On October 25, 2007, the United States designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), nine of its affiliate organizations, as well as its top commanders, as proliferators of weapons of mass destruction under the Executive Order 13382. One of the units of the IRGC, known as the Qods Force, was also designated under the Executive Order 13224, as a terrorist organization. The question is — what do we know about IRGC's nuclear weapons involvement and how do we know it?
According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which was first to uncover more than two decades of clandestine nuclear weapons program in August 2002, the IRGC involvement with the bomb goes back two decades.
In 1983, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, Tehran started a strategic nuclear research and development program for military purposes under the IRGC's control; a special research and development unit was formed at the IRGC, and a number of the experts of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran were hired to initiate the secret nuclear project.
By 1987, the IRGC had set up research and development centers at various universities throughout Iran, including at Tehran and Shiraz Universities as well as Sharif University of Technology. In 1987, the IRGC hired 14 Sharif graduates.
The same year, the then IRGC's Supreme Commander, Mohsen Rezaii, was allotted a budget of $800 million for nuclear research.
In 1987, the notorious Pakistani nuclear scientist and the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb AQ Khan, in his secret trip to Iran, met with senior commanders of the IRGC, including Brig. Gen. Mohammad Eslami to assist Tehran in the development of its nuclear weapons program.
A unit at Tehran's northern Niavaran neighborhood operated clandestinely and had already developed active relations with Russia and Pakistan.
Between 1987 and 1992, the IRGC had already engaged in experiments on implosion. In 1992, Tehran's then-president, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, developed a three-step plan in order to overcome a major obstacle Tehran had faced; foreign technology and expertise.
Rafsanjani called for expanding the resources beyond Pakistan and urged the officials to get the required technology and expertise, even through smuggling. He also embarked on sending Iranian experts to Europe to infiltrate and steal European technology and finally to hiring experts or purchasing enriched uranium from the former Soviet republics.
In 1993, the Defense Ministry, already dominated by the IRGC, expanded its operations in Tehran's ambitious nuclear weapons program. Several universities were formed with the objective of focusing on the nuclear weapons program, including Imam Hussein and Malek Ashtar universities in Tehran and Isfahan respectively.
By 2003, the IRGC had up to 400 nuclear experts and scientists who were primarily transferred from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to the Defense Ministry.
IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Hosseini-Tash has been overseeing the nuclear weapons program of Iran. He was until 2005, the deputy Defense Minister and is now a member of the Supreme National Security Council.
One of the nuclear sites run by the IRGC was in Lavisan-Shian area in Tehran. The site was exposed in 2003 by the NCRI, but before the IAEA was allowed to visit this site in June 2004, the buildings were completely razed, top soil was removed and trees were cut off.
Center for Readiness and New Advanced Defensive Technology in Lavisan-2 was exposed by the NCRI in 2004. This nuclear site, located at a military complex, replaced the Lavisan-Shian site. One of the most senior nuclear experts of the IRGC, named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was in charge of operations there.
In 2004, the NCRI, once again revealed that Parchin military complex near Tehran, run by the Defense Ministry. A section of the site is used for laser enrichment under the supervision of an IRGC expert Mahammad Amin Bassam.
The Malek Ashtar University was established in 1986 for nuclear research and development in the city of Isfahan in central Iran. It later set up branches in Karaj and Tehran and is engaged in nuclear and missile research.
Similarly, the Imam Hussein University is one of the most important universities run by the IRGC. At this university, now one of the most advanced nuclear R&D centers of Iran, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and Fereydoon Abbassi, both IRGC officers, have used the services of other universities to advance the IRGC nuclear weapons program.
Since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in summer 2005, Iran has stepped up taking the program underground. In March 2005, the NCRI revealed an underground facility in Parchin military complex. It later exposed a series of tunnels used for WMD in Tehran and other places.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiators under Ahmadinejad have all been IRGC commanders. Former negotiator Ali Larijani was replaced by Saeed Jalili. Ali Hosseini-Tash was another IRGC commander involved in the nuclear program, who now sits on the powerful Supreme National Security Council. Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, a former commander in the notorious Qods (Jerusalem) Force and one of five Iranian officials implicated by the Interpol in November in the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentia, is now the deputy Defense Minister and in charge of the nuclear weapons program.
Many members of Congress believe that the designation of the IRGC as proliferators was long overdue and needs to be followed by the next move, namely the removal of the main Iranian opposition, the NCRI and the MEK from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
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.