Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister have called on Washington to keep Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on its list of ‘foreign terrorist organizations.’

“The Revolutionary Guards are a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans,” Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid said in a statement. “We have a hard time believing that the United States will remove it from the definition of a terrorist organization.”

During negotiations since April 2021 to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran has made clear it expects the United States to lift a raft of ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions introduced after the Trump administration in 2018 withdrew the US from the deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

There has been speculation that one of the disagreements in not concluding a nuclear deal is over delisting the IRGC. Opponents of the JCPOA in the US and Israel are aware than not delisting the IRGC would make it harder to gain acceptance in Tehran for reimplementing the agreement, which limited Iran’s atomic program.

Shared global mission

The statement from Bennett and Lapid portrayed IRGC designation as part of a “global fight against terrorism…a shared mission of the entire world.” To remove the designation, they said, would mean the US abandoning “its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists.”

Former United States president Donald Trump added the IRGC to the list in 2019, the first time part of a state’s armed forces was included. Trump’s designation referred specifically to the 1983 bombing of a marine barracks in Lebanon, carried out by a Lebanese Shia group when the US intervened in the Lebanon war after the 1982 Israeli invasion, and the 1996 Khobar Tower bombing in Saudi Arabia, culpability for which has never been conclusively established.

IRGC commanders greet Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in January 2020

The Israeli statement portrayed the IRGC as controlling a range of groups across the Middle East. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are Hezbollah in Lebanon, they are Islamic Jihad in Gaza, they are the Houthis in Yemen, they are the militias in Iraq,” it said.

Promise not to harm Americans

Bennett and Lapid argued against the US listing groups as terrorists only on the grounds of a perceived threat to Americans: “The Revolutionary Guards took part in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, they destroyed Lebanon, they are engaged in the murderous repression of Iranian civilians. They kill Jews because they are Jews, Christians because they are Christians, and Muslims because they do not surrender to them. We find it hard to believe that the definition of the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization will be abolished in exchange for a ‘promise not to harm the Americans.'”

Not only that, the IRGC, for the Israeli leaders, is an “integral part of the murderous repression machine in Iran” whose “hands are stained with the blood of thousands of Iranians and the trampling of the soul of Iranian society.” Hence, argued Bennett and Lapid, removing the IRGC from the list would be “an insult to the victims and the erasure of a documented reality, with unequivocal evidence.”

Collision course

Reports say the Biden Administration is considering removing the IRGC from its ‘foreign terrorist’ list a part of agreement to revive the JCPOA limiting Iran’s nuclear program. But JCPOA opponents in Israel, the US and elsewhere have highlighted the IRGC recently firing a dozen ballistic missiles at Erbil in northern Iraq after an Israeli airstrike killed two Iranian soldiers in Syria. Iran claimed that it targeted an Israeli intelligence base, but Iraq and the US dismissed the claim.

Following a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, Democrat congresswoman Elaine Luria, a naval veteran, tweeted that reviving the JCPOA would “put Iran and Israel on a collision course,” echoing remarks by Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog.

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