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Why Europe’s Inevitable Move Will Be to Designate the IRGC

Four-minute read

The reluctance of the United Kingdom and the European Union to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization is not due to a lack of information about the nature, number of terrorist operations, and potential future threats. Their problem is one of policymaking. The intelligence services of these countries are well aware of the IRGC’s violent structure and history, even more so than what has been reported in their own media. However, Western countries still believe that a day will come when Tehran (whether due to pressure or encouragement) will be forced to negotiate, and they deem the designation as ‘burning bridges’ with the regime.

In 2023, in statements signed by a majority of lawmakers in 41 countries around the world in support of the Iranian Resistance, over 4,000 legislators, including more than 500 members of the UK’s House of Commons and House of Lords, called on their governments to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. But European governments have unanimously decided to ignore the call of their own representatives in favor of a very dangerous strategic miscalculation.

Strategic miscalculation

Why are Western countries mistaken in their assessment of the Iranian regime? Has their understanding and decision-making been compromised by “advisors” and “experts” linked to Tehran? Have their short-term economic and political interests deprived them of strategic foresight? Have they failed to analyze the internal developments in Iran and the complex process of transformation within the regime’s power structure in recent years? Alternatively, do they perceive the current regime as more manageable and predictable compared to a hypothetical Iran devoid of “pragmatic clerics?”

It is for the capitals of Western countries to answer these questions. But regardless of whether the West believes or not that the Supreme Leader of the Iranian regime, Ali Khamenei, may once again be compelled to the negotiating table, the reality is that the conditions of 2015 will never be repeated for three reasons: the world, the region, and particularly Iran have changed profoundly in the past nine years.

  1. Over the past nine years, the world has grappled with the repercussions of a global pandemic and multiple international conflicts, resulting in profound economic and social challenges for numerous nations. Domestic-oriented priorities in dealing with international affairs, particularly in the West, have emboldened tyrants and aggressive regimes, fostering a dangerous perception of immunity for their actions. They believe, and rightly so, that the tolerance for appeasement and inaction by the international community has enlarged, even in the face of egregious human rights violations.
  2. Many countries in the Middle East region had edged closer to forging a coalition against the Iranian regime, but the detonation of a metaphorical grenade on October 7 has disrupted this progress significantly. Now, any action resembling the pre-October 7 political coalition risks igniting discord between the people and their governments in the region. The one who has banked the most on this strategic dynamic is the one who pulled the grenade’s safety pin.
  3. Since late 2017, around 24 months after substantial funds were channeled to the Iranian regime through the 2015 nuclear deal’s sanction relief, Iranian society has erupted in response to economic pressures, with widespread protests aimed at overthrowing the clerical dictatorship. Ever since, these protests have persisted, prompting the regime to crack down ruthlessly, recognizing the existential threat posed by any uncontrolled gatherings. Consequently, Khamenei has systematically purged all centers of decision-making, while IRGC officials have extended their influence across all levels of governing, from the government and parliament to the judiciary, provincial administrations, municipalities, and even universities.

Previously, the country’s economy and control of society had been entrusted to the IRGC and its intelligence apparatus. Seeing the danger of regime change edging closer, Khamenei placed the three branches of power under the control of his private army to ensure that the Guards would have everything at stake with his own fate.

The West may think that Khamenei’s rule and the IRGC’s control over Iran is something beyond their control or interests. But what they fail to understand is that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose name does not contain the word “Iran,” cannot remain within Iran’s borders.

The management of the missile and nuclear weapons program, interference in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and other Middle East countries, the expansion of influence in Africa and Latin America, the outsourcing of its missions to criminal gangs worldwide, running a global terrorist and money laundering network, handling the largest state-run drug cartel, and spreading extremism around the world are not merely an economic approach for the Khamenei regime. They are part of a survival stratagem to ensure the continuation of the policy of appeasement in countries in the regional and international arena.

Hence, until the West conveys a clear message to Tehran that it is not immune to the consequences of its own actions, the terrorist regime of the mullahs will persist in what it can do best.

Ignoring Historical Warnings

Adolf Hitler and the Axis had not embarked on the path that led to World War II until they were assured that the League of Nations would maintain its inaction against them.

Therefore, whether we compare the IRGC to the SS or not, the extent of its influence and its danger to the world, even though the Iranian regime has not yet carried out any formal territorial aggression, is perhaps greater. Just as Hitler was willing to give up the SS in a hypothetical negotiation, Ali Khamenei would be willing to enter into a compromise that would affect the economic, political, or motivational interests of the IRGC.

While Europe’s leaders face a pivotal choice about whether to act or not to act, Khamenei has already made up his mind. At the end of the day, it is certain that regional and international developments will eventually force Europe to designate the IRGC. It is also very clear that this delay is not in Europe’s interests but Tehran’s. While judging the future and the consequences of a wrong decision are difficult, the ones of the past are not.