Several reports have indicated that the Biden administration is considering removing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. As senior Trump administration officials who led the process that recommended the designation in 2019, we feel compelled to explain why it would be dangerous to delist it as a concession to get Tehran back on an agreement to entice the proliferation of nuclear weapons – and undermine the deal itself.
The terrorist list is one of the most powerful tools in our national security arsenal — a designation by the State Department and other agencies that not only economically isolates the offending entity, but also imposes sanctions on any other group that provides material support to it (what can be, from food and shelter to weapons). In essence, the designation penalizes companies doing business with the sanctioned organization and exposes those companies to increased risk of civil lawsuits from victims of the organization.
The Revolutionary Guards were established in 1979 to defend the Islamic Revolution. IRGC members are the key enforcers of Tehran’s domestic security operations and foreign military operations. At the Trump White House, we had ample historical and contemporary evidence of the group’s terrorist activities and evidence that those activities expanded after the signing of the 2015 joint comprehensive plan of action. We knew that the Revolutionary Guards played a key role in the Iranian regime’s increasing support and sponsorship of terrorism through proxies such as the Houthis, Hamas, Hezbollah and various Iraqi militias.
For example, in 2011 the IRGC participated in a plan to bomb a Georgetown restaurant to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States – an attack which, if not foiled by the FBI, would have killed scores of innocent American civilians as well .
In 2015, a senior Iranian diplomat who was also a member of the IRGC was expelled from Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo. for planning an attack near the Israeli Embassy, which would have killed both Israeli diplomats and Uruguayan civilians.
In 2018, authorities in Belgium, France and Germany arrested several IRGC operatives, including a certified Iranian diplomat a conspiracy to plant a bomb disrupting a political rally in Paris that would have killed scores of innocent civilians, including Americans.
In the same year were two agents arrested and charged for covert surveillance of Israeli and Jewish facilities in the United States and gathering identifying information about US citizens and US nationals who were members of an Iranian opposition group.
Designating the IRGC as a terrorist group was no easy act as it would be the first time the US government would impose sanctions on part of a foreign military and would raise serious concerns that our own forces would also be subject to retaliatory sanctions. After several months of inter-agency debate ending in early April 2019, the argument that the IRGC was not functioning as a normal military, but as an operational terrorist arm of the Iranian regime, won out.
All meetings of the National Security Council for appointment have been carefully documented through the NSC Executive Secretariat, which has kept these records in the NSC archives. These records are available in full for our successors should they wish to review the evidence that prompted President Donald Trump’s decision to place the Revolutionary Guard on the terrorist list. The expulsion should not be reversed without an equally thorough procedure.
The evidence that the IRGC was a terrorist group when it was designated in 2019 was overwhelming and remains so to this day. As more plans were hatched, the IRGC increasingly found its resources and activities restricted by these and other sanctions.
The dramatic isolation of the Russian economy is a case study in how economically dominant the United States remains on the world stage. And while sanctions are not the solution to all problems, they are a crucial tool when applied consistently and according to the strict rules governing their use. Delisting the IRGC to persuade the Iranian regime to join a new nuclear weapons pact will undermine the credibility of US sanctions. They will appear negotiable from now on and will not be tied to the behavior they are supposed to punish.
The aim of the new nuclear deal is supposedly to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. If the Revolutionary Guards are delisted as a result of the deal, they will once again escalate their terrorist activities around the world, dangerously disrupting the very peace the deal is intended to ensure. No politically motivated diplomatic “victory” is worth the terrible defeat it would be for all of us.