Part 4: Experts on IRGC Designation

The original co-authors of “The Iran Primer” book and other experts reflect on the U.S. designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. Their comments cover the diversity of analysis. 

Khamenei and Jafari
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari

Elizabeth Rosenberg

Senior Fellow and Director, Energy, Economics and Security Program, Center for a New American Security

Today’s designation is a powerful message to Iran and the world of Washington’s desire to apply intensive pressure on Iran. However, it will not have a strong economic effect given that the IRGC is already under U.S. sanctions. This already causes every major, reputable global company or bank to avoid the IRGC. The major effect of this designation is to make it extraordinarily difficult for the United States to bring Iran back into the global community of nations and global financial system at any point in the future if political circumstances merit such a climb down. This means that, regrettably, the United States will not be able to take yes for an answer from Iran in the future.


Alex Vatanka

Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute

The decision by the Trump administration to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization has predictably been met by official anger in Tehran. Still, underneath the veneer of anger, Iranian officials clearly do not view this latest development as a precursor to a military conflict between Iran and the United States. The consensus in Tehran is still that President Trump has no desire to launch a new military conflict in the Middle East but that he finds the designation of the IRGC – as part of his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran – to come at little domestic or international political cost to him as he prepares to run for re-election. This does not mean Tehran will not look for ways to shape Trump’s calculations.

In a tweet, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif plainly warned Trump’s alleged “NetanyahuFirster” Middle East policy might unintentionally drag the United States into another war. This is a repeated Iranian allegation that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the real driver behind the Trump administration’s Middle East policies. U.S. hostility toward the IRGC, and vice-versa, is nothing new and many dozens of IRGC-affiliated organizations (such as the Qods Force), companies and individuals were already on the U.S. sanctions list. What remains to be seen is if the IRGC’s designation in its entirety will change the ground rules in the region where U.S. and IRGC-linked forces often operate in close vicinity of each other in places like Iraq and Syria. Does it mean that the United States will kinetically target IRGC-linked assets the way other U.S. designated terror groups - such as al Qaeda and ISIS – have been targeted? That was not the case when the Qods Force was separately designated in 2007. Perhaps the Trump administration will go beyond mere designation, and if so, it is hard to see how the IRGC will not be forced to respond.

Bruce Riedel

Senior Fellow and Director of The Intelligence Project, The Brookings Institution

The designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization will be well received by Trump’s allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel. It will not tangibly weaken the threats posed to those countries by the Revolutionary Guards and its allies like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.


Patrick Clawson

Morningstar Senior Fellow and Director of Research, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The practical implications of the designation are small. Both the European Union and the United States have long banned economic transactions with the IRGC (the European Union designated the IRGC Air Force in 2008 and the whole IRGC in 2010; that has not changed since the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).  

The only additional impact I can think of is for U.S. visas: I think that IRGC veterans, as former members of a terrorist organization, are now eligible for a U.S. visa only if given an individual waiver by the Secretary of State personally. I am not certain, but this might apply to a Basiji who served a few weeks on the front 35 years ago and is now 75 years old: he could not go visit his grandkids in Los Angeles.

With the practical effects small, the question is the symbolic impact. The symbolic effect is whatever Iran makes of it. Tehran would be well advised to ignore the designation, with the usual bravado about how Washington may huff and puff, but their words mean nothing. Why draw attention to the fact that the United States and Europe both agree that the IRGC merits sanctions, with the only difference between them being how to characterize the reason for those sanctions?


Ariane Tabatabai

Associate Political Scientist, RAND Corporation

My concern with the designation is that the costs of the designation far outweigh its benefits: We are putting U.S. troops, contractors, and others at risk in the region and undermining domestic efforts to curb back the IRGC for this largely symbolic step. The regime’s greatest incentives to limit IRGC operations were to become more integrated into the international community and global economy after the JCPOA, now we may see the entirety of the political spectrum harden their line—falling behind the organization.

Part 1: Trump, Pompeo on IRGC as “Terrorists”

Part 2: Fact Sheets on IRGC, Qods Force

Part 3: What Will IRGC Designation Actually Do?

Part 5: How Might Tehran Respond to IRGC Designation?

Part 6: Iranian Officials React to IRGC Designation