Alan Lis: Designing each others’ military forces as terrorist organizations and growing tensions between Iran and the US

During recent months, the relations between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran have worsened severely. Washington and Teheran have entered the path of mutual threats- not that this is something new, of course, but with the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the group of world powers back in 2015 one could expect a slight of brighter future and more stability and security in the Middle East, as well as generally in world. The more recent occurrences, however, have seemed to demonstrate an utterly opposite direction that the Iranian-American relationship goes. 

The series of events that have further deteriorated relations between Iran and the US began with President Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal in May 2018. He did so despite other states- which sat at the same side of the negotiating table and signed the agreement along with the US- who publicly claimed that they had not noticed Iran violating terms of the agreement. Mr. Trump, however, was not eager to reason with such appeals-he had torpedoed the treaty and his predecessor in the White House who brokered the deal heavily in his presidential campaign in 2016 and criticized attempts to achieve long-term stability and security with Iran through such. This decision, understandably, angered Teheran and further complicated its, already difficult, relations with Washington.

Furthermore, the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization by the US contributed largely to the significant intensification in tensions between the two countries. This constitutes the first example of this kind in history when a part of another state’s military was labelled as such. IRCG was established after the Islamic Revolution that took place in 1979 and is officially tasked with protecting the Islamic nature of the Iran’s system of government. Its members constitute the elite of the Iranian military, and the Guard Corps holds a tremendously significant position in Iran, which goes beyond the military sphere. The IRGC has for a long time enjoyed strong political and economic influences, reaching nearly all economic sectors. Amongst the numerous companies controlled by the IRGC, particularly those in construction and business sectors, as well as oil and gas industries, are worth being pointed out. 

Out of all units and divisions constituting the IRGC, the Quds Force- responsible for conducting intelligence, foreign covert and military operations and led by charismatic Qasem Soleimani- seems to have caused most troubles and influenced most the Washington’s decision to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, particularly due to its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other non-state actors that the US, and the Western world in a large part, consider to be terrorist in nature. Through supporting mentioned organizations, as well as Shia militias in Iraq and Houthis in Yemen, the Quds Force serves as a tool of shaping foreign policy and allows Iran to increase its position in the region. The Quds Force is vital to Iran’s foreign policy, as well as national security.

The decision to designate the whole IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization not only angered average Iranians and further alienated them from the US (if Washington tries to ultimately win Iranians’ hearts and minds and through such weaken the theocratic regime and lead to its overthrow then it pursues the wrong path of doing so), but also met with a response from the authorities in Teheran who, in an act of revenge, designated the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in the Middle East, as well as its allies, as terrorist organization themselves. Since these occurrences took place last month, the bilateral US-Iran relations have been a downhill to an extent not seen in a prolonged period of time.

Last Wednesday, President Trump ordered a new set of sanctions to target Iran’s iron, aluminium, steel, and copper sectors, further pressuring the state’s economy. Simultaneously, Washington deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier, which serves as ‘floating American diplomacy’, and later the Air Force bomber task force. The Americans are clearly increasing their military presence in the Middle East, but as the officials claim, this is not done for the purpose of starting a war- Iran shall rather see it, as many US officials came to explain, as a form of protection of American interests and security.

It is highly doubtful that Teheran would indeed recognize growing American military presence as such. Iran has already decided to walk away from some of the restrictions imposed by the nuclear treaty signed in 2015. While the direct military conflict between the US and Iran is somewhat unlikely, the intensification of instability in the Middle East, already deeply troubled, will certainly occur, and further downgrade in relations between the US and Russia, who stands behind the Iranian regime, is a likely outcome.