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Suchak Patel asked: What is the footprint of Iran's Quds Force in West Asia and the global theatre, and the ethical or political perspective to list it as a terrorist organisation?

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  • Adil Rasheed replies: For the Islamic Republic of Iran to have named its elite offshore military force ‘al-Quds’, which is the Arabic name for Jerusalem, is understandably disconcerting for the United States (US) and Israel as it clearly points to Iran’s extra-territorial military ambition of “liberating” Islam’s third holiest city from the Zionist state.

    The fact that this military arm of Iran had been gradually planting its proxies and military bases near the Israeli and Saudi borders in recent years also helps explain the Donald Trump administration’s extraordinary decision to pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran – the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – a deal which not only lifted economic sanctions against the theocratic regime but also helped it normalise relations with the rest of the world.

    Under the astute leadership of Gen. Qassem Soleimani (killed in a US airstrike near Baghdad Airport in early January this year), al-Quds emerged as a potent military force across West Asia. In Lebanon, it has supported Hezbollah in becoming a grave security threat for Israel as well as in establishing itself as a parasitical ‘state-within-a-state’. In Iraq, it has successfully established the biggest coalition of Iraqi Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), also called al-Hashd al-Shaabi. On the pretext of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the PMF has become Iran’s sectarian arm in Iraq and Syria, which is now launching attacks against US military interests in the country.

    The al-Quds has helped in turning the rag-tag Houthi brigades in Yemen into an effective fighting force that have not only discomfited the Saudi-led Gulf military intervention but have also claimed to have carried out drone strikes against Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais. In Afghanistan, al-Quds managed to hobnob with anti-US groups, including the erstwhile adversary Taliban, to draw down the superpower’s forces from its eastern front, and has even managed to supply weapons into Gaza for the radical Hamas and Islamic Jihad to continue their militant campaigns. On the global front, al-Quds has been blamed for the bombing of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in July 1994 that claimed 85 lives, as well as the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in the same city that killed 29 people two years earlier.

    President Trump’s decision to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), one of whose eight branches is al-Quds, as a foreign terrorist organisation in April 2019 was the first ever by the US to label a country’s military as a terrorist organisation. To quote President Trump, “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.”

    The fact that the characterisation of IRGC as a terrorist organisation puts to question the dubious role of several other intelligence agencies can be a subject of academic interest. Again, only time will prove the effectiveness of the punitive measures threatened by the Trump administration against “doing business with the IRGC”.

    Posted on March 27, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.