- The Trump Administration has designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, marking the first time the U.S. has given the designation to part of a foreign government.
- This choice has received criticism from military leaders and the intelligence community, as it could set a dangerous precedent for U.S. foreign relations.
- Iran responded by classifying U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization and promising further retaliation.
IRGC Designated As Terrorist Organization
The Trump administration announced Monday that the United States was designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. The unprecedented move marks the first time the U.S. has ever named a part of another country’s government a foreign terrorist organization.
Iran’s IRGC is a military unit that was originally created after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 as security for Iran’s religious rulers. Since that time, the IRGC has become Iran’s most powerful security organization.
The IRGC has an estimated 125,000 personnel that compose army, navy, and air units. They also has control over Iran’s ballistic missiles and nuclear programs.
The IRGC owns a huge network of businesses that range from oil and gas to construction and telecommunication, essentially giving the unit unlimited political influence in business, real estate, and other sectors of the economy.
The U.S. blames the IRGC for facilitating the deaths of U.S. service member in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, because they have financed, trained, and given weapons to terrorist networks.
What Does This Mean?
In a statement released by the White House, Donald Trump said, “The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”
“This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime,” said Trump, “This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also addressed the situation in a press briefing, where he further elaborated on the reasoning behind the decision.
“We’re doing it because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government,” Pompeo said. “This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world.”
Pompeo also said that the designation will allow the IRGC to, “Take its rightful place on the same list as terror groups its supports.”
With the new designation, many are wondering what the label entails.
Much like Trump said, the designation, which is set to go into effect next week, will give the U.S. a huge scope of actions they can take against Iran. This includes imposing significant economic sanctions and travel bans on the IRGC and any organizations, companies, or individuals that might have ties to it.
It will also allow the Trump administration to bring criminal charges against the IRGC and any foreign officials that aid them.
Opposition From Military & Intelligence Officials
While the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization is new, it is something that has been debated for years because it is highly controversial in the military and intelligence communities.
The Trump administration has championed the move as a step forward in cracking down on Iran, but top Pentagon and C.I.A. officials strongly oppose the designation.
They argue that it is too strong of a hardline, and could allow Iranian officials to retaliate and justify dangerous and deadly actions against U.S. personnel abroad, especially Special Operations units and paramilitary units that work under the C.I.A.
The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies are also concerned that the designation would prohibit all contact with foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with Guard personnel – a move that could severely damage diplomatic relations in the region.
U.S. military and intelligence officials also oppose the designation because it sets a dangerous precedent that other countries could use against the U.S.
Matt Levitt, the director of the counterterrorism program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the move could prompt Russia and China to start designating U.S. agencies by taking the same actions against the U.S. that the U.S. is taking against Iran.
Others, including an interagency lawyers group, have said the designation is too vague and broad. Some U.S. officials are saying the terrorist designation could include 11 million people, according to the New York Times.
Due to the fact that the IRGC itself is only about 125,000 of that number, the amount of people and organizations that have “ties” to the IRGC under the broad definition could be disproportionately targetted, including U.S. allies.
The Iraq Problem
For example, the designation will likely apply to officials in Iraq, which is a key U.S. ally in the region.
Iraq shares a border with Iran, and the two countries are major trading partners. Senior Iraqi officials are against the designation because it could impose travel bans and sanctions on some lawmakers in the government who have ties to Iranian officials.
U.S. officials are also worried that the move could encourage Iraqi parliamentarians to limit the movements and actions of 5,000 U.S. troops who are based in Iraq. This plan has been proposed before and is very popular in Iraq’s parliament.
If Iraq’s parliament felt as though the U.S. is unfairly restricting them, they could easily retaliate against U.S. troops in their country.
Additionally, U.S. troops and diplomats could be banned from contact with Iraqi authorities who interact with the IRGC and can give the U.S. important intel. That could complicate and even endanger U.S. operations in the region, and will most likely complicate U.S. efforts to stop a resurgence of ISIS.
“This isn’t about taking a tough approach to Iran’s support for terrorism,” said Jeffrey Prescott, a former senior Middle East director at the White House National Security Council, “Rather, it will put our service members in Iraq and throughout the region at additional risk with nothing to show in return.”
Prescott also argued that the backlash against the U.S. will be way worse than any potential benefits, saying:
“There is a reason that successive administrations have held off designating the I.R.G.C. as a terrorist organization, and why many of Trump’s own military and intelligence officials are said to be highly opposed to the move: The potential blowback vastly outweighs the benefits.”
Iran has already begun its retaliate against the U.S. designation.
Following yesterday’s announcement, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which is a state-run news source in Iran, reported that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for Central Command to be deemed a terrorist organization, writing:
“Zarif in its letter referred to the US military forces’ covert and open support for the terrorist groups in the region and their direct interference in terror activities and offered the Supreme National Security Council to enlist CENTCOM in its terror list.”
According to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) declared the U.S. a “terrorist government,” and blacklisted CENTCOM.
Fars also reported this morning that Iran’s parliament ratified a bill that stated:
“All US military, security and intelligence forces active in West Asia and all real and legal persons representing them in West Asia region will be declared as terrorist and any financial, technical, training and service and logistical assistance to this group of forces is considered as collaboration in terrorist acts.”
The bill also aims to strengthen the IRGC.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is also the head of the SNSC, responded angrily to the designation in a televised statement.
“You want to use terrorist groups as tools against the nations of the region,” said Rouhani.“You are the leader of world terrorism.”
Other leaders in the Iranian government have threatened reciprocal action against the U.S. if they actually enforce the designation, including Iran’s Defense Minister and the IRGC General Commander.
The Trump Connection
Some people in both the U.S. and Iran have criticized the move as an effort to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the day before the Israeli election.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif referred to the move as an “election-eve gift to Netanyahu” in a tweet.
Netanyahu himself seemed to reinforce this idea, thanking Trump for this decision in a tweet.
Others have criticized Trump for a different reason.
Back in 2017, The New Yorker published an extensive investigative report that discovered the Trump Organization had been involved in building Trump Tower Baku a hotel in Azerbaijan.
According to the report, the hotel never opened, and was found “to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.”
Currently, it seems like Iran will take action against the U.S. if the designation does take effect, which is it set to do in about a week.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NPR) (Fox News)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”