David Rose

Just what will it take for the UK government to proscribe the IRGC?

Rishi Sunak should be taking action now and not sitting on his hands

August 04, 2023 17:22

What will it take for the British government to proscribe the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the author of brutal state repression inside Iran and the sponsor of terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad?

Not long ago I was discussing this question with Lord Polak, who has done more than anyone to try to get officialdom to take the issue seriously.

His forecast was pessimistic: in his view, so stubborn was the resistance being put up in parts of Whitehall, it might only happen in the event of a successful IRGC-led assassination or terrorist attack.

This week’s JC makes the question even more urgent. As the seasoned Iran watcher Kasra Aarabi and I report, the Islamic Students Association of Britain (ISA), which has branches in numerous UK universities, has presented a series of online talks by at least eight IRGC commanders since 2020, including three who are on the UK sanctions list for their personal involvement in gross human rights abuse. 

These sessions, which have been watched many thousands of times, have featured bloodcurdling calls to join the coming “apocalyptic war” against non-Muslims, Holocaust denial and other forms of flagrant antisemitism. While ISA deny having any links to the IRGC, it is possible that even without the IRGC being proscribed under the Terrorism Act, the contents of the sessions constitute hate speech, and unlawful incitement to commit violent acts.

ISA’s Hammersmith headquarters in a former Methodist church, which is now known as the Kanoon Towhid, Farsi for “centre of monotheism”, also puts on live events.

Several have taken place in recent weeks, and these too have featured praise for the “axis of resistance” – aka IRGC-backed terror groups – which have “bled red” and make up “the greatest threat to the Zionists”.

As Aarabi points out in his own analysis in this week’s paper, the argument is sometimes made by opponents of proscription that to do so would be merely symbolic, and make little practical difference.

But this is mistaken: if the IRGC were to be finally proscribed, piping its extremist ideology into the hearts and minds of students at UK universities would in and of itself be a crime, and anyone participating in this process would be liable to be prosecuted.

We know that current IRGC policy is to recruit and deploy non-Iranians to act as its agents – as shown earlier this year by the arrest of two alleged IRGC terrorists in Greece, who were said to be planning to blow up Jewish targets such as a Chabad restaurant in Athens. They weren’t Iranians, but Pakistani.

Proscribing the IRGC in the UK might well prevent young, “home-grown” radically-inclined individuals from joining the IRGC’s murderous cause here.

So what is the case against proscription, and who exactly is making it? As of early January, it seemed that the government was on the verge of taking this step.

It is the most open of secrets that Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat have long regarded the move as essential to protect UK lives and national security.  And way back then, at the start of the year, I was told by well-placed sources that Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had come to agree.

Almost immediately, however, the pushback began, first from Cleverly’s officials, then from Cleverly himself, and so far, it has prevailed. I’m instinctively wary when I hear several, seemingly unrelated justifications for a particular policy, but this is what’s been happening over the IRGC.

In no particular order, the reasons I’ve been given for not proscribing it  include: that if we did, this would put the lives of British dual nationals being held in Iranian prisons at risk; that it would scupper any chance of “engaging” with the regime, and so spoil any chance of a revived deal over curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons programme; that it would likely make the Iranians close the British embassy in Tehran, and deprive us of a base for gathering intelligence; and that our American allies don’t want us to do it, although the US itself took this step years ago.

Do any of those reasons outweigh the benefits of making it much more difficult for the IRGC to operate in the UK – and to render the activities of bodies such as the Islamic Students Association of Britain unlawful? As we report in this week’s paper, intelligence experts and senior MPs from both main parties, including shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and the Conservative foreign affairs select committee chair Alicia Kearns, don’t think they do. Indeed, the Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of proscription in a non-binding resolution earlier this year.

Yet still, somehow, Cleverly and the Foreign Office “blob” continue to prevail.

Only one man can cut through this and take the necessary steps: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. He’s currently enjoying a well-deserved holiday in California, but I hope someone has sent him this week’s JC reports.

The longer he sits on his hands, the greater become the prospects of an attack of the kind forecast by Lord Polak.

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August 04, 2023 17:22

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