Yossi Mansharof, Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, May 1, 2019
With permission, read full article at JISS.
In a bold move, the Trump administration has designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). This is historical justice, since the IRGC has sponsored various terrorist militias and organizations, Shiite and Sunni alike, which have committed many attacks against Western, Israeli and Sunni targets.
The Iranian leadership believes that terrorism plays anuseful role in Iranian foreign policy. The IRGC has been involved in assassinations of Iranian opposition figures living outside Iran; attacks that have recently also been renewed on European soil. In fact, Trump’s move corrects an absurd situation in which two IRGC proxies, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite militias Kataib Hezbollah, have long been designated as an FTO, but not their patron, the IRGC (– although the IRGC has been under significant US sanctions since 2007).
The administration intent to brand the IRGC was reported back in October 2017. Yet the decision may have been delayed by then-IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari threats to target American soldiers worldwide and to launch missile attacks on American bases located over a 2,000 km radius if the IRGC was designated as an FTO. Jafari has now threatened again to wreak “disquiet for American forces in the region of Western Asia.” Iran also labeled the US Central Command (Centcom) as a terrorist entity.
But Trump has not been deterred, and is ramping-up it’s the US economic war against Iran. The designation facilitates the promotion of legal action against Iran for terror attacks it has orchestrated against American soldiers and citizens worldwide over the years, including the killing of at least 608 American service members during the Iraq War (2003-2011).This also pressures the Iraqi government to stem the meddling of the IRGC in Iraq, specifically Iranian sponsorship of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The designation of the IRGC as a FTO should tighten the economic noose on Iran. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has admitted that Hezbollah is facing economic hardship due to the anti-Iran sanctions. These difficulties have forced the organization to cut salaries and halt the financing of soldiers returning from the Syrian battlefield, as well as its educational, media and medical Da’wa infrastructures.
Iranian strategy seems to be wait-out the Trump administration. Consequently, it is unlikely that Tehran will act on its threats to attack American targets at the present time. An Iranian attack would play into the hands of hawkish wing Trump administration figures, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton and could lead to a direct military confrontation between Tehran and Washington.
Even an Iranian attempt to take revenge on the US via one of its proxies is unlikely, since the US is wise to Tehran’s mode of action; and again, Iran seeks to avoid direct military confrontation with Washington. This also applies to Jafari’s threat to target American troops in Western Asia, as well as similar threats from Khamenei’s mouthpiece Kayhan.
Yet one cannot exclude the possibility that Iran will choose to launch an attack against an American target through groups not necessarily known as Iranian allies and proxies, such as the Somali al-Shabab or one of Al-Qaeda’s offshoots. Iran’s complicity in Al-Qaeda attacks was well illustrated in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 as well as fatal Al-Qaeda attacks against American troops during the 2003-2011 Iraq War.
It is more likely that Iran will retaliate for the American FTO designation by cyber attacks, provocative moves against American vessels in the Persian Gulf, and an acceleration of arrests against American-Iranian citizens. But Iran won’t go beyond some bellicose rhetoric. It won’t dare attack Centcom targets in the region.
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