The recent UAV attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s military facility at Isfahan on the 28 Jan 23 is giving the Iranians a chance to mock whoever conducted the attack. Several American news outlets have cited Israel for the operation but as usual the Israelis have not, nor are they likely to, comment on the incident. The Iranian Tehran Times wrote that the episode was another “unsuccessful attack” and that Israel had “failed to achieve its goals.” They quoted an unnamed Israel media source that allegedly stated, “Israeli media portrayed the attack as successful, something that stands in stark contrast to the reality on the ground.” The Islamic State claim that the attack allegedly caused minor damage, but this statement has not been verified by any outside source. The news outlet went on to say that the Americans were involved even though the United States distanced itself from the incident. The Iranians included them when describing “Israel’s failed adventure.” However, was the attack a failed venture? If Israel did carry out the latest drone attack on Israfan then this was a clever warning to Iran. To coordinate and fly three UAVs from Israel to the near centre of Iran is an exceptional achievement and sends a message to the Iranians. If it was Israel then not only can they fly their drones across the possible airspaces of Jordon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq undetected, the drones were also flown across the Arabian Gulf into Iranian airspace and onto their target. Iranian propaganda outlets state that at least one drone was destroyed in the attack, meaning two others got through and made it to the target before being terminated. A distance of approximately 1,586 Km or 986 miles with a flight time for a commercial aircraft of 2 hours and 22 minutes. Quite an achievement when you consider the distance and weather conditions that the drones flew. This should be quite a shock to the Iranians who boast of having the best drone service in the world. The alleged Israeli operation says a great deal about the Iranian anti-aircraft defence systems which should have detected the UAV presence as soon as the drones neared the airspace of Iran. This could have been another goal, to test the Iranian air radar. Iranian media would have you believe that Israel failed in its goals whatever they were. The question is, did they?
"The Europeans think that the Iranian people and the IRGC’s efforts to protect their values is a form of terrorism,"
(Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Hossein Salami)
Iran in a Flat Spin over EU Proposal to Place IRGC on European Terrorist List
The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the 10 Jan 23 that it had not ruled out terming the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation after the Germany Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock tweeted on the 9 Jan 23 that “listing the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization is politically important and makes sense.” Prior to these German and French thoughts, the British government had announced in the early days of 2023 that they were officially going to declare the IRGC a “terrorist group.” At the time the Iranian press-propaganda outlets were more concerned with the anniversary of General Qassem Soleimani who was killed at Baghdad International airport on the 3 Jan 20 than this thought.
Security Between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Europe
Because of the geographical proximity of Europe and the Islamic Republic of Iran relations between the two have been reasonable over the years. A number of European countries have had a good relationship with the Islamic Republic (formerly Persia) for centuries.
The European perspective was greatly enhanced before, during and after the implementation of the JCPOA agreement in 2016. President Trumps withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 and the reimplemented sanctions caused problems for Iran. Iran attempted to split Europe and the United States in order to stop sanctions from being reimposed. Iran’s attempt failed and the United States and Europe sided with one another.
The security concerns of the United States, the Middle East and Europe vary considerably due to their global and geographical location along with the threat against each region. The greatest direct threat from Iran is in the Middle East, second is to the United States and its interests in the Region and lastly against Europe. Iran over the years has attempted to create and focus on dialogue with Europe in an attempt to bring the two closer together.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Army
According to Article 143 of the Iranian Constitution, the task of the Iranian Army is to safeguard the independence and territorial integrity of the country, as well as the order of the Islamic Republic. The army is made up of mainly conscripts but remains loyal to the regime. The ‘Iranian Army remains a main element of Iran’s defence posture’.
The army’s leadership claims it has restructured its fighting capabilities and resources in order to fight in conventional as well as asymmetric theatres, the army continues to play an important role in securing borders as well confronting what the regime considers to be a Kurdish insurgency emanating from Iraq as well as a homegrown terrorist threat in the region of Sistan va Baluchistan. The regular army remains Iran’s first line of defence and continues to underwrite the country’s national security, checking both threats from within and outside of the Islamic Republic.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has its origins as an ideological militia but now takes a greater role in nearly all aspects of Iranian politics and society.
The IRGC on the European List 2023
Europe has proposed placing the IRGC on a Foreign Terrorist List (FTL) along with other sanctions. Some sanctions by Europe in the past have targeted individuals from the IRGC but not the entire organisation. When placing an individual or individuals on the sanction list it would be easy for those people to get around the restrictions by having someone else do whatever needed to be done, but an entire organisation is different matter and different to get round.
Some countries have argued that by placing the IRGC on a list they are targeting a group that is an integral part of the countries defence capabilities. However, as we have seen the Iranian army is the forefront of Iran’s military capabilities with the IRGC, on paper, playing a second choice.
