What Opponents of Sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Get Wrong

In addition to being responsible for much of the worst domestic repression, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) manages Hizballah and similar terrorist proxies and sends its troops to fight in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. On Monday, the White House officially designated the IRGC as a terrorist group—a move, Eli Lake writes, with real consequences:

There is a difference between saying a state is a sponsor of terrorism and calling an arm of a state an actual terrorist organization. . . . The threshold is now lower for proving that someone is providing material support to the IRGC. The designation also makes any non-Iranians who wittingly or unwittingly do business with the IRGC vulnerable to having their U.S. visas revoked. This is [a] powerful disincentive for Europeans [investing] in Iran, . . . because the IRGC’s tentacles reach into most aspects of Iran’s economy.

[T]here are two basic objections to this move. The first is that the designation may provoke Iran to target U.S. forces. . . . Already, Iranian government officials have promised a response to the designation. The mistake is thinking that pressure is any more provocative to Tehran than entreaties. In the days leading up to the final implementation of the nuclear deal in 2016, for example, the IRGC briefly took U.S. sailors hostage and released a humiliating video of the incident after they were released.

The second objection is that the designation further undermines the 2015 nuclear deal. A progressive group chaired by alumni of the Obama administration made this point; however, some see this objection as a point in the Trump administration’s favor. “It makes it much more difficult for a Democratic president to go back into the Iran deal in 2021,” says the Iran-sanctions expert Mark Dubowitz, who favors the designation. Any future administration would have to make [an official] determination that the IRGC was out of the terrorism business [before removing the sanctions].

Determining that the IRGC is no longer engaged in terrorism is about as likely as determining that the IRS is no longer engaged in collecting taxes. It’s in the organization’s nature. . . . Donald Trump’s strategy, unlike his predecessor’s, begins with the premise that Iran is an outlaw state—and treats it as such until it changes its behavior.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Donald Trump, Iran, Iran sanctions, Revolutionary Guard, U.S. Foreign policy

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria