Evolving debates about Iran policy
Jan 17, 2023 | AIJAC staff
It is clear that views and policy toward Iran have been rapidly shifting in Western capitals in recent weeks, with Washington now conceding the previous focus on a return to the JCPOA nuclear deal is now “no longer on the agenda,” and Europe also stepping back from a previous commitment to a return to the JCPOA, and currently considering much tougher sanctions.
For instance, as AIJAC’s Oved Lobel has just documented, key European capitals, and even many political leaders in Australia, are seriously discussing listing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation.
In the context of this shift, this Update looks at some suggested policies that can help raise the pressure on Teheran and help support the courageous Iranian protestors still confronting the theocratic regime.
The first item is the foreword to a detailed policy plan for the US Government to implement to pressure Iran, developed by the Foundation for Defence of Democracies. Presented by scholars Mark Dubowtiz and Orde Kittrie, the foreword explains that the plan is based roughly on the US Reagan Administration’s 1983 National Security Directive designed to intensify the existing weaknesses of the then Soviet Union. They stress that the US needs to focus on the totality of Iran’s rogue behaviours, not just the nuclear program, and also seek to strengthen the pro-democracy forces in Iran, and offer a detailed program on how to do so, For Dubowitz and Kittrie’s explanation of what their plan seeks to do, and why, CLICK HERE. The full, detailed 54-page policy plan, with specific recommended measures to be taken by various US government departments, is here.
Next up is Iran expert Ray Takeyh and US foreign policy pundit Eric Edelman, arguing that the US should be doing more to support the pro-democracy protestors in Iran. The two stress that the courageous protestors no longer seek piecemeal changes or specific reforms, but regime change, and that US policy should reflect this shift in what the Iranian people want. Takeyh and Edelman stress that “the mainsprings of political change in Iran remain internal” but suggest some measures by which the US and other democratic nations can attempt to “assist, hasten, and perhaps even guide the revolutionary process” inside Iran. For the details of their analysis and policy proposals, CLICK HERE.
Finally, another Iran analyst, Farhad Rezaei, makes a strong case that the EU as a whole must follow up on the current discussions on listing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. He lists case after case in which the IRGC committed or attempted to commit terrorist acts in Europe. He also discusses the IRGC’s role in assisting Russia in Ukraine and in the brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy movement inside Iran to make his case. To read Rezaei’s powerful argument in full, CLICK HERE.
AIJAC’s Oved Lobel made a case for Australia to similarly list the IRGC in a piece published in the Australian last week.
Readers may also be interested in…
- An excellent editorial on the need for tougher Iran policies from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. Iran of course just executed a British-Iranian dual citizen, Alireza Akbari.
- In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald also had a strong editorial calling for Canberra to consider tougher action against Iran.
- A call for Westerners to “adopt” Iranian political prisoners to help save them from the gallows.
- A report that Russia is about to give Iran advanced fighter planes and other major military hardware.
- A BBC story on how difficult it is to report accurately from Iran.
- A good summary of the latest developments in the intense political controversy in Israel over proposed reforms to the judicial system by the new Israeli Government, from BICOM.
- Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid bemoans PA President Mahmoud Abbas entering the 19th year of his 4-year term in office.
- Jonathan Spyer on reasons for the recent growth in Israel-India relations.
- An introduction to the bio and challenges of Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi, the new IDF chief of Staff, who took office this week.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- In a piece published on News.com.au, AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein calls for the controversy over a Nazi costume worn as a 21-year-old by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet to be the spark for a renewed focus on countering the growing wave of antisemitism internationally.
- AIJAC’s media release on the Perrottet controversy is here.
- Judy Maynard dissects the latest pro-Palestinian social media meme: Israel as “environmental oppressor.”
- Video of AIJAC’s latest webinar, speaking with leading Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner about the agenda and challenges of Israel’s new Netayahu-led coalition Government, including the current controversy over proposed judicial reforms.
