Since Hassan Rouhani became President in 2013 the situation in Iran has been deteriorating. The number of executions per capita is the greatest in the world and there has been a huge crackdown on certain sectors of society including religious minorities. People with dual-nationality, activists and journalists are also main targets of the crackdown by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). 

International human rights organisations highlighted the issues in Iran time and time again, but President Obama and his administration still decided to remain silent. Their interest in the nuclear deal took precedence over basic human rights for millions of people in Iran. 

President Trump has not been passive about the Iranian regime’s behaviour. After the announcement from the White House that Iran is “on notice”, the President warned Iran about “playing with fire” and expressed his surprise that Iran is not grateful for the extreme leniency shown by President Obama and his administration. 

President Trump has implied that the so-called “golden years” of Obama are over and a military response to Iran could be possible. 

Unlike Obama, Trump’s words are followed by actions. Last week, new sanctions were imposed on 25 individuals and entities that have connections to Iran’s ballistic missile program. Further sanctions to curb the IRGC’s influence in Iran and other nations in the region are possible.

The IRGC controls a large portion of Iran’s economy and has been benefitting greatly from the Iran nuclear deal. Because of its colossal role in the spread of terrorism in the region and repression at home, the IRGC needs more sanctions imposed on it. And thankfully President Trump appears to have these intentions. 

ANALYSIS: Iran’s big business and IRGC commanders

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is no straightforward military force, its influence stretches into all facets of Iranian society. (Reuters)

With new US President Donald Trump determined to completely rewrite the terms of the Iran Deal, the Iranian regime and commanders of its praetorian guard, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), will no doubt soon have to decide whether to continue to pursue their ballistic missile program, which breaks the terms of the treaty, and will no doubt see it collapse, or they will have to give up manufacturing and testing such missiles, to enable them to continue to have vast amounts of cash flowing their way, from the unfrozen billions of dollars that has been held as a result of sanctions. Wrote Tony Duheaume in Al-Arabiya on Friday, February 10, 2017. The following are excerpts of this article.

But so far, the cash payments that have been returned have lined the pockets of the regime’s elite, plus strengthened the country’s military forces, but none of it has aided the people of Iran, and through appearing to have abided by the terms of the deal, it has given the regime a much better standing in the world community. But to take the course of defiance, the regime would be on a collision course with the US government, and with an unmovable Donald Trump in control, it could end in armed conflict.

But as far as the accumulation of riches from other sources is concerned, much of these riches, which both the mullah leadership and the IRGC have accumulated, have come their way through running the countries state-owned industries, and other lucrative enterprises, which through the lifting of sanctions under the Iran Deal, will be able to deal openly on the world market, and thus doing so, will strengthen the private bank accounts of both the mullah leadership, and their much pampered IRGC commanders.

Influential force

As far as the IRGC is concerned, it is no straightforward military force, its influence stretches into all facets of Iranian society, and since its creation, its commanders have been afforded seats in parliament, and although the attaining of seats is significantly lower under the Rouhani administration, the Guards are still a very powerful force in the running of the country.

Adding to the esteem of IRGC, Iranian lawmakers have recently approved a rise in the defence budget to 5 percent, as well as approving a program to develop long range missiles. But to show the true arrogance of IRGC commanders, they flaunted the terms of the nuclear agreement, by carrying out the test flight of a new medium-range missile earlier this year, said to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. This test flight incurred the wrath of President Donald Trump, who in turn introduced a series of extra sanctions, which will hit companies owned by the Guards, bringing about a travel ban on business associates who run their lucrative empire.

From its humble beginnings as a lightly armed paramilitary force, created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to introduce order to the streets of Iran during the early days of the revolution, and to protect its leader at all costs, the Guards have evolved into not only a powerful political force, but also the controllers of a powerful military-industrial-financial complex.

With a large proportion of Iran’s most profitable businesses under the control of its commanders, including the nuclear industry, all of which has been heaped upon them by various leaders to ensure their loyalty to the regime, their influence among the regime’s elite is unassailable.

So as well as exerting great political power, the Guards have gradually built up a vast business empire in various sectors of the Iranian economy, and from humble beginnings in the construction trade, they now dominate several lucrative industries. Through a myriad of holding companies, front companies and so-called “charitable foundations”, the IRGC run their vast business empire.

The black money

Having used these organizations to work around international sanctions imposed on the country, through its refusal to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of its nuclear facilities, the Guards have become very adept in the workings of the black economy, using its control of customs and excise and the docks, to set up a substantial smuggling network.

Such is the scope of the Guards enterprises, they have also ventured into the lucrative oil and gas sectors, moved into the production of consumer goods, car manufacturing, the import-export industry, telecommunications, and black market smuggling. Just like the American Mafia, the Guards have built up varied routes to smuggle goods, and are said to be in control of a string of jetties on the southern Iranian island of Qeshm, situated in the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf Coast.

The Guards also have the use of terminals at Iranian airports, to enable members of their vast workforce to fly their illicit goods in and out of the country unchecked, and whichever route they use, they are guaranteed to avoid having to pay any form of export or import duties.

Operating what has become a powerful criminal empire, the Guards have long been involved in the black market, and by shipping in and out of the country various illegal goods, which includes vast caches of weapons, they have built up a highly lucrative business. The Guards also have a large stake in the illegal drugs industry, using the vast drugs network setup by Hezbollah, which enables the IRGC Qods Force to deal with various major players throughout the world.

When you consider that sales of illegal drugs in Iran is around $3 billion per year, with the Qods Force said to be taking a sizeable cut, through the running of many of the routes in and out of the country, as well as having contacts with drug smuggling gangs in Afghanistan, and also South America through Hezbollah, their wealth is vast through this alone. So it isn’t surprising that the US Department of the Treasury had placed Qods Force Commander Gholamreza Baghbani on the US sanctions list, accusing him of being a narcotics kingpin.

Over the years, various ex-members of the IRGC, who now live in exile, have made highly credible claims, on how the corps they had served in for many years, had been dealing in vast amounts of illegal drugs, and that the global network it was running, was bringing in billions of dollars, which would then be used to pay for terrorist activities carried out by the Qods Force across the globe.

The Iranian regime has been committed to the so-called cracking down on the illegal drugs industry in Iran for many years, there have been a vast number of shootouts between traffickers and security forces, with hundreds of so-called drug smugglers executed annually by the authorities, some for simply possessing illegal drugs. But behind this massive crackdown, the IRGC was dealing in heroin, cocaine, opium and amphetamines, and the crackdown was simply to protect its own profits against rival gangs.