BY ALI SAFAVI
The Hill, Apr 3, 2017 - Napoleon once said, “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” Apparently true. Last week, the Iranian regime imposed sanctions on 15 American companies it accused of “support for terrorism,” among other things. None of the targeted U.S. companies do business in Iran. It is safe to say none are reconsidering their futures there.
The farcical move is apparently a response to U.S. sanctions placed on dozens of Iranian entities earlier this year following Iran’s unlawful ballistic missile tests. It is hard to see how a real estate company made Tehran’s list, but who are we to judge? As the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, the mullahs presumably know a thing or two about the subject.
Tehran’s comical tit-for-tat is the latest salvo in reaction to the Trump administration’s tougher rhetoric. For years, America pursued a fervent policy of appeasement, rewarding Tehran’s malicious acts with more concessions. Each round of bad behavior/unearned rewards gave Tehran a false sense of control. That bubble has burst.
The outlandish behavior will likely continue. One senior Iranian lawmaker said Iran is also considering a bill branding the U.S. military and the CIA as “terrorist groups.” That bill would be its reaction to the U.S. Congress passing a bill designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
The White House’s review of that possibility has rattled Tehran. The IRGC controls the overwhelming portion of Iran’s entire economy. An FTO designation would have far-reaching consequences for the mullahs.
In 2005, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei executed an elaborate and comprehensive plan to strengthen the IRGC. In May of that year, Khamenei issued a directive instructing the government to transfer 80 percent of its holdings to "non-governmental public, private and cooperative sectors" — a.k.a. Khamenei and IRGC affiliates — by 2009. A month later, he engineered the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad came out of nowhere to occupy the presidential palace. A day before the election, official opinion polls had pegged his support at 1.7 percent. The poll favorite, with 28-percent support (a 17-fold superiority over Ahmadinejad), was the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
True to form, Ahmadinejad quickly stacked ministries with veterans of the IRGC. Half of his cabinet members were IRGC members. A year earlier, IRGC veterans had won the majority of seats in parliament. Shortly after Ahmadinejad’s win, the IRGC announced an internal restructuring push to reflect its expanding roles and responsibilities on the political playing field.
According to the new book published by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, entitled, "The Rise of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Financial Empire," the state-owned assets transferred to the IRGC included large mines, primary industries, foreign commerce, banks, insurance, power industries, post, roads, railroads, airlines and shipping companies.
By some estimates, $12 billion worth of assets were transferred to Khamenei and the IRGC from 2005 to 2008.
Khamenei and the IRGC own 14 major powerhouses that run the economy. These include a conglomerate known as Setad; the foundations (or bonyads) like the Mostazafan, Astan-e Qods, and Shahid foundations; the IRGC Cooperatives; major business empires like the Khatam Construction Co. and Ghadir Investments; as well as "cooperatives" controlled by the security forces.
The IRGC’s rising financial star has been a gold mine for terrorists.
Tehran is spending anywhere between $15-20 billion annually to fund the war in Syria, including at least $1 billion in salaries to its proxies. At least $1 billion is provided annually to the Lebanese Hezbollah. Yemen and Iraq are two other theaters where the IRGC and Khamenei have poured substantial sums of money to buy regional influence.
The IRGC has become an economic behemoth. It is now in a position to fund a range of conflicts and terrorist operations in multiple theaters simultaneously, producing widespread devastation for Middle Eastern populations with major security implications for the West.
Western business ventures and governments should accept the reality that doing business with Iran is doing business with the IRGC. The proceeds, like all the IRGC’s profits, will end up fueling Tehran’s sectarian designs and proxy wars in the region, further threatening regional stability and U.S. interests.
Tehran must be held accountable for its malign behavior. The new administration should designate the IRGC as a terrorist entity. The possibility alone has inspired Iran’s resort to pathetic countermeasures. However comical, they are harmless. And that’s a step in the right direction.
Ali Safavi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is dedicated to the establishment of a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran.