Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps poses the single largest threat to the UK’s national security, according to British Home Secretary Suella Braverman, after new evidence emerged about its influence within the country. Braverman expressed concern about the group’s heightened activities, and was troubled by intelligence reports that suggest Iranian agents are making efforts to enlist members of organized crime syndicates to target opponents of the regime.
MI5 previously warned that Tehran was responsible for 10 plots last year involving planned murders and kidnapping, a number that had grown to 15 by February this year, according to London’s Metropolitan Police. A warning from Scotland Yard about inadequate protection for potential targets compelled Iran International, a dissident TV channel, to cease operations at its British base. The IRGC is a well-known provocateur and active participant in sectarian conflicts across the Middle East, and now it seems its considerable influence is extending further afield. It collaborates with banned terrorist groups and oversees extensive criminal networks, including a narcotics ring used to finance its political violence. Functioning as a distinct entity within the Iranian state framework, rather than an official arm of the government, the IRGC is a hybrid of a religious police force and an international terrorist organization. It employs repressive tactics against domestic Iranian protesters while simultaneously engaging in widespread sectarian warfare abroad.
Despite facing as many as 15 credible threats to the lives of UK residents in the past two years, authorities in the UK have yet again declined to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, with the latest missed opportunity coming this month. The IRGC’s foreign operations division, known as the Quds Force, gained significant notoriety under the leadership of Qassem Soleimani. He orchestrated the establishment of sectarian militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, embroiling the group in the internal political conflicts and civil wars of these nations. The Quds Force has also orchestrated the assassinations of political opponents and protesters, while evading international sanctions and condemnation.
Soleimani himself was a prominent figure and symbol who toured battlefields and orchestrated violent reprisal actions such as the brutal siege of Aleppo in Syria, and the capture of Kirkuk from Iraqi Kurds. His actions became so troublesome that the US ultimately targeted him with a drone strike in Baghdad that killed him in January 2020. Since then, the IRGC’s acts of terrorism have continued under less conspicuous leadership. Over the past decade, the group has directly participated in or ordered its affiliated militias to carry out the killings of political figures and journalists in Lebanon and Iraq, including notable figures such as Iraqi historian and security expert Hisham Al-Hashimi and Lebanese activist Lokman Slim. Its actions unmistakably meet the criteria for the definition of international terrorism. Furthermore, the IRGC has entered a new phase of its agenda by plotting the assassination of Iranian dissidents and other perceived enemies of the regime in Europe and the Americas. The US Department of Justice has warned a number of vocal critics of the regime in Tehran, including former National Security Advisor John Bolton and Iranian American journalist Masih Alinejad, that they were the targets of such plots in recent years. In the UK, workers at critical opposition organizations such as Iran International have been notified by the police of threats to their lives from hired criminals and hitmen, and surveillance of their offices and residences.
It is imperative that such activities are acknowledged as acts of terrorism. The fact that these assassination attempts have so far been unsuccessful does not diminish their terroristic nature. Countries such as the UK, which is already grappling with efforts to counter terror plots by proscribed organizations such as Al-Qaeda, Daesh and domestic extremists, must proscribe and impose sanctions on Iranian IRGC forces and their proxies, should they continue to engage in similar behavior. Around the world, many nations face similar challenges. Australia, in particular, is engaged in a robust debate on the issue. As protests continue in Iran, now entering their eleventh month, the pervasive violent influence of the IRGC is increasingly evident. Its forces serve as the regime’s enforcers, perpetrating torture and murder as their primary activities.
As the group continues to import and deploy militiamen to brutalize and target civilians, authorities worldwide are reevaluating their perceptions of the Revolutionary Guards. Instead of viewing the group as an unconventional branch of the Iranian state, they now recognize it as a military entity within Iran that is driven by its own history of violence and internal motives. Essentially, the IRGC is an armed group, not a legitimate national military force. Proscription is not merely a matter of terminology. It holds profound implications for national security, international diplomacy and the lives of numerous individuals caught in the crossfire of the IRGC’s actions. The group has significant control of a substantial portion of Iran’s natural resources and mineral wealth. Taking decisive action and proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organization could therefore potentially lead to sanctions targeting a key pillar of the regime in Tehran. Clearly, this is a priority for the UK, as evidenced by the British government’s expansion of its criteria for subjecting Iran’s supporters and businesses to sanctions.
Proscription would also help to thwart attacks within the UK by enabling the utilization of anti-terror legislation to freeze assets and facilitate surveillance of suspected attackers. It could also encourage other nations to follow suit, thus enabling collaborative policies such as those related to immigration powers, thereby hindering the international movement of IRGC agents and obstructing their operations. Considering the continuing and planned acts of terrorism perpetrated by this armed Iranian group in other nations, it is entirely reasonable for countries such as Britain to reassess their stance on the IRGC. an organization that will never stick to typical military behavior or operate in a legitimate manner. The inescapable conclusion is that the Iranian regime heavily relies on the IRGC, a terrorist organization, to maintain its grip on power. To aid the people of Iran in breaking free from the oppression of the IRGC, proscription is therefore essential.
Iran’s expansive campaign represents a protracted endeavor by a revisionist force to reconfigure the international order. Geographical boundaries do not restrict its reach, as its influence extends across the globe through criminal networks and acts of terrorism that leave footprints on every continent.