David Rose

The US designated the IRGC as a terrorist organisation five years ago – and it’s time we followed suit

Proscribing the IRGC would grant the authorities stronger powers to curb its activities in Britain


The IRGC - one of its units is seen here on parade in Tehran - both operates conventional armed forces and backs terror groups (Photo Atta Kenare /AFP via Getty Images)

April 19, 2024 14:57

Ever since 1979, when Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini led the Iranian revolution that swept the Shah from power, the Islamic Republic he founded has tried aggressively to spread its Islamist vision. From the outset, the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been its principal instrument, both for crushing internal dissent and sponsoring terror abroad. In the words of Iran’s 1979 constitution, the IRGC exists to pursue “the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world”.

Now thought to have at least 250,000 members, the IRGC incudes the basij, the 90,000-strong militia that has brutally crushed successive waves of internal dissent. It is also responsible for Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, and some of its units – such as the naval commandos who hijacked the MSC Aries, a vessel reportedly owned by an Israeli businessman in the Straits of Hormuz on 15 April – operate as conventional armed forces.

However, ever since the Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1988, central to the IRGC’s mission has been its Quds Force (QF), which combines the pursuit of intelligence on Iran’s perceived enemies with covert military operations. Directly controlled by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the IRGC-QF provides finance, training, weapons and other forms of support to a swathe of terrorist organisations hostile to Israel and the West, including Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other militias in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What makes the IRGC-QF all the more sinister is the fact that although parts of the Iranian state can appear relatively more moderate, it represents and propagates the most extreme version of Iranian regime ideology, derived from its master Khamenei. This holds the destruction of Israel and the murder of the world’s Jews to be essential preconditions for the return of the Mahdi or Twelfth Imam, a great warrior leader who was last seen in the ninth century: once Israel has been wiped out, the IRGC believes, he will reappear to command the Muslim forces in a final, apocalyptic war against infidels.

The US State Department estimates that since the Iranian revolution, the IRGC has carried out at least 360 targeted assassinations abroad. This, together with its long and bloody record of supporting terrorism, prompted America to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2019, the first time it had done so in regard to a branch of a sovereign state. The move meant it became a crime for any person in the US to provide “support or resources” of any kind to the IRGC – not just tangible items such as weapons or money, but also training or personnel, or even mere “advice”. Meanwhile, any foreign national found to be a member or supporter of the IRGC could be refused entry to the US, or deported if they were within its borders.

However, Britain has not taken the equivalent step under UK law, that of proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation under the Terrorism Acts, although this would grant our authorities similar powers.

Last year, the JC revealed that the IRGC had been conducting surveillance on prominent British Jews, while Security Minister Tom Tugendhat stated that MI5 had thwarted 15 IRGC kidnap and murder plots.

Other examples of IRGC-linked activity in Britain have included events in mosques to eulogise the IRGC-QF commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone in 2020; the piping of extremist, antisemitic talks to UK students by IRGC commanders via another regime outpost, the Kanoon Towhid in Hammersmith; and the annual Quds Day marches, an international institution founded by Khomeini which is dedicated to the cause of hastening Israel’s destruction, at which placards depicting Soleimani and proclaiming support for IRGC terrorist proxies have frequently been seen.

Against this background, political pressure to proscribe the IRGC has been mounting since the beginning of last year, when Home Office sources were suggesting it was imminent. It has risen further this month, with the stabbing of the anti-regime TV presenter Pouria Zeraati outside his London home by three suspected IRGC operatives who left the country immediately afterwards, and, of course, last weekend’s drone and missile strikes on Israel, which were an IRGC operation.

For now, however, the government maintains that proscription is unnecessary, with PM Rishi Sunak echoing the Foreign Office line that since the IRGC and some of its leaders are already covered by UK sanctions, proscription is unnecessary. Moreover, a decision to proscribe would likely lead to the severing of diplomatic relations and the loss of Britain’s Tehran embassy, and with that, the end of diplomatic engagement with the regime and the closure of a valuable base for gathering intelligence.

Yet as things stand, while sanctions may stop named and sanctioned IRGC members from opening UK bank accounts, it is widely thought that others continue to come and go freely, and  according to Tugendhat, they have procured assistance for their plots from organised criminal gangs. For now, there is no legal means of stopping other IRGC-aligned activities such as those described above – although they may well be radicalising vulnerable possible adherents to their murderous cause.

The last time the IRGC murdered anyone on British soil was in 1986, when its agents blew up a Kensington bookshop that sold anti-regime books and videos, killing the owner’s son. In the past year, evidence has emerged in both Greece and Sweden of IRGC murder plots against Jews, that thankfully ended with the arrests of their would-be perpetrators. It must be hoped that it won’t require a successfully-executed assassination to bring about a change of policy.

April 19, 2024 14:57

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive