“It would be a cardinal error for the international community to fail to pressure the regime.”
By Hossein Abedini
The Diplomat, March 30, 2017 - Iran is once again capturing headlines following more provocative ballistic missile tests in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf in recent weeks. At the core of these tests, which violate the UN Security Council resolution, stands Tehran regime’s elite force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Established in 1979 by the founder of the “Islamic Republic” and the regime’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the IRGC allowed the theocracy to hijack the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations and usurp power by crushing any form of protest or dissent in the country. The IRGC was and is an instrumental tool for the clerical regime to preserve its survival and maintain power at home for the last 38 years by domestic repression complemented with sponsoring terrorism and fundamentalism under the banner of exporting “the Islamic Revolution” abroad.
This elite force reports directly to the Supreme Leader. In a new e-book, Iran: The Rise of the Revolutionary Guards’ Financial Empire, published earlier this week, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), documents a major corporate and money grab by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the IRGC at expense of Iran’s private sector and ordinary citizens and workers in Iran in order to finance its crackdown at home and malign influence in the Middle East.
According to the book, which maps the vast business holdings and wealth amassed by the IRGC and the Supreme Leader, “The Iranian regime has spent up to 100 billion dollars in the past five years financing operations in Syria that were instrumental in keeping the dictator Bashar Assad in power.”
Further revelations about this economic power grab were made at a press conference in the U.K. Parliament on March 7. During the conference, the NCRI presented new information gathered by one of its coalition members, the Iranian main opposition group , the PMOI, exposing network of illicit docks run by the IRGC in southern Iran.
The press conference also revealed details and previously unseen intelligence on IRGC controlled front companies engaged in smuggling arms for Tehran regime’s proxies in the region, particularly those operating in Yemen.
One of these front companies is the Admiral Group Shipping Company, with offices in Tehran and Dubai. It started its activities in 2012 and is owned by Ali Shamkhani’s children. Shamkhani himself was a former commander of the IRGC Naval Force and former Minister of Defence. He serves today as the Secretary of Supreme National Security Council that is involved in planning Tehran’s support for terrorism and destabilizing role abroad.
Under its current directors, Hossein and Hassan Shamkhani, the company has expanded its activities and now operates as far as the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. The company went from one vessel to nine in just five years and is used by the IRGC to smuggle all kinds of weapons to Yemen by land borders through Oman, circumventing a sea blockade imposed by the international community since 2015 to prevent the Iranian regime from smuggling weapons ino the country.
The Hafez Daraya Shipping Company was another front company to be exposed. It is used as a container transport company for many IRGC companies, with a fleet of 29 vessels to that end. It uses these vessels to transport goods to many different countries in the Middle East and worldwide and is responsible for shipping goods for the IRGC’s main engineering arm, the Khatam-al-Anbiya.
Ninety docks, about 45 percent of Iran’s official total, belong to the IRGC and the import and export of illicit goods from these docks amount to 12 billion dollars annually, according to the NCRI’s revelation at the conference.
As in other areas, the IRGC operates with total impunity from these docks as no authorities are allowed to oversee its actions at these border areas following a direct order from Khamenei.
More alarmingly, Khamenei has called for an expansion of the activities of these groups, in particular the economic arrangements, in an attempt to evade international sanctions imposed on the regime and generate more revenue to pursue Tehran’s malign influence in the Middle East.
Under these circumstances and Tehran’s increased warmongering recently, it would be a cardinal error for the international community to fail to pressure the regime and let it off the hook. Inaction will only embolden the Iranian regime and allow it to establish and arm similar proxy forces like the IRGC in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other Persian Gulf countries. This would crush every hope for any political solution to these humanitarian crises.
The first step to prevent such alarming development is to designate the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in the U.S. and the EU. This step should then be complemented with the complete removal of the IRGC members and its proxies from Syria and Iraq by the international community, which will create the necessary conditions for stability in the region.
Hossein Abedini is a member of the Parliament in exile of the Iranian resistance (NCRI) and belongs to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.