Due to historic and current affairs in Iran the European Union are believing to place the entire organisation on the European Terrorist List. It appears that the two main reasons for discussing and implementing the terrorist classification on the IRGC comes in two main motives. Firstly, the IRGC’s involvement in the heavy-handed crackdown on current demonstrations in the country since the death of the Kurdish female Mahsa Amini (16 Sep 22). This involves the lack of human rights and the execution of demonstrators without a fair trial. Secondly with Iran selling of drones (which it denies), technology and the use of military “advisors” to the illegal war which Russia inflicted on the Ukrainian people. Thus, involving Europe.
A recent open source outlet has high-lighted Iran’s involvement in attempting to gain access to the Balkans and join the arms race by proposing the selling of drones to what is becoming an area of unrest. The IRGC is the “main military actor involved in the proliferation of Iran’s indigenous drone program” according to the outlet. The Balkans being on the eastern flank of NATO and Europe. Should the IRGC manage to export drones or military assistance to this area it would cause a huge problem for NATO, America and Europe. Iran has no qualms regarding the selling of its military equipment and has recently attempted to court those countries in the Balkans. Currently some western technology has been found in drones supplied by the IRGC. The problem is being addressed.
The Islamic Republic of Iran and its News Outlets/Propaganda Outlets Go into a frenzy
The Tehran Times, Tasnimne, Fars News Agency along with many other major outlets have all gone into a flat-spin over the European announcement that the EU is proposing to place the IRGC on the Foreign Terrorist list. Tasnimne accused the European Union of Political weakness and being led by the United States and warned of a “fallout” if Europe was to proceed. The United States placed the IRGC on the Foreign Terrorist List in 2019.
The Tehran Times stated that if the European Union was to proceed then it would “shoot itself in the foot” but gave no clear explanation as to how this would happen. In another article by the same outlet the speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, said that Iran would retaliate. The outcome would blow up years of diplomacy with Iran and set Iran and the West on a path of confrontation, (he did not mention Iran siding with Russia). The outlet also stated that it would put the JCPOA revival in jeopardy. The agreement had been placed on the bottom of a very long list due to Iranian demands. Priorities were now Iranian human rights and supplying of drones to the Russians.
Fars news agency warned Europe “to avoid repeating past mistakes.” Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Hossein Salami slammed the European Parliament’s resolution on labelling the IRGC as a foreign terror organization, and further warned the Europeans that they will have to suffer consequences in case of repeating past mistakes.
He added that, “The IRGC chief underlined that Europe owes its security to the IRGC, because if it were not for the endeavours made by the IRGC, particularly the IRGC Quds Force and late commander Lt. Gen. Soleimani, the scourge of terrorism created by the US would have engulfed Europeans. "Had it not been for the IRGC’s struggles, the flames of terrorism fuelled by Daesh, an American product, would have spread to Europe and destroyed its security," he underscored.
In another statement the IRGC Commander said, "Europe has experienced two world wars but has not learned from its past mistakes and thinks that such resolutions can shake the IRGC." He continued, "The Europeans think that the Iranian people and the IRGC’s efforts to protect their values is a form of terrorism." The Shah declared Iran (Persia) in World War Two as neutral at the beginning of the long conflict. Events later did place Persia/Iran on the side of the axis powers.
Iran has also said that it would retaliate against Europe by placing numerous European armies on an Iranian “Terrorist List.” Iran’s parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf who is himself a former commander of the Guards air force said that Iran “recognize the armies of the European countries... as terrorist groups.” What this would actually achieve is something to wonder about but later in another statement they said that European interests and armies would be shown no differential, meaning European armies would be treated the same as American interests in the Region. Iran announced on the 23 Apr 19 that it had placed the American CENTCOM on a terrorist list. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on the 9 Apr 19 declared the IRGC and its Quds Force a terrorist organisation. Achieving nothing except attempting to show the people of Iran that it cannot be stepped on without retaliating.
Another point to consider is how the IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for European security when it is well known that Iran is the Worlds sponsor of terrorism. The list is endless of the terrorist incidents that the Iranians have been involved in and not just in Europe, the Middle East but globally.
In a closed Iranian parliamentary session on the 22 Jan 23 Abolfazl Amouei, the spokesman for the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee said, “On the other hand, we are looking to establish a mechanism in the country for cases of human rights violations. Actions against international law, including killing and genocide, and cases in which Europeans had a history, should be registered and prosecuted in international authorities. These cases are also foreseen in this plan.” They were going to come up with a three point plan as a response to Europe should they designate the IRGC as a terrorist group.
The question to be asked here is, “What is Iran afraid of if the IRGC is placed on the European FTL?”
