Need to Confront Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Iranian revolutionary guards displaying missiles on "Gerusalem day", Tehran, Iran, 23 June 2017. [Shutterstock]

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been leading Iran’s hidden invasion of several Middle-Eastern countries for years. The US administration’s recent decision to put the IRGC on the terrorist list makes it imperative to confront the regime and its proxies all over the region, writes Alejo Vidal-Quadras.

Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently the president of the Brussels-based International Committee In Search of Justice (ISJ)

The Islamic Republic of Iran – the world’s number one state sponsor of terror – came into existence since the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Terrorism under the banner of Islam had existed long before but through scattered and isolated groups.

The significance, in this case, was that Islamic fundamentalism had gained power in a powerful country such as Iran, with vast financial resources and a history of having influenced the political thinking in the region. For the first time, a state with all its resources was using terrorism as a means of advancing its goals on the ideological base of a religious, dogmatic and fanatical belief.  

The IRGC – the ideological army established to protect the ruling theocracy and its supreme leader – is also the force tasked with repressing people inside Iran. Furthermore, in an extensive study on the IRGC earlier this year, our organisation (ISJ) found that it has been meddling in the affairs of 14 predominantly Muslim countries in the region.

In the summer of 2016, there were close to 70,000 Iranian proxy forces in Syria, many of them mercenaries, including young Afghan refugees in Iran who agreed to go to Syria for short periods of time, in return for money or obtaining identity cards and status in Iran.

The IRGC has many centres in Iran where they train foreign fighters and militias. Every month, hundreds of forces from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon receive military training and are subsequently dispatched to wage terrorism and war.

The IRGC’s meddling is not limited to the military sphere and it has a defining role in Tehran’s foreign policy. In many countries of the region, the IRGC has effectively taken control of Iranian foreign policy through the embassies where they also exploit diplomatic immunity.

While the IRGC is the most significant economic powerhouse in Iran and has dedicated its financial and economic skills to meddling in other countries, the extensive scope of this interfering has imposed a very heavy burden on the Iranian economy.

Over the past five years, Tehran has spent over $100 billion for IRGC operations in Syria alone. The money is spent on procuring weapons and paying for the Syrian army’s expenses. They spend about $1 billion a year to pay salaries for their affiliated forces.

In Europe, they have been involved with cyber-attacks. Two weeks ago, British media confirmed that the IRGC’s cyber army had attacked email accounts of British MPs, including Prime Minister Theresa May. The German anti-espionage agency reported recently that it had observed sophisticated cyber-attacks by IRGC on German businesses and companies.

It is very clear that the Iranian regime’s meddling in other countries does not reflect its strength. On the contrary, it is a sign of its deep crises at home and its weakness abroad. Since its foundation, it has relied on two pillars to remain in power: domestic suppression and export of fundamentalism and terrorism. Regrettably, the Western policy of appeasement and the failure of regional countries to stand up to this phenomenon, allowed it to expand.    

In our study, published in March this year, we recommended that the IRGC be put on international terrorist lists. Two weeks ago, the United States finally put the IRGC on its terrorist list which was very much welcomed by the Iranian people who loathe the regime.

In Europe, because of the enormous trade interests of some big countries and the EU’s close relations with the Iranian regime, European governments do not wish to annoy the mullahs and have practically closed their eyes to human rights violations. This is an attitude that is morally very reprehensible and strategically dangerous.

Since the IRGC is now designated as a SDGT (Specially Designated Global Terrorist) by the US Treasury, the European companies trading with Iran will run a serious risk of being sanctioned by the US, given that the IRGC runs most of Iran’s economy.

Governments in Europe should be warned of the consequences of their trade links with Iran.

It is necessary to make a deep strategic reorientation of the policy of the European Union towards the Iranian regime, and formulate a new policy based on requirements on human rights, withdrawal of the Revolutionary Guards and its affiliates from Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen and strict conformity with the spirit and the text of the nuclear agreement.

The current resort to weakness, opportunism and the prioritising of economic interests over moral principles that define the European Union will inevitably lead us to failure.

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