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In early 2003, with the invasion of Iraq looming and Tehran’s nuclear program exposed by the main Iranian dissident group, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a momentous decision: make a war plan and rule out any nuclear compromise. Khamenei’s sudden decree early this month to place an experienced war veteran to the top of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) represents a significant strengthening of the ayatollahs’ war party.

IRGC General Mohammad Ali Jaafari, an expert in strategic and asymmetric warfare, replaced General Rahim Safavi who was appointed to be Khamenei’s special military adviser, a highly influential political position.

Since 2003, Iran’s Supreme Leader has methodically built a political, diplomatic and military stronghold by placing the top brass of the IRGC in key political and security positions. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s win in the 2005 presidential elections was the culmination of this “multi-layered and complex” metamorphism of the IRGC into a wide-ranging military-political entity.

Shortly after his IRGC-engineered win, Ahmadinejad, a former senior IRGC commander, vowed to “spread the Islamic Revolution throughout the world.” With the full blessing of Khamenei, he staffed the top tiers of his cabinet and diplomatic corps with veteran IRGC commanders. Today, nearly one-third of the parliament is comprised of IRGC members.

The political rise of the IRGC reflects Ayatollah Khamenei’s strategic calculation that backing down in the nuclear standoff and in Iraq would jeopardize the survival of the theocratic regime. He said as much last year: “Any retreat [in the nuclear field] will open the way for a series of endless pressure and never-ending back downs.”

This was not a slip of the tongue. In October 2005, the chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, declared that “This is a war. If we take a step back today, tomorrow they will bring up the issue of human rights, and the day after they will bring up the issue of Hezbollah, and then democracy, and other matters.”

Two years on, the IRGC has taken full control of the nuclear program and has evolved into the most powerful financial conglomerate in Iran. Moreover, through a mesh of front companies and affiliated civilian firms, the Guards Corps has been importing nuclear-related technology and material in direct violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747, which explicitly forbid such transactions.

According to documents obtained by this author from his sources associated with the main opposition inside Iran, i.e. the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the Iranian Ministry of Defense (MOD) has authorized the import of goods to the Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO). The AIO is a military installation run by the IRGC that manufactures missiles, and some of its subordinates, as well as its executive director, are among the entities sanctioned in the UN resolutions.

One of the documents, dated March 7, 2007, is a directive from the AIO’s Executive Director, IRGC Brigadier General Ahmad Vahid Dastjerdi, to the Iranian Customs Office. In it, he lists 28 officials of the MOD who are authorized to release imported goods to entities listed. Moreover, on April 21, 2007, a shipment of 108 containers for MOD arrived from China at Iran’s Chabahar Port. The shipment was labeled as “highly classified.”

In Iraq, where Tehran aims to establish a client state, the IRGC’s elite Qods Force is leading the ayatollahs’ destabilization campaign. This author has obtained the detailed list of nearly 32,000 Iraqis, inside and outside of Nouri Al-Maliki’s government, who are on the payroll of the IRGC.

On the financial front, several huge no-bid energy contracts have been given to IRGC-owned companies totaling billions of dollars. These include a $3 billion contract for the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbia headquarters to expand the southern Pars gas field. The Sadra Company, a major firm owned by the Guards, has obtained contracts to build several oil shipyards in Venezuela.

And long before getting into the business of exporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction, the IRGC was busy killing and suppressing Iranians. The primary task of the IRGC and its Bassij forces is to shield the theocracy against growing opposition and to quash uprisings of a restive population.

The terror designation of the IRGC would go a long way in impeding the clerical regime’s rogue behavior at home and abroad. More importantly, it will send a long overdue signal to the Iranian people that the United States stands with them and their resistance against the IRGC-protected ruling tyranny.

In its September 16 issue, The New York Times reported that while many in the administration are pushing to blacklist the entire IRGC, “officials at the State and Treasury Departments have been pushing a narrower approach that would list only the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds [Qods] Force, or perhaps, only companies and organizations with financial ties to that group.”

If true, this “narrower” designation would weaken the political message Washington intends to send to Tehran's rulers who in fact thrive on display of weakness. It would also signal to Iranians that, despite the lip-service paid to its relentless pursuit of democracy, Washington refuses to blacklist the entire IRGC which is most responsible for the ayatollahs’ bloody grip on power.

If the terrorist designation would only be limited to the Qods Force, then the IRGC's nuclear weapons operations, its financial institutions, much of its terror operations in Lebanon and elsewhere, as well as its domestic repression would remain intact and unharmed.

Such policy recommendations, dominated by an inordinate appetite for keeping the illusionary doors of negotiation open with the mullahs, inevitably encourages more belligerence from Tehran.

Ironically, while the State Department in successive U.S. administrations and in what can only be described as a Chamberlainesque appeasement of ruling tyrants in Iran, has turned a blind eye to the terrorism of the IRGC, it has named the democratic opposition, including the MEK as terrorist.

Two years ago, President George W. Bush stated that “democratic dissidents of today are the democratic leaders of tomorrow.” Branding the IRGC as terrorist and revoking the terror designation of Iran's democratic dissidents is a first and necessary step to empowering the democratic leaders of tomorrow's Iran.

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Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.

Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org.