IRGC’s terrorist designation welcomed by the GCC
LONDON - The classification by the US State Department of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation was welcomed by most Gulf Cooperation Council countries, particularly those significantly affected by the group’s activities.
Saudi Arabia described the US move as a “practical and serious step” in efforts to combat terrorism.
The US decision “translates the kingdom’s repeated demands to the international community of the necessity of confronting terrorism supported by Iran,” a Saudi Foreign Ministry source was quoted as saying by the official Saudi Press Agency.
In October 2018, in a joint counterterrorism initiative with the United States, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait placed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) high-ranking members, including al-Quds Force commander Major-General Qassem Soleimani and IRGC officers Hamed Abdollahi and Abdul-Reza Shahlai, on a sanctions list.
The sanctions, which fall under Saudi Arabia’s Terrorist Financing Targeting Centre, included the
IRGC’s al-Quds Force, which has been active in many regional hot spots, including the war in Yemen and the civil war in Syria.
Riyadh has long been on a target al-Quds Force’s destabilising activities, including efforts to politicise the haj pilgrimage. The US government said al-Quds was involved in a plot to assassinate Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir in Washington in October 2011 when he was Riyadh’s ambassador to the United States.
Al-Quds Force, through one of its regional proxies, was determined to be responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 US military personnel and wounded 500 others.
A 2001 US government indictment stated that 13 members of the Saudi-branch of Hezbollah, with support from an unnamed member of the Lebanese branch of the movement, conducted surveillance on US operations as early as 1993 with the help of Iranian military and government officials and planned the bombing to drive Americans from Saudi Arabia.
In 2006 a US federal judge ruled Iran responsible for the operation and ordered Tehran pay $254 million to the families of the Americans killed in the attack.
IRGC support for the Houthis in Yemen has helped the militia upgrade its military capabilities. The Gulf coalition and the internationally recognised Yemeni government fighting the Houthis say Iran has violated a UN arms embargo by supplying the rebels with advanced surface-to-air missile systems.
Bahrain, which has regularly objected to Tehran’s activities within its borders, including support of Shia opposition groups and the arming of terror cells, expressed gratitude over the designation of the IRGC as terrorists.
The Bahraini Foreign Ministry stressed the importance of the decision in addressing “the dangerous role played by the IRGC as a destabilising force and the main contributor to the spread of violence and terrorism across the Middle East and the entire world.”
In the United Arab Emirates, despite the government not issuing public statements on the US designation, state-controlled media supported the development.
“Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been the main actors when it comes to the regime in Tehran promoting its sectarian agenda from the Bab el Mandeb to the Mediterranean Sea. Its far-reaching influence, its structure, its ability to act within that regime as a virtual state-within-a-state — one in which its tentacles reach through every facet of Iranian society — have been all too obvious,” an editorial in Dubai daily Gulf News said.
“This designation should serve notice that Iran’s interference across the region must come to an end,” the editorial added.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani condemned the move by the US State Department. Thani, on an official visit to Ankara, was joined by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in saying the designation would create “instability” in the region.
Thani said disagreements over the Iranian military’s behaviour or that of any other army should not be solved by imposing sanctions, Al Arabiya reported.
Doha, because of its expanding economic and military ties with Iran and suspected support of Islamist terrorist groups, saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in June 2017.