Strategy for a New Comprehensive U.S. Policy on Iran
Mark Dubowitz and Orde Kittrie
Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jan. 10, 2023
Shifting views on Iran in Washington: US President Joe Biden – “we’re going to free Iran”; former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – “I would not be negotiating with Iran on anything right now” (Photos: Wikimedia Commons)
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has developed a comprehensive plan for American policymakers and allies to support the Iranian people and confront the ongoing threats from the Islamic Republic of Iran. The strategy explains how Washington can deploy multiple elements of national power, providing specific and actionable recommendations for relevant agencies of the U.S. government.
The new revolution in Iran, combined with the regime’s military support to Russia, gives President Joe Biden and bipartisan majorities in Congress an opportunity to chart a new course.
President Biden has recognized this imperative, vowing “we’re going to free Iran.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said, “I would not be negotiating with Iran on anything right now, including the nuclear agreement.” Clinton emphasized that the United States should not “look like we are seeking an agreement [with Iran] at a time when the people of Iran are standing up to their oppressors.”
The administration has committed to Congress and to its allies that it is developing a “Plan B” to address the full spectrum of Iranian threats. We hope that this FDD plan is a useful contribution for policymakers developing that Plan B: providing intensive support to the Iranian people while pursuing decisive coercive and constraining pressure on the regime in Tehran.
Whatever the elements of an American plan, one thing should be clear: the Biden strategy must support the current protests inside Iran and the regular eruptions of anger toward the theocracy. Even before the Iranian street erupted in 2022, after regime security services brutally murdered 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, protests were occurring more often and with greater intensity.
In 2009, the Green Revolution saw hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the streets to protest the fraudulent re-election of then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nationwide protests shook the Islamic Republic in late 2017 and have occurred regularly in the years since. In November 2019, an eruption of protests spurred the clerical regime to kill as many as 1,500 demonstrators, according to Reuters.
Protesters gathered in August 2021 to challenge the regime over severe water shortages, leading security forces to kill several people. Other protests in recent years have challenged many of the regime’s malign policies, including its mismanaged economy, corruption, regional aggression, and human rights abuses.
Dubowitz and Kittrie recommend a comprehensive Iran strategy inspired by late US President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “rollback” policy document targeting the vulnerabilities of the Soviet Union. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The 2022 protests have gone even further, with thousands of Iranians abandoning calls for merely reforming the system; they now call for dismantling the regime. Protests have evolved from “Where is my vote?” to “What happened to the oil money?” to “Death to the Dictator!”7 This has increased the vulnerability of the Islamic Republic, making it more susceptible to collapse.
America should adopt a “roll back” strategy to intensify the existing weaknesses of the regime and to support the Iranian people’s goal of establishing a government that abandons the quest for nuclear weapons and is neither internally repressive nor regionally aggressive. To accomplish this, the American administration should take a page from the playbook President Ronald Reagan first used against the Soviet Union. In the early 1980s, Reagan seriously upgraded his predecessors’ containment strategy by pushing policies designed to roll back Soviet expansionism. The cornerstone of his strategy was the recognition that the Soviet Union was an aggressive and revolutionary yet internally fragile state that Washington could defeat.
Reagan’s policy was outlined in 1983 in National Security Decision Directive 75 (NSDD-75), a comprehensive strategy that called for the use of multiple instruments of overt and covert American power. The plan included economic warfare, support for anti-Soviet proxy forces and dissidents, and an all-out offensive against the regime’s ideological legitimacy.
The Biden administration should develop a new version of NSDD-75. The administration should address every aspect of the Iranian menace, not merely the nuclear program. A narrow focus on disarmament paralyzes American policy and has deterred the Biden administration from responding to Iran’s non-nuclear misconduct out of fear that Tehran would withdraw from nuclear negotiations. Engagement with the Islamic Republic as an end in itself has reflected the same delusions that American leaders entertained about Communist China. Those delusions of engagement made China more wealthy and more powerful and aggressive but did not moderate China’s rulers. The Iranian regime’s selection of Ebrahim Raisi — a mass-murdering cleric who is close to the supreme leader and received the lowest number of votes in a long history of fixed elections run by the Islamic Republic — as president should awaken American policymakers to the unmistakable conclusion: The Islamic Republic cannot be reformed; it must be rolled back. That is the message of the Iranian protesters.
