‘Terrorist’ designation for Iran’s IRGC would harm EU security

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a leading counterterror force and essential to Europe’s security interests in the Middle East.

Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attend an IRGC ground forces military drill in the Aras area, East Azerbaijan province
Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) attend an IRGC ground forces military drill in the Aras area, East Azerbaijan province, Iran, October 17, 2022. IRGC/WANA/Handout via Reuters]

Recent disturbances in Iran, ignited under the pretext of protesting Mahsa Amini’s death, have found a disproportionate echo in the West, mainly due to the security context created by the Ukraine crisis, leading the European Union to assume a biased position and make unjustified decisions informed by a deluge of disinformation, faulty logic, and fake news.

Attempts are being made within the EU to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as “a terrorist organisation”. There are, of course, no grounds for such a decision. While throngs of EU citizens were rushing to our region to join “terrorist” groups across the extremist spectrum, the IRGC had entered Iraq and Syria’s battlefronts on official invitation from their respective governments, to assist them in their fight against “terrorism” in general and ISIL (ISIS) in particular.

Branding the IRGC a “terrorist organisation” 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. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that rationality prevail within the European foreign policy establishment to avert another crisis.

Iran’s foreign policy within and outside the region is not based on an ephemeral, wishful assessment of the state of affairs, and any hostile act will be met with a proportionate response in scope and nature.

Iran has weathered the most turbulent political and security landscape in the Middle East in the past four decades – a landscape shaped by occupation, extra-regional intervention, wars and major political upheavals. That the country managed to stand its ground in such a tumultuous political and security climate proves that its policies are not malleable to hostile foreign parameters.

The United States wove a web of sanctions to pressure Iran to bend to its will. During Donald Trump’s presidency, as part of a so-called “maximum pressure campaign”, the US also designated the IRGC as a “terrorist organisation”. But Iran repeatedly demonstrated that it would not be moved by such fear-based policies and warmongering. The US’s interventionist policies in the region not only failed to produce the desired results, but also revealed the limits of its military power and so-called nation-building capacities.

Now, Europe seems to be assuming the very same interventionist approach towards Iran. The European gamble to repeat a failed US policy vis-à-vis a fundamental part of Iran’s sovereign military force, however, is doomed for failure –  and even more so than its American counterpart – for several reasons.

Here I would like to remind European colleague a couple of critical points:

Iran’s security interests in the Middle East are no different than any other state in the region. The only thing that differentiates Iran from its neighbours in this regard is the fact that it is being subjected to inhumane and illegal sanctions, as well as other violent threats including sabotage and assassinations, in an effort to pressure it to abandon its independent policies concerning its security and democracy. Under these circumstances, strengthening domestic security as well as reinforcing defences and creating deterrence against external threats are understandably Iran’s priorities. In both areas, the IRGC plays a pivotal role. Thus, designating it as a “terrorist” group would link all national defence and deterrence work carried out by Iran to “terrorism”.

The IRGC is one of the most effective counterterror forces in the world and is actively fighting terrorists across the Middle East. It would therefore be highly ironic for it to be designated as a terrorist group by Europe. Although Americans and Europeans are loath to admit it, the IRGC’s role in defeating ISIL and keeping all its affiliated groups at bay is undeniable. Many among the IRGC’s rank and file, including many of its commanders, died fighting terrorism in the region. Indeed, it was Iran’s commanders who led the fight against ISIL and helped prevent it from spreading throughout the region and committing more atrocities and even genocide against some religious and ethnic minorities. The US already assassinated one of these commanders, General Qassem Soleimani, because it perceived him as an obstacle to its hegemonic policies in the region. If Europe opts to go down the same path and start targeting Iran’s anti-terror forces and commanders, branding them “terrorists”, what would remain of the rules-based international order?

Designating an official military force of a sovereign country as a “terrorist organisation” is a foolhardy move that can be expected only from the most erratic and irrational of leaders, such as Donald Trump. That Europe is now considering doing the same is frankly unbelievable.

Europe’s security interests in the region are strongly tied to that of Iran. The Council of the European Union rightly described Iran to be “central to security in the region” in the conclusion it published on December 22, 2022. What it failed to fully acknowledge, however, is that the region’s security architecture cannot survive an insecure Iran – it would be shattered. Therefore, if Europe targets Iran’s key driver of security, the IRGC, it would be putting its own security interests in the region in jeopardy. It goes without saying that rhetoric cannot make up for the lack of actual means to project power, and fight terror, in the region. 

The EU designating the IRGC as a “terrorist” group would be a boon to warmongers who for long have been lobbying for a military face-off between Iran and the West. They would see this as a step towards fully severing all ties between Iran and Europe, which would be in no one’s interest.

Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organisation would have many unwanted legal and political consequences for all involved parties. This is why it is our conviction that dialogue and diplomacy is the best path forward. Constructive engagement between Iran and Europe is essential for finding sustainable solutions to disagreements and clarifying misunderstandings. Engagement begets more engagement. Threats, on the other hand, will be met by a commensurate reaction.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.