ThreatsWatch.Org: Commentary

IRGC Designation and the Law of Unintended Consequences

White House Err In Designating Iran's IRGC a Terrorist Organization?

By Steve Schippert

The intent in the President's Executive Order to specially designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity may be to increase international pressure to divest from the Iranian regime and injure the elite IRGC. Specially designating the IRGC a terrorist entity will have the desired economic impact. Of that one can be assured. But its eventual effects will likely be more consequential and its overall impact detrimental to our own efforts in the War on Terror by unnecessarily muddying waters that at current are quite clear in a conflict that is otherwise replete with complexities.

The stated aim of the designation is to target the IRGC an its many commercial endeavors financially, bringing international pressure to bear on firms who do lucrative business with the elite Iranian military force. The IRGC's Quds Force is expressly responsible for supporting international terrorist groups such as Hizballah in Iran. David Sands and Kenneth Timmerman detail the enormity of IRGC business dealings. Timmerman says the IRGC military-industry has evolved so much over the past three years that it is closer “to being a military-economic cartel, similar to the People’s Liberation Army in Communist China,” rather than a purely military branch.

The IRGC – and its directing regime – needs to be confronted and challenged. Ralph Peters may be quite right in observing that, while the stated intent is to target the IRGC financially, the administration may be seeking legal justification for airstrikes on IRGC units and posts. If the aim is no more than financial, did we then lack alternative diplomatic means before the specific designation to psychologically impact our allies currently invested in IRGC projects in Iran, such as France, Japan, Italy and others?

The more important question, however, is whether or not we require designating a military branch of a state-actor as a terrorist group in order for such a defense.

That “defense” is not limited to just military strikes, but also financial efforts as those the administration is undertaking now with the terrorist designation. And what's more, it's not as if the designation affects direct and immediate legal or financial consequences for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As Timmerman notes, the Iranian terror trainers have no US holdings that can be directly impacted. So the administration is “clearly counting on the fear factor,” hoping to make international investors “think twice” about their dealings with IRGC projects, such as Iran's southern oil fields.

Designating the IRGC a terrorist organization will likely have precisely the desired economic effect. But can this purely psychological impact (beyond our borders, definitions and laws) not be achieved under the existing “state sponsor of terrorism” umbrella? If not, why not?

Ask precisely how Iran sponsors international terrorism, and it must be concluded that it is almost exclusively through their IRGC and Quds Force. So why separate the IRGC from its commanding regime?

Do we really need to specifically designate Iran's most elite military branch as a terrorist entity to justify such defense against those who are killing our troops in Iraq, both directly and via sponsorship and arms support?

The short answer is “No.” The long answer is more colorful and spoken by soldiers and Marines in the field losing their brothers at Iranian hands. Specially designed Iranian-supplied EFP's claim the bulk of US casualties incurred by roadside blasts. During the last quarter of 2006, “EFP attacks accounted for 18 percent of combat deaths of Americans and allied troops in Iraq.” And the level of EFP shipments is increasing, not decreasing.

But perhaps the most convincing single incident was the Karbala operation of January 20, 2006. The IRGC's Quds Force planned, trained and perhaps directly participated in an attack that ended up with 5 US soldiers killed, four of them summarily executed on the side of the road after being abducted. That attack employed men in American-style uniforms, at least one of them with blonde hair speaking American English, in order to gain entry to the Karbala compound.

What's more, Aviation Week and Space Technology published in a June article that an American reconnaissance satellite discovered an Iranian mock-up of the Karbala compound where the attack took place. It reported that "The U.S. believes that the discovery indicates Iran was heavily involved in the attack, which relied on a fake motorcade to gain entrance to the compound.” Aviation Week added, "The duplicate layout in Iran allowed attackers to practice procedures to use at the Iraqi compound, the Defense Department believes."

'Rogues' within a state – as some have tried to characterize lethal IRGC/Quds Force actions in Iraq - do not build entire mock-ups, coordinate and train foreign actors, and supply vast amounts of precision-milled shaped copper EFP's without the acknowledgment of their state apparatus.

Unless the Bush Administration dismisses a definition of terrorism which in essence includes “an unlawful threat or act of violence committed for a political purpose by a non-state actor,” then the action of designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Quds Force as terrorists by definition sets them apart from the Iranian regime and state. How wise is this?

Ralph Peters says, “Our policy is that we reserve the right to whack terrorists anywhere in the world. Now we have newly designated terrorists.” He's quite right. But do we not also equally reserve the right to defend ourselves against state actors who kill and/or facilitate killing our troops in the field?

Does it matter at the end of the day whether that state actor trains, arms and deploys terrorists or sends their own men to do the job? It shouldn't.

Either Iran is attacking us or they are replete with “rogue” elements who somehow persistently operate beyond the control of – and against the wishes of - the regime who leads Friday prayers in Tehran streets with “Death to America!” chants. The Iranian regime makes no bones about their intent. However, they quite skillfully leave their specific actions just ambiguous enough for us to reliably debate ourselves into inaction. And, as do all nations, we reserve the right to defend ourselves by any and all means against all attackers - states and terrorists alike.

These are not words seeking war. They are, however, words seeking clarity. That said, the special designation of the IRGC and Quds Force is certainly more clarity than in the past, insofar as it identifies the Administration's position and policy. Nevertheless, labeling a sanctioned arm of a state sponsor of terrorism as a terrorist group – lumping it with al-Qaeda and other non-state actors – is perplexing in the sense that it removes clarity from an already elusive definition of what a terrorist group is (i.e. a state or non-state actor).

If we cannot affect the same pressure on such terror-training and -supplying organs of a state identified as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” then perhaps we need to revisit our self-defined and sanctioned actions against such state sponsors rather than shoe-horn their specific military branches into the definition of a terrorist group.

We cannot simply re-classify or redefine the actions of those who kill us and openly seek to destroy us. When a state's military conducts regular attacks upon another, it is by definition an act of war. We may not like it. We may even try to redefine it. And we may ultimately decide that such provocation does not warrant an in-kind response. But it is what it is, regardless. We need not conflate the “non-state” or “sub-national” definition of a terrorist group in order to justify targeting – militarily or financially - any state or group that kills or seeks to kill our civilians or soldiers.