President Biden also should explicitly abandon the objective of returning to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Under that agreement, Tehran does not need to cheat to reach threshold nuclear-weapons capabilities. Merely by waiting for key constraints to sunset, the regime can emerge over the next eight years with an industrial-size enrichment program, a near-zero breakout time, an easier clandestine “sneakout” path to long-range, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, much deadlier conventional weaponry, regional dominance, and a more powerful economy, enriched by an estimated $1 trillion in sanctions relief, thus gaining immunity from Western sanctions.
A new U.S. strategy regarding Iran must contribute to systemically rolling back the regime’s power. Washington should target the regime’s terrorist networks, influence operations, and proliferation of weapons, missiles, and drones. Iranian military support for Vladimir Putin’s murder of Ukrainians, and growing Russian support for the Islamic Republic’s military expansion, should be a wakeup call for Washington and Europe that Tehran’s malign activities will not remain confined to the Middle East. Biden must develop a more muscular covert action program and green-light closer cooperation with allied intelligence agencies.
Most of Washington’s actions that could push back Tehran hinge on depleting the Islamic Republic’s finances. With strong encouragement from Congress, the pre-JCPOA Obama Treasury Department and the Trump administration ran successful economic warfare campaigns targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other regime elements. This campaign devastated Iranian government finances, led to high inflation, spurred a collapse in oil exports and the Iranian currency, and precipitated multiple rounds of street protests. In 2019, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called the U.S. sanctions “unprecedented.” In the same year, then Iranian president Hassan Rouhani compared conditions in Iran to the country’s ravaged economy during the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988.
But President Trump’s pressure campaign lasted only two years (from the snapback of U.S. sanctions in November 2018 to the end of his term in January 2021) — even less considering oil sanctions waivers were ended only in May 2019. If the Biden administration restores the JCPOA, economic pressure will evaporate as hundreds of potent sanctions are lifted and an estimated $1 trillion dollars in sanctions relief will be released to the regime, which will then fund regional aggression and internal repression. Already, the lackluster enforcement of existing sanctions by the administration has been a boon for the regime, as oil exports to China soar and Tehran leverages a clandestine financial sanctions-busting network to access hard currency. FDD’s Iran plan, building on years of sanctions work by our scholars, recommends numerous actions that the Biden administration could take, including in coordination with Congress.
The nuclear reality is stark: The regime has rapidly expanded its nuclear program since the election of President Biden. The bulk of the most dangerous steps, including enrichment to 20 percent and 60 percent, as well as the installation of hundreds of advanced centrifuges, production of uranium metal, and the ongoing construction of a new facility that could be used for nuclear enrichment, occurred after that date. According to estimates, Tehran could “break out” and produce four bombs’ worth of weapons-grade uranium within weeks.
America’s Iran strategy thus needs a credible U.S. military threat, and a corresponding shift in the U.S. defense posture in the Middle East, to deter the regime in Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Washington also needs to ensure that the regime perceives the Israeli military option as credible and likely. The FDD plan offers numerous recommendations on how to do just that.
The American pressure campaign should also undermine the regime by strengthening the pro-democracy forces in Iran. It should target the regime’s soft underbelly: its massive corruption and human rights abuses, especially against women. As the recurring protests demonstrate, the gap between the ruled and the regime is expanding. Many Iranians no longer believe that the “reformists” can change the Islamic Republic from within. After the 2009 uprisings, Khamenei alluded to his regime as being “on the edge of a cliff.” President Biden should convey that America will help the Iranian people push it over that edge. FDD’s Iran plan offers numerous actionable recommendations on how to support the Iranian people’s efforts to achieve this objective.
To be sure, encouraging the collapse of a brutally repressive regime like the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be easy or predictable. It will require sustained U.S. pressure and a steely determination — perhaps over a period of years. Yet helping to free Iran remains a solution that Washington should not abjure merely because it is difficult. Ultimately, it remains the key to reducing instability in the region and advancing U.S. interests.
