Iranian IRGC, Quds Force. ShutterStock.

President Trump is designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. It should’ve happened long ago.

The Iranian regime’s elite forces have targeted U.S. troops and citizens overseas, raised financing, manpower and resources for terrorist organizations that they have propped up around the world.

Increasingly, the IRGC has played a crucial role Iran’s role to expand its influence in the Western Hemisphere and geographically position itself closer to the United States. The terrorist group is also an integral part of the Iranian government’s operations against our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, and the group has been actively involved in training terrorist organizations and the Taliban in Afghanistan to target and kill American troops.

The Trump administration’s unprecedented step will put pressure on the Iranian regime and nations that attempt to evade sanctions, say experts.

“This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft,” President Trump said Monday, in a White House statement. “The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”

However, some intelligence officials say the Trump administration needs to go one step further, designating individual leaders of the IRGC and Iranian intelligence terrorists (I have more on this below).

No Debate: IRGC Is a Terrorist Organization

Iran is the largest state-sponsor of terror in the world and the terrorist designation is a first step in curtailing the regime’s efforts worldwide. Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has long stressed that the IRGC is a threat to global security. Further, the terrorist organization provides resources, training and financing to Iraqi and Afghanistan terrorist networks that have killed U.S. troops overseas.

Nunes told that he supports the Trump Administration’s decision, as it designates anyone who deals with the IRGC at risk of facing criminal charges for aiding or abetting a terrorist group.

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are unquestionably a foreign terrorist organization – I don’t even see how it’s debatable,” he added.

It isn’t debatable, according to Jim Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation.

Phillips pointed out that the designation will aid the U.S. in enforcing economic sanctions.

“The designation will ramp up economic sanctions against the IRGC and any foreign entities that conduct business with it or with its subsidiaries and front companies,” said Phillips.  “This will drain away resources that the IRGC could otherwise use to finance its own operations or subsidize its network of terrorist proxies. The end result will be to give the administration more tools for expanding its maximum pressure policy against Iran.”

Phillips stressed that aside from Iran, “the countries that have most to lose from the new sanctions are probably Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey because of their continued trade ties with Tehran.”

However, “I doubt that any of them will comply willingly with the new sanctions,” he added.

Iran In The Western Hemisphere

An in-depth look at Iran’s actions in the region was provided in testimony in 2015 to the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. Scott Modell, a senior advisor for the Center of Strategic and International Studies described Iran’s dangerous military and intelligence expansion in the region and the integral role of the IRGC.

They include the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its special operations wing, the Qods Force; the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS); Iran’s terror proxies, most notably Lebanese Hezbollah; a web of Islamic cultural centers, foundations, charities, and mosques; Iran’s ambassadors (often IRGC and MOIS officers) and other Ministry of Foreign Affairs personnel; and an expanding global network of agents, middlemen, and facilitators involved in a wide range of illicit activities, from arms and drug trafficking to nuclear procurement.

While Iran’s most ambitious attempts to externalize its revolution have occurred in the Islamic world,since 2005 it has gone to considerable lengths to build influence in its geographic and strategic countries that can act as partners in a global network designed to oppose U.S. policies. Iran has reliedmainly on a small group of “Bolivarian” nations led by Venezuela to blunt the impact of sanctions. They have facilitated Iran’s oil trade, provided access to the international banking system in the face of U.S. and EU sanctions, and given Iran avenues for illicit nuclear and conventional military procurement.

How Iran responds and what the U.S. will do to prove the sanctions have teeth remains to be accessed. Also, what, if anything, does the designation mean regarding Iran’s encroachment in the Western Hemisphere?

IRGC Covert and Overt arms operations

The IRGC has extensive covert and overt arms operations in Latin American and South American countries, according to multiple U.S. and Central American intelligence officials who’ve spoken to

Iran has worked vigorously to export its Islamic Revolution to emerging markets in both South and Central America. Consequently, the regime has built strong relationships with dictatorial communist-socialist regimes like those in Venezuela and Bolivia, to name a few.

Further, Iran’s stretch in the Western Hemisphere isn’t some alarmist rhetoric it’s very real.

In 2013, The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick did an extraordinary investigative article on Iran’s growing intelligence expansion and recruitment in Mexico.  In 2012, a Texan by the name of Manssor Arbabsiar, pleaded guilty to assisting Iran in a mission to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington D.C.’s famous Georgetown neighborhood.

Moreover, Iran’s interest in the region is in many ways related to its direct interest in its enemy the United States.

For years, Iran has used Venezuela as a direct gateway into our region. Senior U.S. and other western intelligence officials in the region watched those numbers increase over the past 16 years. Iranian intelligence and IRGC officers often took and take direct flights from Tehran to the capital of Caracas. Moreover, once in Venezuela Iranian intelligence officials could easily throughout the region, posing a direct threat to U.S. security.

Senior IRGC officials, as well as senior Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security officers,  often travel from Tehran into South America and Central America “and the most anyone could do was monitor movement over the past decade. And under the Obama Administration it was not a priority, it’s changing under Trump,” said one Federal law enforcement official, who worked with U.S. intelligence in the region.

Designate Individual’s within the IRGC and Iran Intelligence Terrorists

“individual sanctions naming IRGC officials, their local surrogates, and their front leadership and managers is much more effective,” former Senior Intelligence Official

Contrary, some say the terrorist designation doesn’t go far enough. Several intelligence officials believe the Trump administration needs to consider designating senior IRGC officials terrorists as well.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official, who has direct knowledge of the region, said the U.S. should pressure the regime and restrict its abilities by designating senior IRGC members terrorists.

“The IRGC decision is short sighted,” the official warned. “The organization has many important covert arms like the funding and support to the Quds force, Lebanese Hezbollah, and the numerous militias in Iraq and Syria.”

The former official said the most effective way to target Iran’s elite forces is by designating “individual sanctions” and “naming IRGC officials, their local surrogates, and their front leadership and managers.”

“You can put names, faces and bank accounts for individual businesses on them and really hurt them,” the intelligence official added.

“It’s the contrast of a one time shotgun blast at the IRGC versus constant sniper shots at the IRGC which bleeds them of resources and covert infrastructure that has taken years to build,” they added.

“The (Office of Foreign Assets Control) list is a powerful weapon and you can prevent them from banking or wiring USD. The idea of sanctions should be precise and painful,” the official added.