(CNSNews.com) – The regime in Iran reacted Tuesday to the unprecedented U.S. blacklisting of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with threats against U.S. forces in the region – but also conveyed an aggrieved air, characterizing the “guardian of the Islamic Revolution” as an important force against jihadist terrorism.
If it hadn’t been for the IRGC and its “sacrifices,” President Hassan Rouhani told French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone conversation late Tuesday, both Iraq and Syria would today be controlled by ISIS.
The IRGC had dealt a “destructive blow” to the Sunni terrorist group, the IRNA state news agency quoted Rouhani as saying.
Fighters from the IRGC, which the Trump administration in an historic move this week designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), have been deployed in both Syria and Iraq, although in both cases security experts see their intervention as primarily designed to extend Iranian influence across the region.
In assisting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to defeat a broad insurgency and helping Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government to push back ISIS, Iran and its allied militias have entrenched themselves in both countries, whose governments are deeply indebted to Tehran.
While Rouhani told Macron that President Trump’s move was dangerous, elsewhere on Tuesday the “moderate” president directed more combative remarks at the U.S.
“You know that we have developed missiles since last year until this year that are beyond your imagination,” the Fars news agency quoted him as saying.
Designating the IRGC and its external wing, the Qods Force, as an FTO is the latest in a series of U.S. policies aimed at pressuring the regime to curb what the White House calls its “malign and outlaw behavior” in the region.
It’s a step many lawmakers have been calling for for years, but no previous administration has listed an official arm of a foreign government as an FTO. Designation carries penalties for offenders including up to 20 years’ imprisonment – or up to life imprisonment if material support for the IRGC leads to loss of life.
From supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei down, regime leaders and lawmakers reacted strongly to the designation, which was announced on the eve of the regime’s National Day of the Revolutionary Guard.
Hosting IRGC personnel and families on Monday night, Khamenei predicted that the U.S. move would “boomerang” on Washington.
“The enemies of the Islamic Republic, such as Trump and the idiots around the U.S. ruling system, are going into decline,” he said, while Iran had the “upper hand” in the region.
‘Firm reciprocal measures’
In a retaliatory step, the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, chaired by Rouhani, declared the U.S. a state sponsor of terrorism and U.S. forces in the region as “terrorists” – with U.S. Central Command “and its affiliates” named specifically.
Headquartered in Tampa, Fla., CENTCOM’s area of responsibility stretches from Egypt to Pakistan, and from Yemen in the south to the Central Asian Republics. Among other countries, personnel and assets are based in Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Afghanistan.
Iran’s parliament swiftly approved a measure declaring “all U.S. military, security and intelligence forces active in West Asia” to be terrorists, and requiring the government and armed forces to take “firm reciprocal measures” against any terrorist acts by them.
(Lawmakers from various political factions turned up for the session dressed in IRGC uniforms in a symbolic show of support, and chanted “Death to America.”)
Earlier, IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Jafari warned that FTO designation of his force would cost the U.S. military its “current status of ease and serenity” in the region.
A former IRGC commander, Mohsen Rezai, warned that Trump had better ensure that U.S. aircraft carriers avoid sailing anywhere near IRGC vessels.
(Rezai, who is secretary of the regime’s Expediency Council, a body that advises Khamenei, is wanted by Argentina in connection with the deadliest terrorist attack in that country’s history: the 1994 suicide truck bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, blamed on the Qods Force and Hezbollah.)
The head of Iran’s conventional armed forces also spoke out in support of the IRGC.
“We consider the U.S. troops in West Asia to be terrorists and if they do a damn thing, we will confront them vigorously,” the Mehr news agency quoted chief of general staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri as saying.
Meanwhile Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the U.S. move another “misguided” gift to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the eve of Israel’s general elections on Tuesday. Fars said this was in reference to earlier “gifts,” including Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his recent recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Since its establishment in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, the IRGC and Qods Force – sometimes acting alone, sometimes with proxies like Hezbollah – have been accused of acts of global terrorism including suicide bombings targeting Americans, Argentinians, and Israelis; of assassinating exiled Iranian dissidents; and of killing more than 600 U.S. servicemen during the Iraq war, according to recently updated official figures.
As reported earlier, previous congressional attempts to have the IRGC designated as an FTO were opposed by, among others, then-Sens. Joe Biden (D-Dela.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), and current Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).