Reasons for not placing Iran’s IRGC on a Terrorist List
The reasons are few and the argument is one sided.
The Islamic State informs its population and the world that the IRGC has and is fighting terrorism. As there is no definitive universal definition of terrorism each country has its own interpretation. In the Iranian definition its anyone who stands in the way of exporting their revolutionary ideas. These are first and foremost who it deems as terrorist enemies: The United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and Saudi Arabia are the main countries who stand against Iran and are deemed by the theocratic government as terrorists.
Iran claims that its IRGC was the only country and organisation to fight and defeat the Islamic State who it opposed. Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran Javad Zarif described ISIL as an "ideological sibling" to Al-Qaeda, adding "the so-called Islamic State, is neither Islamic nor a state." Iran designated the group as a terrorist organisation through IRGC-led news outlets.
The Iranians have for some time accused the United States of being responsible for the formation of the Islamic State or Da’esh as it is also known. This is purely a propaganda statement.
The Islamic State, Da’esh was condemned for human rights abuses and executions. The United States led the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) against the Islamic State (Da’esh) and comprised over thirty countries to degrade and destroy the organisation. The Islamic State of Iraq contrary to its statement did not destroy Da’esh alone. Da’esh was a major threat to the Middle East not Europe as Iran depicts. Europe had to assess if the Islamic State represented a direct and imminent threat to the EU, or just a potential risk for the future. Although Europe did not play a prominent role in the eradication of Da’esh it did play a significant role. Iran would do well to look at the reason why the Islamic State was condemned.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has hinted it may withdraw itself from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a form of retaliation against the European decision. Iran was one of the original 62 signatories (1968) to the NPT which came into effect 1970, by 2020, 190 countries had signed up to the agreement. During the JCPOA renewal talks Iran has attempted to us the NPT agreement to gain its own way, a form of blackmail. Inspection teams from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had found three undeclared nuclear sites with uranium readings. Iran declared no knowledge of the sites, nor anything about the uranium readings or how they got there. The Islamic Republic blamed Israel for sabotaging the sites amongst other theories. Iran has attempted to bully and intimidate Europe, the United States in gaining concessions with the JCPOA agreement. Now it’s the turn of the European parliament, with Iran threatening to remove themselves from the NPT agreement completely if Europe goes ahead with the IRGC designation.
The issue between the IRGC being placed on a Foreign Terrorist List and Iran removing itself from the NPT are separate subjects. Iran is attempting to make them one issue as it has done with threats involving the resurrection of the 2016 JCPOA agreement. The Iranians have accused Europe, the U.S. Germany, France, the U.K. even Israel of plotting against Iran and making the subjects of the three sites and the JCPOA as political issues. They have also accused those involved from Europe, the UK and the U.S. as being “Iranophobic.” A term used by Iran when it cannot get what it wants.
There are already problems with monitoring the Iranian ‘peaceful’ nuclear program. Iran removed the safe guards form various sites that were linked to the original JCPOA agreement. Now they are using the Iranian nuclear program as a political football in an attempt to have the Europeans to rescind their plan to place the IRGC on a terrorist list.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s theocratic leadership has been hurt and is lashing out in every direction it can including accusing Europe of falling into a trap set by the Americans and Israel. Numerous military commanders and political leaders have voiced their opinions along with some wild accusations that are not correct.
Iran will, and does, push boundaries. They claim under the constitution that the IRGC is an integral part of the of the constitution saying that “According to the constitution, the IRGC is an official institution of Iran”, and this institution should not be declared a terrorist organization by European countries claimed IRGC chief commander General Hossein Salami. He forgets to mention that the IRGC is also the exporter of terrorism to proxy groups, the assassination of Israeli’s abroad and Iranians living in exile around the world. He forgets to mention that the IRGC is the main actor in the proliferation of drones which Iran attempts to gain markets around the world and lately the Balkans.
The EU has at long last taken the rightful decision to state that the IRGC is a terrorist organisation putting its decision in line with the United States. The United Kingdom is also considering declaring the IRGC as a terrorist organisation after the execution of the Iran/British dual national Alireza Akbari. His execution was announced on the 14 Jan 23.
In the closed session where Abolfazl Amouei mentions digging up human rights violations, he may want to look at the current president of Iran who is wanted for questioning about the killing of thousands in 1998. President Raisi was referred to in one open source outlet as “Iran’s death committee president.”
Iran is and has been suffering financially for some time with inflation above 50%. With more sanctions likely to bring greater problems Iranian money markets responded prematurely and the exchange rate fell. This will likely continue if the announcement of the designation which along with previous sanctions occur and will place a further strain on the Iranian government. Iran had recently announced (16 Jan 23) that it was to give the IRGC a financial monetary allocation of $3 billion in the national budget, representing a 28 percent increase on last year.
