1. Update
  2. Middle East & Iran

Security Leaders warn IRGC Designation Paves Path to War with Iran

By Kate Gould, March 28, 2017


The proposal, embedded in pending Iran sanctions legislation S. 722, to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, could endanger U.S. troops in Iraq, imperil efforts against the Islamic State, and put the Iran nuclear deal, and peace with Iran, on thin ice.

National security leaders warn against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps—Iran’s elite military wing—as a terrorist organization, as called for in the new Senate sanctions bill (S. 722).

Military leaders have warned against this designation out of concern that shutting down channels of communication with Iran’s military would put U.S. servicemen and women in greater danger in Iraq, Syria and other places where U.S. forces operate in close proximity to the Iranian military and the IRGC. NIAC explains that the "designation would be duplicative of existing authorities, leaving only negative consequences from the unprecedented step of a terror label." The Iran Project elaborates on reasons that designating the IRGC would be contrary to U.S. interests.

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Senior Defense and Intelligence Officials, Speaking Anonymously

“Senior defense and intelligence officials have cautioned the White House that a proposal to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization could endanger U.S. troops in Iraq and the overall fight against the Islamic State, and would be an unprecedented use of a law that was not designed to sanction government institutions.”

--Washington Post, February 8, 2017

But sanctioning the IRGC could backfire, this official warned. It could strengthen the hardliners and undercut more moderate leaders such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and encourage Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria to curtail any action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and perhaps even sponsor actions against U.S.-backed or even American forces battling Islamic State in Iraq.

--Reuters, February 7, 2017

U.S. Military Leadership under the Bush Administration

“In 2007, the U.S. military reportedly opposed designating the IRGC or the Qods Force as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT). According to The Twilight War by David Crist, it was the position of the Joint Chiefs that foreign militaries or their officers should not be designated as “terrorists” for fear that such designation could be reciprocated against the U.S. military, particularly its Special Forces officers.”

--NIAC, February 8, 2017

Former Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken

The Bush and Obama administrations named Iran a state sponsor of terrorism and put sanctions on individual Revolutionary Guard commanders and two dozen Iranian firms to which the guard corps is connected. But they stopped short of designating the guards corps itself a terrorist organization because the potential blowback outweighed the benefits.

A direct challenge to the Revolutionary Guards Corps would likely cause its commanders to press for Iran’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. It would undermine the re-election prospects of the accord’s main advocate, President Hassan Rouhani, who seeks to moderate Iran’s international behavior. It could also prompt the guards corps to unleash Shiite militias against United States forces in Iraq — just when our shared, if uncoordinated, objective of defeating the Islamic State there is within reach — or to go after American ships in the Gulf or shut down the Straits of Hormuz, through which 25 percent of the world’s oil flows.

--New York Times, February 17, 2017

Background Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act: According to the Experts 

This J Street resource on Iran sanctions bill S. 722 cites diplomacy and national security experts who oppose the most dangerous provisions of the bill. Experts explain why they oppose the broad and mandatory sanctions (Section 4), the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization (Section 5), and interference with Iran deal transition day obligations (Section 8).

Background Background on the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (S. 722) 

This NIAC fact sheet explains how the Iran sanctions bill S. 722 could constitute a clear violation of the Iran nuclear deal, would take steps opposed by the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment, and is unlikely to achieve its objectives.

Background New Iran Sanctions Risk Putting U.S. on War Path with Iran  

The Senate is considering a new Iran sanctions bill (S. 722) that would put the Iran nuclear deal in jeopardy and risk putting the U.S. on path toward war with Iran.

Background Iran Deal: Hill Staff Resources 

The Iran Nuclear Accord must continue to be protected from ongoing efforts to undermine it.

Update #DiplomacyWorks: Iran Deal under President Trump 

The Iran nuclear deal stands on strong legs, and President-elect Trump's conviction to dismantle the deal remains unclear. Five factors could convince him to uphold the deal.

Kate Gould

  • Legislative Director, Middle East Policy

Kate Gould is FCNL's Legislative Director for Middle East Policy. Kate is one of only a handful of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. working to advance human rights objectives and support diplomatic solutions to resolve disputes between the U.S. and Iran and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel/Palestine.