By John Bolton
New York Post, April 16, 2017 - When US Tomahawk missiles struck Syria’s Shayrat air base in retaliation for the Assad regime’s barbaric chemical-weapons attack on rebel-held territory, Pentagon officials stressed their efforts to avoid hitting Russian military personnel located nearby.
What the briefers didn’t say was that units from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were also present at Shayrat, having been buttressing Bashar al-Assad long before significant Russian involvement.
This is more than a little ironic given the IRGC’s long campaign of terrorism against the United States and its allies. Indeed, Washington is currently debating whether to designate the Guard as a “foreign terrorist organization.” President Ronald Reagan listed Iran itself as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984. In 2007, George W. Bush named the Quds Force, the tip of the IRGC spear internationally, terrorists as well.
Without doubt, the IRGC qualifies. Assad would’ve fallen years ago without Tehran’s active military and financial assistance. While Russia’s air force has been prominent recently, the Guard, advising or commanding Syrian regular military units and Hezbollah forces from Lebanon, sustained Assad when many thought he was doomed.
Hezbollah, of course, needs no introduction as a terrorist “A team,” one the IRGC essentially created out of existing Shia terrorist groups in Lebanon, and then armed and directed thereafter. Guard officers prepared and guided terrorists who later formed Hezbollah in the October 1983 suicide attack against the US Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241.
In Iraq, Guard officers have equipped, trained, advised and even led Baghdad government forces and Shia militias in recapturing largely Sunni-inhabited territories. Before President Barack Obama withdrew US forces from Iraq in 2011, IRGC advisers were training these same Shia militias to kill American troops with explosively formed projectiles and improvised explosive devices. Although US commanders repeatedly sought Washington’s authorization to retaliate, the group remained safe inside Iran.
Today, the Guard’s most important mission is its dominant role in Iran’s nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs. Not only is Iran already violating key provisions of, and exploiting every loophole in, Obama’s nuclear deal, North Korea’s progress in both its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs will allow Iran to purchase directly whatever capabilities Pyongyang possesses.
Decisions on these critical issues lie in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei — and the Guard, which reports directly to him.
The nuclear threat from rogue states like Iran is a terrorist rather than a military threat, aimed to intimidate, or ultimately kill and maim, innocent civilian populations around the world. Iran poses no significant military threat to the United States or its friends and allies. Whatever damage Tehran’s nuclear arsenal might cause, especially to US forces deployed in the Middle East, it would not impair America’s ability to launch devastating retaliatory strikes.
Documents captured in Afghanistan proved that one of al Qaeda’s earliest objectives was acquiring nuclear weapons, as it almost certainly is for ISIS.
The IRGC is way ahead of them. Tehran’s equal-opportunity assistance as international terrorism’s central banker (aiding Sunni terrorists like Hamas and Taliban as well as Shia terrorists) means that Iran’s nuclear program already has a potential global reach, even before its ICBM capabilities are fully operational.
Given this record, the Guard clearly meets the FTO criteria of being (1) a foreign entity that (2) engages in terrorist activity (politically motivated violence against noncombatants) that (3) threatens US security and our own citizens.
Surprisingly, however, a strange coalition of career US government officials and Iran apologists continue to oppose designating the Guard as a foreign terrorist organization.
They warn that so doing would destroy Obama’s Iran nuclear-weapons agreement and endanger US personnel advising the Baghdad regime in the fight against ISIS.
There’s no argument that designating the group would violate the nuclear deal, only that Tehran’s negative reaction would crater it. Baldly stated, this means Iran is threatening to ramp up its nuclear-weapons program unless the IRGC is allowed free rein for its terrorist activities. Are we to wilt before such threats?
Similarly, are we prepared to accept that US forces in Iraq are in harm’s way merely at the sufferance of one group of terrorists as they attempt to eliminate a terrorist competitor — ISIS? This question, in fact, shows the danger of cooperating with Iran at all in the struggle against ISIS.
American national security, and that of close allies like Israel and friendly Muslim nations in the region, dictates designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, the sooner the better.
John Bolton is former US ambassador to the United Nations.