Iran’s regular army had its budget increased by 36 percent to around $1.22 billion, and the police budget will increase by 44 percent to $1.55 billion. The intelligence ministry has received a 52 percent increase, approximately $500 million, while prison funding has increased by 55 percent, or $230 million. These pay increases show where the Iranian government priorities lie. The motto of the Islamic Republic of Iran should be, “Revolution before the people.”
Iran states that the IRGC plays a vital role in the security in the region. Iran is an Asian country who likes to involve itself in Middle Eastern politics. The IRGC create, finances, give logistical assistance, train and guide proxies in the region to cause unrest. President Raisi has praised the IRGC and its fight against terrorism stating that “no other military force in the world has fought terrorism like the IRGC.” Meaning fighting against the Americans, the British the Saudi’s and Israel. Generally, the president is attempting to justify the IRGC to the Iranian population but is a tool of the revolution. The Islamic Republic cannot be seen to be the blame regarding the European action.
Tasnimne news outlet stated on the 20 Jan 23 that, “In other words, Europe will officially declare that its forces would be a direct threat to the IRGC; this would indicate a clear meaning in the military and strategic framework. It means that the IRGC will now consider the military forces of these European countries as a threat to nations and geography of the region, just like as Daesh and CENTCOM.” The statement is a threat made against Europe through the Tasnim News Agency which is a semi-official news agency in Iran. It has links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
On the 22 Jan 23 the Islamic Republic of Iran had a closed parliamentary session to discuss the IRGC on the European terrorist list and what their response would be once the announcement was made. It was conducted in order that all members could give their opinions and give a response to which they all agreed. The session was attended by Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and IRGC chief commander General Hossein Salami. President Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi also attended. He opened with, this action is a reaction against the insight and vigilance of the Iranian nation in thwarting the enemy's recent conspiracy and sedition to bring chaos to Iran.” He went on, “Both the military forces and the high political officials of the countries of the region and even the world recognizes the important and decisive role of the IRGC, the Quds Force and General Qassem Soleimani in the fight against terrorism in the region." There are those who would disagree with him.
The United States, United Kingdom and Europe 0n the 23 Jan 23 announced a new and fresh set of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Whilst the sanctions represented a reply to the “brutal repression” by the Iranian government ion response to the current demonstrations the Americans placed sanctions targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Cooperative Foundation, an economic conglomerate established by senior Guard officers to manage its investments. The UK imposed sanctions and an asset freeze on Iranian deputy prosecutor general Ahmad Fazelian, who the British foreign office said was responsible for an unfair judicial system that used the death penalty for political purposes, they also blacklisted others. The UK failed to designate the IRGC as a Terrorist Organisation.
The EU imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 37 Iranian officials and groups, including the sports minister, Revolutionary Guard commanders in 12 regions of Iran, hard-line politicians, senior state media officials and the head of the so-called “morality police.” The 27-nation bloc failed to nominate the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation.
In a video interview with the German politician Hannah Naumaan on the 23 Jan she explained that the EU had not dropped the idea of placing the IRGC on the FTL but was looking at doing so in the future. The politician said, “Some sanctions that come with naming someone as a terrorist organisation are already in place. We are already sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard because of the WMD that they are already developing. We are also individually sanctioning a number of the key players, in the Revolutionary Guard and at the moment we are working on legal pathways and working on political pathways so that we can finally name for what they are a terrorist organisation. But of the concrete sanctions they are already in place.” Meaning this issue has not gone away.
The Iranian response was to impose its version of sanctions on the 25 Jan 23. They enforced sanctions on 34 individuals and entities from the European Union and Britain in reaction to similar measures taken against them.
Iranian lawmaker, Jalal Rashidi Kouchi, stated, “that Iran’s response to the European Parliament’s resolution on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) caused the EU to back down on the IRGC listing.” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian wrote in the Tehran Times, saying “Branding the IRGC a ‘terrorist organization’ would be a colossal mistake on the part of the EU – a mistake Iran cannot be expected to ignore. Such a designation would encroach upon Iran’s sovereignty, flouting international law and the Charter of the United Nations. Such a serious escalation would further undermine Europe’s trustworthiness in matters related to international security and have profound implications for the interests of European countries in the Middle East region,” he wrote. “Therefore, it is of paramount importance that rationality prevails within the European foreign policy establishment to avert another crisis.”
The FM, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, in the Tehran Times on the 20 Jan 23 was quoted as saying that the European parliament had “shot itself in the foot” when hearing about the European decision to place the IRGC on the European terrorist list. With their three-point plan to retaliate in the future against the Europeans the Iranians want to ensure the shoe is not on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s other foot.