The Biden administration should present Iran with the choice between a new and better agreement and an unrelenting American pressure campaign, which includes the credible use of force. The nuclear issue likely will loom large for years to come. Disarmament demands should not require abandoning a campaign of pressure.
Washington does not need to have a public strategy to help collapse the clerical regime; Reagan did not have one for the USSR. Our political leaders, however, should underscore the inevitability of the fate of an ideologically, politically, and economically bankrupt regime that will end up on the “ash heap of history.” Reagan spoke that way about the Soviet Union in his famous 1982 Westminster speech. In 1983, he issued NSDD-75. Six years later, the Berlin Wall came down. Two years after that, the Soviet bloc collapsed.
Washington should intensify the pressure on the mullahs as Reagan did on the Soviets. We would be far better off without another dogged enemy armed with atomic weapons if we can possibly avoid it.
Iran’s Protesters Want Regime Change
America Should Lend Them a Hand
By Eric Edelman and Ray Takeyh
Foreign Affairs, Jan. 2, 2023
On September 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian, died in police custody after being detained for ostensibly wearing a hijab improperly. Amini was not the first woman to be arrested nor was she the first person killed by the police. Her death, however, ignited a protest movement that gave voice to public anger and frustration that had been building for months. Farmers had been complaining about the lack of water, students about the lack of freedom, teachers about the lack of pay, and retirees about the lack of benefits. In 2020, we argued in Foreign Affairs that Iran’s Islamic Republic was weaker than many Western analysts and policymakers thought. Today’s protests suggest we were right. The Islamic Republic is resilient but not impervious to the social forces at work in Iranian society.
Since its inception more than four decades ago, Iran’s theocratic regime has been rocked by demonstrations. In 1999, students took to the streets to protest the closure of a reformist newspaper. In 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president via a rigged election, sparking the Green Movement, a middle-class revolt calling for clean elections. And in 2017 and 2019, the rising prices of fuel and bread led to revolts among poor Iranians. Previous uprisings were segmented by class. Today, in contrast, Iranians have come together under the banner of “Women, Life, and Liberty.” This is a rebellion for dignity, freedom, and government accountability, similar to the Arab Spring—a series of demonstrations in Arab countries incited by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit seller. Iranian protesters today are not calling for reform but for the extinction of the Islamic Republic. They want regime change. The United States should help from afar by increasing sanctions and improving communication among the demonstrators.
THE DEVIL WE KNOW
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has dismissed the protests as foreign plots, claiming they were “planned by America and the usurper, fake Zionist regime.” In addition to this institutional gaslighting, the regime’s traditional playbook has been to confront demonstrators with a quick show of force, disable social media platforms to prevent coordination, arrest ringleaders, and then wait for the movement to gradually subside. Despite their reputation for ferocity, the mullahs have been reluctant to use indiscriminate force. They, like all despots, fear that their conscript armies may prove reluctant to shoot fellow compatriots. The sheer persistence of the demonstrations, however, and their spread across the country have confounded the government and withstood its well-honed strategy of dealing with dissent.
There are signs that this movement will prove more durable than those of the past. Iran’s nascent revolt still lacks identifiable leaders and an organized structure. And no revolution can succeed without revolutionaries. But a few months into the protests, groups such as Youth of Tehran have sprung up and successfully called for demonstrations. The opposition has also staged strikes in most of Iran’s provinces: bazaars have closed and businesses have shuttered as a gesture of solidarity with the protesters. As demonstrations continue, security forces will likely grow exhausted. Cracking down on protesters takes a psychological toll.
