bank.

The judiciary was tasked with handling cases relating to the legislation and to criminalize any "cooperation with the U.S. government and its military and intelligence forces."

Nineteen months after the legislation was passed, however, no U.S. citizen has been sanctioned by Iran.

It is obvious that the failure to implement the law is due to more than simply an inability to do so. Sanctioning U.S. citizens would have no practical value in Iran or anywhere else in the world.

Sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran, on the other hand, carry global implications almost automatically despite their unilateral nature, as banks and governments all over the world are obliged to observe them.

At the same time, the United States has intensified sanctions against Iran that, as the Iranian Foreign Ministry has observed, "have caused tremendous losses for Iran in the area of international trade."

The uselessness of Iran's measures is not limited to the initiatives taken by its parliament and Foreign Ministry. In 2017, Chief of the Joint Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri said, "Designating the IRGC as a terrorist group will pose a big threat against U.S. forces and their bases in the region." IRGC Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Ali Jafari also warned the U.S. to "dismantle its bases within 2,000 kilometers of Iran’s borders."

Over the past 18 months, the United States has sanctioned Iran's defense industries and various parts of the IRGC. Washington also concluded a major agreement with Oman, which Tehran considers a strategic partner.

The designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group can adversely affect the IRGC's economic activities in Iraq worth over $12 billion and which complicate the IRGC's participation in the reconstruction of Syria.

Tehran is weary of the psychological impact on the Iranian public. But it has no long-term plans or strategy. Its officials constantly think in terms of short-term solutions for psychological warfare, and their hopes for change in U.S. policy tied to the 2020 presidential election have limited Tehran's diplomacy.

The show of unity in Iran in support of the IRGC will have no impact on political divides and is useless in the area of diplomacy. Solving Iran's current crisis needs planning and decision-making rather than just a show of unity.

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.