According to press reports, a United Nations organization has revealed that, "Iran's government has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon."
The International Atomic Energy Agency made its announcement only days after the United States foiled an Iranian plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to Washington, along with dozens of innocent bystanders, on American soil. The case implicated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its overseas operation branch, the Quds Force. The IRGC thrives in significant part because only the U.S. has designated the organization as a whole for its role in terrorism and in building Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
To its credit, the Canadian government has not taken the Iranian threat lightly. Yet Ottawa has not yet outlawed the entity that directs both Iran's nuclear program and the many terrorist acts Tehran sponsors around the world. Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization would represent a small policy change with a big impact.
Canada's Criminal Code empowers the federal Cabinet to establish a list of designated terrorist entities. Such a designation makes it a criminal offense for any Canadian citizen or resident to engage in financial dealings with a listed entity, or participate in, contribute to, facilitate or enhance its activities. Terrorist designations also obligate banks and other companies to ensure that they have no involvement in any assets held or controlled by a listed entity.
There are already over 40 terrorist entities on the Canadian list including al-Qaeda itself, as well as Iran's terrorist proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Jihad. Yet the IRGC, which has engaged in assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings from Afghanistan to Argentina, and provided funding, weapons, training, and intelligence to militant groups from the Middle East and Europe to the Americas, remains curiously absent.
The U.S., European Union, and United Nations have already applied various sanctions against the IRGC and its individual leaders. In 2007, the U.S. designated the IRGC in its entirety as a terrorist entity. Europe, the U.N., and Canada have designated entities and persons related to the IRGC, but avoided a blanket designation. The Liberal Party of Canada, Dutch parliamentarians, and a committee of British members of Parliament, have all advocated banning the IRGC in its entirety. It is time for the governing Conservatives, now with a majority Parliament, to take action.
If and when Canada acts, other countries -- perhaps benefiting from political cover from precedent by a country that is not the United States -- may be more likely to follow its lead, resulting in increased pressure on companies around the world to limit any financial dealings with the IRGC.
The IRGC is not just a political or military organization. It is also, according to Emanuele Ottolenghi, an IRGC expert and the author of The Pasdaran: Inside Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a multi-billion dollar conglomerate which is a dominant player in Iran's economy, especially in its critical energy industry. It is also heavily involved in the sale of Iranian oil to international companies, which accounts for 75 per cent of the Iranian government budget and 80 per cent of hard-currency export earnings.
The IRGC has serious commercial interests, and would be detrimentally impacted by the legally imposed curtailment of business dealings with companies and financial institutions.
Victor Comras, a former State Department and U.N. sanctions expert, predicts that this measure, if implemented by multiple countries, "would severely impact Iran's leadership class."
Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, adds: "Iran's leaders in fact devote much of their efforts to lining their own pockets -- fighting more often and viciously to protect their incomes than their ideas."
In other words, IRGC members are not solely religious zealots without material interests. If those material interests are targeted, it could intensify the fissures within the regime, and between the IRGC and other regime elements.
This infighting is already on display between Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, between the IRGC and those around the Iranian president, and between those IRGC commanders enjoying the spoils and those who aren't. This is worth encouraging: An enemy at war with itself is a weakened enemy.
Canada has taken useful but mostly incremental and symbolic steps against the Iranian regime. With a Controlled Engagement Policy firmly in place, Ottawa limits its official contact with Iran primarily to discussions about Tehran's human rights violations and illegal nuclear activities. Canada has also implemented UN Security Council Resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran for failing to fulfill its international nuclear obligations. Moreover, Canada has drawn on its own domestic legislation, the Special Economic Measures Act, to apply additional pressure with bilateral trade restrictive measures against Iran, targeted at constraining its nuclear program and thwarting WMD proliferation.
With Iran possibly on the brink of acquiring nuclear capability, however, the time for incremental measures against the custodians of those nuclear weapons is over. Canada should list the IRGC as a terrorist entity without further delay.