Iran’s demonstrations have divided the political elite—another important precondition for revolutionary change. Khamenei likely fears that many conservative establishmentarians are beginning to distance themselves from the government. Ali Larijani, a former speaker of the parliament said, “We must provide the public venues for protest and a means of conducting a dialogue.” Mohammad Khatami, a former president, issued a widely read statement praising the protesters’ intent and slogan. Even Islamic Republic, a newspaper founded by Khamenei, rejected the supreme leader’s claim that foreigners were behind the turmoil: “The problems of inflation, unemployment, drought, and destruction of the environment have caused people, ranging from retirees, educators and students, to protest.” Such support from mainstream politicians is unprecendented, indicating that the Islamic Republic’s grip is weakening.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls for a “stern” response to the protests in an address to supporters on Jan. 9. But others in the regime are increasingly calling for concessions to the protest movement (Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo)
Throughout this crisis, the regime has appeared unsettled. The elderly Khamenei has spent the past few years purging the government of all but sycophants and is now surrounded by mediocrities. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is a laconic apparatchik who lacks the imagination to deal with complicated situations. Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of the judiciary, oscillates between calling for dialogue with the opposition and issuing threats. The vaunted Iranian intelligence services missed the onset of the rebellion and have failed to come to grips with its dimensions. The regime’s strategy of incremental violence has so far caused the death of more than 500 people, enough to generate martyrs but not sufficient to deter the protest movement. The regime’s executions of protesters further alienates its constituents. The Islamic Republic seems to be losing its footing.
WITH HELP FROM WASHINGTON
As we argued in 2020, the United States should pursue regime change in Iran. Despite an uncertain outcome, it may be the only way to slow Iran’s efforts to gain nuclear weapons, and it would limit, if not eliminate, Iran’s chronic meddling in the internal affairs of its neighbors. The mainsprings of political change in Iran remain internal. Nevertheless, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden can take steps to assist, hasten, and perhaps even guide the revolutionary process.
First, the United States should formally declare that it will end negotiations with Iran on a putative return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement that slows Iran’s progress on nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. The United States should also make clear that it will not negotiate with an Iranian government that is repressing the Iranian people and destabilizing its neighbors. Such declarations would rob the regime of its ability to generate hope among the population that sanctions might be lifted under its rule.
Publicly closing the door on negotiations would also free up the Biden administration to fully enforce sanctions already on the books. The United States should target Iranian officials guilty of the most egregious human rights violations, bolstering hope among Iran’s people for government accountability. This should be accompanied by full-throated and ongoing U.S. government statements supporting the protesters and drawing attention to the worst instances of repression.
The United States should also try to chip away at censorship and promote information sharing among the protesters. Sending Starlink terminals, as suggested by Elon Musk, could help such an effort by enabling the opposition to get around the regime’s censorship and blocks on social media. Other software apps, such as Ushahidi, have been used to monitor elections in sub-Saharan Africa by allowing voters to share images of polling places. Such applications could be repurposed to allow Iranians to share images of acts of protest in different parts of the country, enabling coordination among different groups of protesters and, by forcing the government to overstretch its security forces, making it harder for the regime to quash dissent. The United States should also use popular social media channels, such as Telegram, to provide dissidents with accurate information about what is going on throughout the country, including protests, human rights abuses, and executions. The expansion and creative use of such channels of communication could help new protest leaders emerge and drown out regime propaganda.
In addition, the United States should ramp up broadcasting by the Voice of America’s Persian Service and Radio Farda and fund private television broadcasting by Iranian expats, which could provide additional fuel for the fire raging in the streets of Iranian cities. Currently, the United States is projected to spend less than $30 million in the 2023 fiscal year on broadcasting in Iran. This is an instance in which throwing a small amount of money at the problem could have a disproportionate impact.
According to The New York Times, in December 2022, oil workers and steelworkers stopped working out of sympathy for the protesters in one of Iran’s biggest general strikes in decades. Washington should make every effort to support these actions and help trade-union activists communicate with one another. U.S. aid to the antiauthoritarian Polish Solidarity movement in the late 1980s helped prompt the collapse of the Soviet Union. A parallel effort in Iran today could help stoke a similar breakdown in the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian regime has ruled the country for nearly half a century. In that time, it has been remarkably resilient, defying public demands for greater human rights and modernization. As of now, the protests do not appear to be on the brink of bringing the government down, but revolutions are inherently unpredictable. For the sake of the Iranian public and U.S. security interests in the region, the Biden administration should do all it can to make sure the Iranians putting their lives on the line to foment change are successful in retaking their country.
