Lapid: ‘Everyone in their right minds’ must oppose IRGC ban reversal in Iran Deal

“If the IRGC isn’t a terrorist organization, what are they? A folk dancing troupe?” the Minister of Foreign Affairs said in a Yesh Atid function.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy (R), 3 November 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy (R), 3 November 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The world cannot acquiesce to Iran’s demand that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps no longer be designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday.

"This is wrong. Don’t do this"

“If the IRGC isn’t a terrorist organization, what are they – a folk-dancing troupe?” he quipped at a Yesh Atid faction meeting. The IRGC sponsors Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Houthis, he added.

“The world cannot agree to these audacious conditions,” Lapid said. “It cannot allow tens of billions of dollars to flow to Iran nor allow it to continue to spread terror around the world.”

Earlier on Monday, Lapid called on participants in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations mission to Israel to ensure that the IRGC’s terrorist designation, in place since 2019, is not removed.

“Everyone in their right mind should go to the Biden administration and say, ‘This is wrong. Don’t do this,’” he said.

 Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami smiles during a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17' in the southwest of Iran (credit: SAEED SAJJADI/FARS NEWS/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)VIA REUTERS) Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami smiles during a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17' in the southwest of Iran (credit: SAEED SAJJADI/FARS NEWS/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)VIA REUTERS)

Gantz calling for robust IAEA safeguards

Israeli officials have expressed concern that Iran has yet to respond to the West’s offer earlier this month in Vienna to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, in an attempt to get further concessions in the talks.

The removal of the IRGC from the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations List is one of several demands by Iran, which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed in his address to the Conference of Presidents on Sunday evening.

He also said Iran had demanded that the International Atomic Energy Agency investigations of suspected nuclear sites be closed, but the Biden administration refused.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz emphasized this point at the Munich Security Conference this week, calling for robust IAEA safeguards.

In addition, Bennett said world powers in the negotiations had agreed that Iran could store its advanced centrifuges and not destroy them.

“Returning to the JCPOA is a return to a weaker agreement because of the time,” Lapid said, referring to most of the restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment ending in 2025. “We were unhappy with the deal to begin with [in 2015].”

Israel has made clear that “even if you sign the deal, we didn’t,” he said Monday. “It doesn’t apply to us, and we’re going to do what we think is necessary to make sure Iran does not become a nuclear-threshold country.”

Jerusalem and Washington disagree on the revival of the 2015 JCPOA but are still able to work together and maintain a dialogue, Lapid said.

“We are great allies, but we [Israel] are not subordinate,” he said. “We have the freedom to act on Israel’s security in the way we understand.”

Lapid also said Israel and the US discussed “other ways” to stop Iran from reaching nuclear breakout, without elaborating.

One possibility, which Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli mentioned in her address to the Conference of Presidents, could be “a complementary agreement between Israel and the US” to be reached after the Vienna talks end.

What does Iran want?

Another Iranian demand is that the US remove all sanctions imposed since 2018. The US has refused to lift sanctions related to terrorism and human-rights violations. Among the sanctions Iran wants lifted are those for the Office of the Supreme Leader, according to The Wall Street Journal. That would include those on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, imposed for committing crimes against humanity. As a judge, Raisi oversaw a commission that ordered the murder of 5,000 political activists.

In addition, Iran has sought a guarantee that future US administrations will not back out of the deal, like former president Donald Trump did in 2018. US President Joe Biden cannot legally make that promise.

Any agreement must include “securing our interests, especially lifting sanctions... valid guarantees... and closing the cases of political claims,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Monday at a news conference in Doha with the emir of Qatar, likely a reference to the IAEA investigations.

The head of the Russian delegation to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, on Monday said he thinks “the deal will be finalized by the end of February.”

The draft currently being discussed in Vienna would suspend Iran’s uranium enrichment beyond 5% purity, according to diplomats involved in the talks.

It would also freeze $7 billion in Iranian funds stuck in South Korean banks due to US sanctions and would have Iran release Western prisoners.

After that, Iran would have to return to the main limits of the JCPOA, such as mostly eliminating its enriched-uranium stockpile and reducing enrichment to 3.75% purity. The US would also waive sanctions on Iranian oil.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday told a bipartisan delegation of members of the US Congress that military action would be necessary to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

“In the case of [Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein], it was stopped because Israel took military action,” he said. “In the case of Syria, the same thing – Israel took military action. So the way to stop the arming of such regimes with nuclear weapons has not been through agreements.”

Netanyahu emphasized that diplomacy “just does not work” against Iran’s nuclear program.

“The only things that work are one of two things or both: either crippling sanctions or a credible military response or both,” he said. “Nothing else has worked, and in my judgment nothing else can work.”

Reuters contributed to this report.