Donald Trump's Unprecedented IRGC Designation Won't Change Iran's Behavior, Say Experts

Experts have suggested that President Donald Trump's unprecedented decision to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a "terrorist group" will likely encourage hard-liners to push for an even harsher stance toward the U.S. and do little to change the Iranian regime's actions.

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed on Monday that the administration would move forward with officially blacklisting the elite branch of Iran's armed forces by April 15. "The use of terrorism is central to the Iranian regime's foreign policy," Pompeo wrote in a Twitter post. "The designation of IRGC…will help starve the regime of the means to execute this destructive policy."

But analysts suggested that the Trump administration's assessment was inaccurate and that Iran would not feel the need to change its actions. Conversely, they argued that conservative Iranian hard-liners would use the decision to justify their staunchly anti-American policies, because this is the first time the U.S. has formally designated a country's official military force as a terrorist group.

"This is escalation for escalation's sake," Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council, told Newsweek. "IRGC is already the most sanctioned entity on planet Earth, yet they benefit greatly from the black-market sanctions economy and have the most to lose if Iran enters the world economy."

"The Trump administration just put its thumb on the scale in favor of the IRGC and hard-line forces in the region who prefer confrontation to compromise," he said.

Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps march in Tehran on September 22, 2018, during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war's outbreak. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Jacob Shapiro, director of analysis at Geopolitical Futures, said Iran's actions throughout the region will not change for the better with Trump's decision. He also suggested that the Persian Gulf nation could use the designation as justification to return to working on building a nuclear weapon.

"This Iranian regime has already proved itself far more resilient than American anti-Iran hawks think, and designating a branch of Iran's armed forces a terrorist organization may lead to some economic pain, but it will also give the IRGC and the Iranian government an easy scapegoat—the United States," he explained.

Shapiro also said there is less and less distinction in Iran between the IRGC and other state institutions. "It's impossible to get exact figures, but I would estimate that almost 60 percent of the Iranian economy is controlled by the IRGC," he said.

"That is why the Trump administration is cracking down on the IRGC now—if you crack down on Iran without cracking down on the IRGC, the efforts will be ineffective," he continued.

However, there is a difference between the hard-liners behind the IRGC and the civilian-led government of President Hassan Rouhani, he said, and the Trump administration has not distinguished between such camps in Iran.

"For the civilian faction, [the Iran nuclear deal] was so important because it promised to open Iran to the global economy and by doing so weakening the IRGC's grip on the economy," Shapiro said. "When the U.S. withdrew from the [deal], it not only severely undermined the Rouhani government's position but it also made it much harder for the Iranian government to push back against IRGC consolidating control over the economy."

President Donald Trump holds up a memorandum on May 8, 2018, that reinstates sanctions on Iran after announcing his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump withdrew from the 2015 deal last year, despite significant pushback from the agreement's other signatories—the U.K., France, Germany, the EU, Russia and China. The U.S. then moved to reimplement sanctions against Iran, while European allies, Russia and China have worked to circumvent the punitive financial measures.

Repeated reports by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog have found that Iran remains in compliance with the international treaty despite the U.S. withdrawal. Earlier this year, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, both appointed by Trump, told a Senate hearing that the deal had effectively curbed Iran's nuclear capabilities. The president dismissed their assessments and suggested that the nation's intelligence chiefs should "go back to school,"

Feeling the economic pressure from the sanctions, hard-liners in Iran have pushed the regime to disregard the nuclear deal altogether. Responding to the Trump administration's Monday announcement about the IRGC, Iranian leaders said there would be a reciprocal response.

"The foreign minister condemned the move and emphasized that such a move would create a lot of danger," Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency said Monday. "Although the Islamic Republic of Iran is not looking for tension...if the United States makes such a decision, the Islamic Republic of Iran will also reciprocate."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing a very close election on April 9, publicly took credit for Trump's decision. "Thank you for answering another one of my important requests, which serves the interests of our country and the countries of the region," he wrote on Twitter. Israel and Iran see each other as enemies within the region, and Iran has threatened to annihilate Israel.

Thank you, President @realDonaldTrump for your decision to designate the Islamic revolutionary guards as a terrorist organization.
Once again you are keeping the world safe from Iran aggression and terrorism.

— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 8, 2019

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, shared a screenshot of an article reporting Netanyahu's comments. "A(nother) misguided election-eve gift to Netanyahu. A(nother) dangerous U.S. misadventure in the region," he wrote in a separate tweet.

Shapiro said U.S. policy toward the Middle East since 2001 has been "shortsighted." He explained that policymakers have been "worried about solving the problems of today without thinking about how those very solutions breed new and sometimes even deeper problems."

He added, "So in that sense, again, [this is] more of the same."

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