Iran’s terrorist guardians


Tehran has reacted with predictable hysteria to Washington’s announcement that the ayatollahs’ Revolutionary Guard is now considered to be a terrorist organization. To some observers, it is a mystery that this did not happened earlier, not least because the Quds Force, the foreign expeditionary arm of the Guard, has been deemed by Washington to be a terrorist group since 2007.

Had the Trump administration wished to go the extra mile, it could also have included the Basij militia, the thuggish band that played a major role in putting down the 2009 popular protests following the fixed presidential election.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is not simply committed to protecting the ayatollahs from the anger and despair of their own people. It has also seized for itself a pivotal economic position, with substantial interests in all levels of business. The payback for the IRGC’s devoted defense of the regime is its right to run roughshod over the interests of ordinary citizens. Few entrepreneurs or traders can function without the say-so of this arrogant elite and that permission is, more often than not, only obtained at a price. Thus, it has been notable that the bazaari merchants, who were once core supporters of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, are now in despair at the corruption and economic mismanagement which has deformed Iranian society and ruined their trade.

There is, however, an irony to the Trump clampdown on the IRGC. During the original UN sanctions that almost brought the ayatollahs’ regime to its financial knees, the Guards secured their dominant commercial position by organizing wholesale sanctions busting. They, of course, were the main beneficiaries and could use their extra wealth to extend their power and influence. The one tragic factor that comes with all economic sanctions against rogue regimes, whether in Saddam’s Iraq, North Korea or Iran, is that it is always the little people who suffer most. Providing dictators and their Praetorian Guards have the weapons and the will to crush dissent, they will not be the ones who will have to endure hard times.

It remains to be seen if US allies will follow Trump in calling out the IRGC for the terrorists that they really are. With a compliant Moscow and a disinterested Beijing at its back, Tehran may have already little to fear economically from Washington’s latest move against it. But the US president has at least made an important moral point. The IRGC in many ways resembles the Nazi’s fanatical SS, while Al-Quds as the fighting force, looks like the Waffen SS. The brutal street-level enforcers of the Basij resemble the part-time hoods of the Nazi’s SA.

The world was in a different place when Hitler’s minions crushed dissent and ran a murderous terrorist regime. Had Washington and London led world powers in sanctioning Nazi Germany in the 1930s, a terrible, bloodstained chapter in history might have been avoided. But since the end of the Second World War there have been the genocidal murders in Srebrenica, the carnage in Syria and the destructive chaos in Iraq and Yemen. In the last three and in most of the other destabilizing violence that has gripped the Arab world, Iran has played a crucial role. Tragically, to his everlasting shame, Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama abandoned the potent lever that was coming close to forcing Tehran to change its ways.