On January 23, European Union foreign ministers imposed a new round of sanctions on Iranian government officials and institutions suspected of involvement in a crackdown on protesters, including senior officers of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Last week, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution calling for the IRGC and related forces to be put on the EU’s list of terrorist groups. However, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on January 23 that step could not be taken without a court decision.
The European Parliament said its resolution was in response to the Iranian regime’s “violent, indiscriminate, disproportionate and unrestrained” suppression of peaceful protests and the “killing of protesters by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
Iran condemned the EU resolution.
Iranian parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said the vote means that the EU “acts as [a] supporter of terrorism, because the IRGC is the biggest and most successful anti-terrorist entity.”
Ghalibaf, a former senior IRGC officer and friend of its commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by the U.S. in 2020, also claimed that it was the IRGC that defeated the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
These claims are false.
Far from being the world’s biggest anti-terrorist force, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard has a record of providing material, personnel and intelligence support to terrorist groups in the Middle East and Africa. The U.S. and other nations have also accused the IRGC of direct involvement in terrorist attacks targeting U.S. diplomatic personnel and troops.
Created 43 years ago as a force to defend Iran’s religious system, the IRGC has gained military, political and economic influence in Iran. Its top officers enjoy direct ties to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is estimated to have nearly 200,000 active troops and also controls the Basij Resistance Force, which is reportedly able to mobilize more than half a million regime loyalists and traditionally used to brutally suppress any domestic dissidence. The IRGC carries out foreign operations through the Quds Force, which is accused of providing training, material and intelligence support to overseas militias and terrorist groups.
The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations wrote in 2019:
“The 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy and U.S. Marine and French paratrooper barracks in Beirut, as well as assassinations of regime opponents, have been attributed to Iranian operatives. They are also suspected in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center; an accusation Iran denies.
“U.S. President George W. Bush, who had previously identified Iran as a member of the ‘axis of evil,’ accused the Quds Force in 2007 of providing roadside bombs to Shia militants to kill American forces, though experts inside and outside the government questioned whether such orders came from the government. The Trump administration has attributed the deaths of 608 U.S. troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 to the IRGC.”
That same year, another American think tank, Washington D.C.’s Brookings Institution, argued:
“The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran has proved one of the most consequential events in the history of modern terrorism. The revolution led to a surge in Iranian-backed terrorism that continues, albeit in quite different forms, to this day.
“The 1979-80 hostage crisis and Iranian-backed attacks by Hezbollah on the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 killed over 300 Americans and were, until 9/11, the deadliest terrorist attacks on Americans in U.S. history.”
Furthermore, the IRGC did not singlehandedly defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. A global coalition of 68 countries led by the United States did most of that job. In Syria, Iran-supported militia groups and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, an Iranian ally, have gained a reputation for repression and brutality.
In announcing Washington’s intention to add the IRGC to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the designation was in response to the Iranian regime’s “use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft,” which “makes it fundamentally different from any other government.”
“This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world,” Pompeo said.