ERIC EDELMAN is Counselor at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Senior Adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He served as U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 2005 to 2009.
RAY TAKEYH is Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Last Shah: America, Iran, and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty.
The EU Must Designate Iran’s IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization
Providence Magazine, January 14, 2023
Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate lit up with the slogan of the Iranian protest movement, Jin, Jiyan, Azadi (“Woman, Life, Freedom”), during a recent demonstration against the Iranian regime (Photo: dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo)
On January 16 the European Parliament will debate adding the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to the European Union’s terrorist list. Proscribing the IRGC as a terror organization by the European countries represents a robust political stance, serving multiple purposes: protecting human rights in Iran, preventing further terror attacks in Europe, and punishing the Revolutionary Guards for arming Russia and participation in war in Ukraine.
The IRGC is the premier and the largest terrorist organization in the world, created on May 5, 1979, by order of Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, the founding father of the Islamic Revolution. It was formed primarily for two specific goals: defending the regime and exporting the Islamic revolution to neighboring countries through terrorism. Over time, the IRGC, aided by its proxies, carried out dozens of terror attacks around the world against American and Israeli targets and took effective control of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
In 2007, the U.S. State Department designated the Quds Force (QF), the Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations division, as a terrorist organization. However, until 12 years later in 2019, the US government was hesitant to designate the IRGC itself as a terror group. The long-time reluctance was caused by handwringing over the false argument that the IRGC is part of the Iranian state and is considered a branch of Iran’s armed forces. Despite these concerns, there is nothing about the behavior of the IRGC to indicate that it is comparable to the normal conventional army of a nation-state. As one scholar noted, “Similar to other Islamist militias such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, radicalization and indoctrination are key for the Revolutionary Guards. The IRGC modus operandi -militancy, terrorism, hostage-taking, hijacking, and insurgency – shows it doesn’t behave like a nation-state’s conventional arms force but rather like terror groups.”
The Revolutionary Guards has also operated against dozens of targets in the European continent. Approximately half of the 124 lethal operations that the IRGC has carried out in foreign countries since 1979 occurred in Europe. For instance, on December 7, 1979, the IRGC agents conducted a terror operation in Paris and assassinated Shahriar Shafiq, a member of the House of Pahlavi. In 1980, the IRGC plotted to assassinate Shapour Bakhtiar, the last Prime Minister of Iran under the Pahlavi monarchy, in Paris. Though Bakhtiar survived, the assassination attempt resulted in the death of a French police officer and a civilian. Bakhtiar was assassinated in the second terror plot on August 6, 1991, in a joint operation by the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence Service of the Islamic Republic (MOIS).
On February 7, 1984, by the order from the IRGC, the Islamic Jihad Organization assassinated Arteshbod Gholam-Ali Oveissi, the chief commander of the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his brother Gholam Hossein, in Paris.
On July 13, 1989, Mohammad Sahraroudi, the head of the IRGC intelligence organization (Sazman-e Ettellaate Sepah), carried out a terror operation in Vienna and assassinated Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, the Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) and his aids Abdullah Ghaderi Azar and Fadhil Rassoul.
On April 24, 1990, Kazem Rajavi, a university professor known for his work as a human rights advocate, was killed in Geneva. On April 18, 1991, the IRGC assassinated Abdolrahman Boromand in Paris. On August 3, 1992, the German-Iranian Fereydoun Farrokhzad was murdered in his apartment in Bonn. In another joint operation, the IRGC and MOIS assassinated Sadegh Sharafkandi (Ghassemlou’s successor) on September 17, 1992, in the Mykonos Greek restaurant in Berlin, Germany. On May 27, 1996, Reza Mazloman was assassinated in Paris, and Bizhan Fazeli was killed in London in 1986.
Calls to list the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group are snowballing around the world – a protestor in Canada (Photo: Puffin’s Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo).
