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Iran’s Dreaded Revolutionary Guards Will Test US Resolve

They are roughly 125,000 in number. A product of the 1979 Revolution, they have expanded well beyond their mandate and into a “socio-military-political-economic force. They are guardians of the country’s Islamic Republic system and the first line of defense against foreign interference. They are a branch of Iran’s armed forces, but labeled as a terrorist organization by many.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the backbone of Iran’s political regime and a key player in the country’s economy.

But its resolve to ensure the survival of Iran will be tested now, with the United States President Donald Trump now targeting the source of IRGC’s covert funding.

The US recently imposed fresh sanctions on a network of banks, companies and individuals spread across Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for laundering billions of dollars for the benefit of the elite Guards, the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics. The network has already transferred over $1 billion so far. The objective of the latest sanction is to weaken IRGC’s capacity to feed terrorism on foreign soil.

But is it truly a terrorist organization? Over the years, many incidents have strengthened that view.

IRGC is accused of spreading its ideology in neighboring regions by training and funding terrorist organizations. They are believed to use the Quds Force, a unit of IRGC to carry out unconventional warfare, to train Islamic militants.

The US State Department says IRGC is supporting Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel and the Iraqi insurgency in southern Iraq. In 2007, the US Senate passed legislation, designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.

In 2018, Albania accused Iran of plotting terrorist attacks in the country with the help of the Revolutionary Guards and expelled Iran’s ambassador in retaliation. In 2015, Bahraini security forces discovered a large bomb-making factory in Nuwaidrat and arrested a number of suspects linked to the IRGC. Two Iranians with links to IRGC were arrested for their involvement in terrorist activities in Kenya in 2012. The Guards have also left their mark in Thailand, Argentina, Denmark and France.

Whether the latest US sanctions will make any difference, only time will tell because historically, sanctions have not had much effect on the functioning of the Guards. Rather, it has helped them consolidate their influence in the country. After the US cancelled the Iran deal made in 2015 and imposed heavy sanctions, almost every foreign company pulled out of the country, leaving a vacuum. It enabled the IRGC to build vast business networks and take control of the economy. They are expected to take charge of the energy sector soon.

The Revolutionary Guard Corps has already warned that should countries continue to listen to the US call to stop buying Iranian oil, Tehran would block all exports through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.

Mere sanctions will not help. Trump has to prepare a game plan for consequences as well.

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