WHAT’S THE STORY?

IRAN’S Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been accused of meddling in the affairs of 14 Muslim countries in the Middle East over the past 30 years and of being “directly” involved in the “hidden” occupation of four – Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

The claim comes in a joint study by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA) and the International Committee In Search of Justice (ISJ), two Brussels-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It said that meddling in the affairs of other regional countries was institutionalised and the IRGC top brass has been directly involved.

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Another report, from the country’s opposition in exile, says the IRGC – under the supervision of the regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei – has taken over the country’s key economic centres, becoming a financial empire and gaining financial independence.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said this financial clout was used “to fund its terrorist activities and export terrorism and fundamentalism to other countries in the region and beyond”.

Its earnings are on top of its budget allocated by the Iran government. “The IRGC is therefore a comprehensive economic set-up that virtually controls the bulk of Iran’s exports and imports,” said the NCRI. “Exclusive use and control of a major portion of the docks in Iran is a key element of its set-up.”

SO THE GUARDS ARE AN ENTERPRISE?

IT would appear so – worth around $12 billion (£9.8bn) a year. Intelligence from sources inside the People’s Mujahidin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK), from within the regime, and from within the IRGC itself, suggests that almost 90 ports – 45 per cent of 212 official harbours – are under exclusive IRGC control.

The IRGC was ordered to set up the ports – known as “Bahman Docks" – by the clerical regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, in 1982 with no government or customs supervision.

To get around international sanctions, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei authorised the expansion of the ports’ activities and increased economic engagement by the IRGC.

Now, based on his orders, no authority can oversee IRGC activities in border areas, and the corps can import anything without paying customs fees.

According to the NCRI, the guards use these ports for illegal activities – including smuggling oil, petrol, gas, chemical products, cigarettes, narcotics, alcohol, mobile phones and pharmaceuticals. PMOI sources say illegal arms exporting to proxy forces is also carried out from the ports through several front companies – one of the main destinations being Yemen.

They said that after Yemeni ports were closed to Iranian ships, the IRGC’s companies began using facilities in Oman to smuggle weapons to Yemen. They identified the three mains ones as Soltan Qaboos in Muscat, Sohar in north Oman and Salalah in south Oman.

Hossein Abedini, from the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee said: “Today’s revelation once again proved this reality that the IRGC is utilising all its leverages, in particular economic leverages to export Islamic extremism and terrorism that emanates from it.

“The trade counter-parts of European countries are companies that are affiliated to the IRGC and the revenues generated in these transactions for the Iranian side in practice are used to finance domestic repression, terror and fundamentalism.

“Therefore, it is high time that this regime be held accountable. The IRGC must be designated as a terrorist organisation for its crimes in Iran and abroad and be targeted with new serious and comprehensive sanctions.”

SO IRGC HAS MONEY TO MEDDLE?

YES, and the NGOs’ report – presented by Struan Stevenson, president of the EIFA and former president of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq – has been shedding more light on that aspect of their activities.

In the four countries in whose “hidden occupation” it is said to be involved, the IRGC has a considerable military presence, as last summer it had almost 70,000 proxy-force troops present in Syria.

It is interfering in the internal affairs of at least eight countries, or plotting against their governments – including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Palestine, Bahrain, Egypt, and Jordan. Terrorist affiliates or networks had also been set up in around 12 regional countries.

The report indicated that terrorist activities related to the IRGC had been carried out in all except one of the 14 regional states – Oman, which had helped the Iranian regime evade sanctions. The IRGC has also sent weapons and explosives to all 14 counties.

WHAT NOW?

IT depends. Donald Trump is said to be considering designating the IRGC enterprise a foreign terrorist organisation – which is one of the report’s recommendations. However, the NGOs want the IRGC placed on similar lists in Europe and Middle East.

They want to see UN Security Council Resolution 2231 enforced, with an emphasis on stopping Iran’s weapon smuggling to countries such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Finance firms affiliated with the IRGC should be sanctioned, they say; arms trading by the IRGC and affiliates should be banned; and the IRGC, Hezbollah and other affiliates should be expelled from all the countries of the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq. The groups also want to see an international effort to disband paramilitary groups and terrorist networks affiliated with the Quds Force, the IRGC’s extra-territorial special forces unit.