TEHRAN (Reuters) Iran may put the US military on its terror list if Washington designates the Iranian elite Revolutionary Guards as terrorists, a senior Iranian lawmaker said on Saturday.
The US is expected to designate the Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist organisation, three US officials told Reuters, marking the first time Washington has formally labelled another country’s military a terrorist group.
“If the Revolutionary Guards are placed on America’s list of terrorist groups, we will put that country’s military on the terror blacklist next to Daesh,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of parliament’s national security committee, said on Twitter.
A day earlier, The Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed officials and said President Donald Trump's administration would announce the long-mulled decision as soon as Monday and that concerned defence officials were bracing for the impact.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp was formed after the 1979 Islamic revolution with a mission to defend the clerical regime, in contrast to more traditional military units that protect borders.
The Revolutionary Guards have amassed strong power within Iran, including with significant economic interests.
The Guards' prized unit is the Quds Force, named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, which supports forces allied with Iran around the region including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
The Trump administration has already imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran after withdrawing last year from an international agreement under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear program.
A foreign terrorist designation would make any activities of the group toxic for the United States, with any transactions involving US institutions or individuals subject to punishment.
The Wall Street Journal
said that the Pentagon and the CIA had reservations about the move, saying it would increase risks for US troops without doing much more to damage the Iranian economy.
US to designate elite Iranian force as terrorist organisation
The decision, which critics warn could open US military and intelligence officials to similar actions by unfriendly governments abroad, is expected to be announced by the US State Department, perhaps as early as Monday, the officials said. It has been rumoured for years.
The Pentagon declined comment and referred queries to the State Department. The State Department and White House also declined to comment.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a strident Iran hawk, has advocated for the change in U.S. policy as part of the Trump administration’s tough posture toward Tehran.
The announcement would come ahead of the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and to reimpose sanctions that had crippled Iran’s economy.
The administration’s decision to make the designation was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The United States has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the IRGC, but the organisation as a whole is not.
In 2007, the US Treasury designated the IRGC’s Quds Force, its unit in charge of operations abroad, “for its support of terrorism,” and has described it as Iran’s “primary arm for executing its policy of supporting terrorist and insurgent groups.”
Iran has warned of a “crushing” response should the United States go ahead with the designation.
IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari warned in 2017 that if Trump went ahead with the move “then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world.”