The perceived successes of such terrorist attacks, which had literally no cost for the Revolutionary Guards, encouraged the IRGC to continue its terror operations in Europe even after the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” nuclear agreement was signed with Iran in 2015. Between 2015 to 2017, Revolutionary Guards agents killed at least three dissidents in Western Europe, including an Iranian Arab activist who was gunned down in front of his home in the Hague. In 2018, the IRGC operatives plotted terrorist attacks in Albania, including targeting MEK event to silence dissidents. In June 2018, the IRGC plotted to blow up a meeting of an estimated 100,000 Iranians and hundreds of international dignitaries in Paris. The two Iranian diplomats who were behind the plot were IRGC affiliates. According to a British Member of Parliament who attended the rally, “had the plot succeeded, it would have been the deadliest terror operation ever carried out in Europe.”
In October 2018, the Guards had tried to carry out a plot in Denmark to assassinate an exiled leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA). The IRGC was involved in another assassination plot in the Netherlands in 2018. In 2020, Mohammed Mehdi Mozayyani, a member of the IRGC, attempted to carry out lethal operations in the UK. Mozayyani, had also conspired to conduct operations in Albania in 2018 and 2019.
More recently, the IRGC has stepped up its efforts to kidnap and kill European activists and journalists, dissidents who have fled the country, media organizations critical of the regime; and Jewish civilians or those with alleged links to Israel. In November 2022, the British MI5 (domestic security agency) uncovered at least 10 “potential threats” from the IRGC to kidnap or kill British nationals. The IRGC Intelligence Organization has targeted employees at BBC Persian and Iran International TV channels based in London, labeling them “instruments of the West and peddlers of anti-regime sentiment” and “terrorist news channels.” More recently, yesterday, Hossein Salami, commander of the IRGC, threatened Charlie Hebdo staff with assassination for their alleged “insulting Islamic Republic clerics.”
With Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a European country, Revolutionary Guards has expanded its offensive against the West by getting involved in the war. The IRGC provides the Russian army with military advisors, kamikaze drones, and short-range ballistic missiles (Fateh-110 and Zulfiqar) to destroy Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure. The Shahed-136 drone used by Russia damaged “40 percent of Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure.” Reportedly, the IRGC is going to supply Russia with more military advisors, drones, and ballistic missiles to use in its unjust war against Ukrainians.
The IRGC also plays a key role in the regime’s brutal campaign against Iranian democratic movements. It played a significant role in crackdowns on Iran protesters in the past (1999, 2009, 2017, and 2019) and during the current round of protests. During the 1999 student demonstrations, the IRGC forces and its Basij militia killed several students, injured hundreds, kidnapped dozens, and arrested more than a thousand. In 2009, the IRGC and the Basij killed over 200 protesters (unofficial reports indicate 700 protesters), paralyzed 830 protesters who will never be able to walk again due to spinal cord injuries, and imprisoned, tortured, raped, and kidnapped thousands. In 2019, the IRGC forces killed 1,500 protesters, including 17 teenagers and 400 women, within two weeks of unrest. During the current round of nationwide protesters, which started in September 2022 over the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish girl who was murdered by the morality police, the IRGC and Basij forces killed approximately 600 protesters, of whom 65 were children, and dozens were girls. The Guards imprisoned over 19,000 protesters, forcing the Revolutionary Court judges to issue death sentences for the detainees.
The EU has imposed financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic and the IRGC to abandon terrorism, but the financial pressure has not been sufficiently powerful to induce them to change course. Only adding the Revolutionary Guards to the EU terror list can increase pressure on the regime to abandon terrorism or, at the very least, impede their ability to continue their bad behavior. The FTO designation would also restrict financial resources to the IRGC and restrict their freedom of movement by making it harder for Revolutionary Guards agents to travel Europe.
The IRGC’s actions in Ukraine should also give European countries another strong reason for a more robust policy to counter this terrorist organization. In the absence of strong action, the IRGC will continue to undertake aggression without cost
Farhad Rezaei is a senior research fellow at the Philos Project.