What makes the Iranian IRGC so dangerous?
The function of the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to preserve and export the revolutionary principles of the country. Its main asset in pursuit of this goal is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, commonly abbreviated as IRGC. This branch of the Iranian Armed Forces is deeply embedded in all aspects of Iranian society, including the country’s economic, political and military spheres. More importantly, the IRGC uses terrorism as a tool of statecraft, and the elite Quds Force serves as the IRGC’s foreign operator. This paramilitary squad provides training, funding and assistance to Iranian-backed proxy groups throughout the region. The IRGC comprises a substantial component of Iran’s armed forces, and its terrorism support program embodies the regime’s ambitions.
Iran’s proxy approach dates back to its founding in 1979, when the monarchical regime was abruptly crushed when fundamentalist Shia clerics seized power under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The paramount chief first formed the branch to counter the military, suspected of having deep ties to the former Pahlavi monarchy. Although Iran has an army, called Artesh, the regime still looks to the IRGC as its preferred military branch.
Iran’s proxy strategy has grown in size and scope. By exploiting power vacuums, regional instability and civil war, Tehran has extended its harmful influence throughout the Middle East. The Al-Quds Force uses militias as a means of ensuring regional hegemony.
In Iraq, Iran-aligned militias under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Forces openly defy Iraqi law and work on behalf of the regime’s interests. Militias are undermining US-Iraqi relations with constant barrages of rockets and drones targeting Baghdad’s Green Zone. In Lebanon, Iran presents itself as the country’s Islamic resistance force under the banner of Hezbollah. The “Party of God” extends its control over all aspects of Lebanese politics. In Yemen, Houthi rebels trained and funded by the IRGC are fighting to oust the legitimate Yemeni government and support a Shia coalition. The Houthis continue to launch drone and rocket attacks targeting civilian and economic centers in Saudi Arabia, pushing back any prospect of peace.
In addition to funding dangerous proxies across the region, the IRGC has carried out brazen actions removal overseas programs many times. More recently, Iranian assets were charged by federal prosecutors in New York with conspiring to kidnap prominent dissident and journalist Masih Alinejad. The Quds Force has been linked to previous operations involving kidnappings of opposition activists in the United States and Europe. Schemes like these underscore the regime’s refusal to abide by international law.
Last month, US President Joe Biden finalized his decision to keep the IRGC on a US terrorism blacklist, a decision originally made by former President Donald Trump in 2019. By sponsoring and promoting acts of terrorism overseas, the IRGC certainly deserves the designation.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst at the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has lines in numerous publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.