Reaction from Tehran and its Trans-Atlantic apologists to the Bush administration’s October 25 blacklisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Qods Force and a dozen other IRGC proliferation and terrorist affiliates was more than predictable.
Shaken by the strategic political and economic ramifications of these targeted designations — by far better understood in Tehran than in many of Washington’s policy circles — the clerical regime's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appeared in public to assuage the anxiety of their shrinking ideological base on October 31. At the same time, there were the usual bombastic and belligerent statements from Khamenei’s protégé Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and IRGC commanders. In thinly-veiled threat to the demoralized insiders, Ahmadinejad said that “millions of Iranians would be ready to sacrifice themselves fighting the country's enemies.”
Ali Fadavi, deputy head of the IRGC’s naval forces, warned that the IRGC forces were prepared to carry out suicide operations in the Persian Gulf "if necessary … this spirit is prevailing now within the Revolutionary Guards," he said.
Meanwhile, not surprisingly, Iran’s Democratic opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and a host of senior anti-fundamentalist and nationalist Iraqi political figures, including former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Iraqi National Accord front leader Dr. Adnan Al-Duleimi, welcomed the decision to blacklist the IRGC and its affiliated entities.
The prominent Iranian opposition leader, Maryam Rajavi, described the move as “indispensable to thwart the export of terrorism and fundamentalism to the Middle East region, in particular the regime's meddling in Iraq and to prevent the regime from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Mrs. Rajavi, elected by the NCRI as president for the transitional period after the mullahs are overthrown, stressed, “This is a clear testament and a necessary prelude to democratic change in Iran.”
The Iraqi dignitaries emphasized that the sanctions would prove effective in limiting the Qods Force campaign in Iraq.
But would it? Absolutely! It is common knowledge that the IRGC has expanded its role beyond simply being the main military component of the ayatollahs’ regime into a financial and political conglomerate. But how extensive is the Guard’s financial network and how would economic demise impact the totality of the regime? And a quick survey of current reporting on the IRGC shows that indeed its role in Iran’s economy has been grossly underestimated.
Over the years, the IRGC has created a web of financial sources which do not fall under the supervision and accountability of the government, in order to cloak the IRGC's financial transactions and other activities at home and abroad.
The IRGC's share of business increased dramatically after Ahmadinejad's rise to presidency. Today, the IRGC has taken control of some of the most lucrative sectors of the Iranian economy, extending over more than 57 percent of the country's imports and 30 percent of its non-oil exports. This has enabled it to make a profit of around $5 billion annually.
In July 2006, $2 billion from the government's reserves was transferred to the IRGC's Khatam-ol Anbia Construction Headquarters. The same year, this company earned $7 billion more when signing three large contracts to work in oil and gas fields.
The office of the Supreme Leader oversees the Guards' economic activities. Its budget remains a secret and it does not report to any other agency in the government. One company, Hessan, is run by Khamenei’s office and controls the IRGC's assets and accounts.
In reality, a major portion of $40 billion of annual trade between the European Union and the Iranian regime ends up in the coffers of the IRGC, its affiliates and front companies. When EU is doing business with Iran, most probably it is dealing with the IRGC.
The IRGC runs more than 500 small and large companies with branches spanning four continents, especially in the Persian Gulf states. In the UAE, there are 483 front companies run by the IRGC involved in activities ranging from importing household appliances, contracting projects in oil and gas fields, smuggling oil out of Iraq, providing technical requirements for nuclear and missile projects, road works, building dams, ports and buildings.
Operating illegal shipping ports for certain contraband imports and exports is among the major tasks of the IRGC. According to information from inside the regime, the IRGC has established 60 illegal ports in the southern Iranian coasts. It is believed that many of these ports have military applications.
According to the NCRI, some of the companies affiliated with the IRGC are: Razmandegan, Razmjoo, National Building, IRGC Cooperation Insurance and the IRGC Bassij Ghorb companies, Kosaran Institute, Construction bases known as Ghorbs in the IRGC's air force, navy, ground force and the joint staff, IRGC's Cooperation Company, Ta'min Aghlam Institute, Javan Seir Isar Travel Agency, Maskan Institute, Koosha Ghodrat, Iranians Trade and Development and Negar Nasr companies, Bahman Industrial Group, Shahriyar, Atlas and Atlas Maritime companies.
Some of the key commanders of the IRGC engaged in its business and commercial activities are:
1. IRGC Brig. Gen. Muhammad Khoda Bakhshi, Khatam-ol Anbia Construction Headquarters coordinator
2. Mullah Hojjat Piri, deputy coordinator in Khatam-ol Anbia Construction Headquarters
3. IRGC Brig. Gen. Abdurreza Abedzadeh, deputy commander of Khatam-ol Anbia Construction Headquarters
4. Sardari (engineer), head of the Khatam-ol Anbia Construction Headquarters engineering team
5. Mullah Ismaeel Sa'adat, Khamenei's representative in Khatam-ol Anbia Construction Headquarters
It is abundantly clear that if the European Union follows the U.S. lead and, in addition to supporting the new U.S. sanctions, slaps its own targeted, punitive measures against the IRGC, a lot would be achieved toward dismantling Tehran’s nuclear effort and terror machine.
Contrary to some suggestions, these targeted sanctions, as a part of a robust diplomatic offensive to defuse the existential threats Tehran is posing, could prevent a military conflict. More importantly, these sanctions signify a clear departure from the disastrous policy of striking a grand bargain with the ayatollahs. As long as the mullahs are ruling Tehran, the more jaw has pushed Iran and the whole region toward more war.
According to a Gallup poll released October 31, the American people consider Tehran as being by far the greatest threat to world stability. And, according to an internal secret survey conducted by the Iranian regime, over 90 percent of the Iranians favor regime change in Iran.
To avoid war, however, the United States and Europe should push for an Iranian solution, i.e. relying on the Iranian people and their democratic opposition movement. There is no need to appropriate money, provide arms, or have boots on the ground. It is time for the State Department to vacate the terrorist designation of Iran's main opposition groups, the MEK and the NCRI. A bipartisan majority of members of Congress rejected the designation, which they said was meant as a goodwill gesture to the Iranian regime. Now is the time to act.
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, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.