The broad goal of the US’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group was to “make it radioactive,” US counter-terrorism state department official Nathan Sales told a closed press meeting late Sunday.
The recent designation was the first time the US has ever designated part of a state entity as a terrorist group and was praised by Israel, but led to escalating tensions and threats between the US and Iran.
Going into greater detail about three areas where he said the designation would help counter-terrorism objectives, Sales noted the importance of public diplomacy.
He said that “the unprecedented step” of designating an Iranian state entity as a terrorist group “makes it unique in the nations of the world.”
The counter-terrorism official said that for years some entities were accused of supporting terrorism in a more general sense, but that “now Iran stands accused of directly engaging in terrorism.”
“This removes its plausible deniability – it cannot hide behind Hezbollah or Palestinian Islamic Jihad anymore,” he said.
The second area that Sales highlighted was that the designation “enables material support [criminal] prosecutions” of “anyone knowingly providing support,” to any entities linked to the IRGC which can lead to an up to 20-year prisons sentence.
He noted that this crime is defined broadly under US law and has led to over 150 convictions relating to other terrorist groups.
For business-persons concerned about risk, this could have an economic impact of deterring business with the IRGC even where the US might have difficulty sorting out what straw-man entities are backed by the IRGC.
Many experts have pointed out that it is unclear how well the US will be able to discern in practice which entities are backed by the IRGC since the group has tentacles spread through up to 40% of the entire Iranian economy.
Sales did not want to get into intelligence specifics of how the US might crack the IRGC’s straw-man cover.
Third, he said that the designation would empower the US to deny entry to the country to persons with links to IRGC entities, including those raising funds for the group’s efforts.
The Jerusalem Post has been told by sources that another reason for the designation was to make it more difficult for any future administration to fully lift sanctions on Iran.
With half of the top US Democratic presidential candidates pledging to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal should they be elected, the designation of the IRGC as a terror group could leave a harder obstacle to the complete lifting of sanctions.
As one source explained, it is one thing to talk about rejoining the Iran deal, but it could be much tougher politically for a future administration to explain why it wanted to warm up to the IRGC.
Sales did not address the issue directly, but said that those concerned about the issue should hope US President Donald Trump is reelected.
The counter-terrorism official added that the fact that Hezbollah has been on a public fund-raising spree in recent months signals that the US sanctions on Iran are having an impact – even forcing it to reduce its funding of its top proxy Hezbollah.
He did acknowledge that US actions against Iran could lead to Tehran retaliating against US military personnel overseas, pointing out that the US estimates around 600 soldiers were killed in Iraq due to Iranian involvement. However, he said the US would take extra precautions for force protection.
He did not answer where the increased threat-level stood in terms of quality and quantity since the US designation of the IRGC.
Disputing some of the characterizations of the Trump administration as making sudden radical foreign policy changes without fully considering the issues, he said that the IRGC designation came only after an extensive interagency consultation process.
At the meeting, Sales also discussed concerns about ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula posing a threat to Israel, noting he had just returned from a trip to the Gaza border which helped him better understand the complex security realities Israel faces.
He also blasted Hezbollah and Hamas for their terrorism efforts.