Trump takes aim at Iran Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - JOYCE KARAM Washington

US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is likely to des­ig­nate Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion this week as he lays out what aides call his “over­all Iran strat­egy.”

As Pres­i­dent Trump pre­pares to an­nounce that he is de­cer­ti­fy­ing the Iran nu­clea deal for the first time in two years - thus leav­ing its fate to con­gress - one US of­fi­cial said it was “likely but not fi­nal” that the ad­min­is­tra­tion will des­ig­nate the IRGC as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Such des­ig­na­tion would ful­fil a re­quire­ment by Con­gress un­der the Coun­ter­ing Amer­ica’s Ad­ver­saries Through Sanc­tions Act which was signed into law by Mr Trump on Au­gust 2. But there is also a risk that it would pro­voke re­tal­i­a­tion that would en­dan­ger Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to the new law, Mr Trump has 90 days, un­til Oc­to­ber 31, to ei­ther des­ig­nate the IRGC un­der the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s 13224 ter­ror­ist cat­e­gory, or waive that des­ig­na­tion for national se­cu­rity rea­sons. The ad­min­is­tra­tion could also choose to go fur­ther and des­ig­nate the IRGC as a For­eign Ter­ror­ist Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FTO) un­der state depart­ment author­ity, putting it in the same cat­e­gory as Hizbol­lah and Al Qaeda and war­rant­ing more sanc­tions in­ter­na­tion­ally for any en­tity that deals with the group. Sources close to the ad­min­is­tra­tion told The National that a 13224 list­ing, and not an FTO des­ig­na­tion, is the path the White House is more likely to take.

But even des­ig­na­tion un­der 13224 would be a mile­stone – the first time the US has la­belled the mil­i­tary branch of an­other coun­try as ter­ror­ists.

Amir Toumaj of the Foun­da­tion for De­fence of Democ­ra­cies told The National, “While Pres­i­dent Trump could waive it, it would be a po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult move be­cause he would have to jus­tify [to con­gress] that not designating the IRGC is in the vi­tal in­ter­est of US na-

tional se­cu­rity.” A 13224 des­ig­na­tion would freeze any as­sets the IRGC has in Amer­ica and bars any US trans­ac­tion with or through the group. The US des­ig­nated the Quds force in 2006 un­der the same cat­e­gory, but going after the IRGC is more wide-reach­ing and “a sig­nal for a more mus­cu­lar ap­proach to­wards the Is­lamic Repub­lic”, Mr Toumaj said.

A US state depart­ment of­fi­cial told The National: “We are deeply trou­bled by Iran’s long­stand­ing provoca­tive ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing its sup­port for ter­ror­ism and desta­bil­is­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in the re­gion. We are com­mit­ted to hold­ing Iran ac­count­able for its be­hav­iour.”

Right on cue, Ira­nian of­fi­cials this week vowed to de­liver a “crush­ing re­sponse” with “all op­tions on the ta­ble” if the IRGC is des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The mil­i­tary risks leave many in the US de­fence es­tab­lish­ment feel­ing ner­vous and hop­ing that the White House will re­con­sider.

James Durso, a for­mer Navy of­fi­cer for 20 years and the man­ag­ing direc­tor of con­sul­tancy firm Cor­sair, said that designating the IRGC a ter­ror­ist body would be a mis­take that would back­fire badly on Amer­ica.

“It would play right into IRGC’s hands, and put our troops and ad­vis­ers in Syria and Iraq in the line of re­tal­i­a­tion,” Mr Durso said. “Even­tu­ally one of them will get grabbed” – a ref­er­ence to the 1979 hostage cri­sis and the IRGC’s ea­ger­ness to pick a fight with the US.

Mr Durso said it could mean that any cap­tured US mil­i­tary per­son­nel would lose any pro­tec­tions un­der the Geneva Con­ven­tions or be de­prived of the in­ter­me­di­a­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross. With that in mind, he rec­om­mended going after the money and tight­en­ing screws on IRGC’s fi­nan­cial net­work, in­stead of “a des­ig­na­tion that you can not walk back”.

An­other draw­back lies in cut­ting off any bat­tle­field co­or­di­na­tion or de­con­flic­tion chan­nels with the IRGC or their prox­ies in­volved in the ground bat­tle against ISIL.

“Cer­tainly we have to watch out for that, given the his­tory of mili­tias at­tack­ing US forces in Iraq,” said Mr Toumaj. But he added: “Any IRGC re­sponse is likely to fall short of di­rect at­tack that would elicit a re­sponse, but they could be ex­pected to try to un­der­mine US in­ter­ests or at­tack through asym­met­ric means such as prox­ies.”

Mr Durso and Mr Tour­naj agree that the mil­i­tary pres­ence in Iraq and Syria, which will con­tinue for the fore­see­able fu­ture, is likely to be the pri­mary tar­get for any re­sponse from Iran. That will be at the core of de­bate in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­fore a de­ci­sion is an­nounced this week.

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