These sanctions are a part of the campaign to pressure Iran over what the Trump administration describes as Iran’s “malign” role in the Middle East, including support for militant groups.

Radio Farda asked its listeners for their thoughts on the nature of Basij’s activities, its structure, its link to the Iranian military, its expansion in the region, and its activities in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

A listener said, “Those who defended Iran during the war with Iraq in the 1980s, were young men who were raised in Iran under the Shah. They are now either in prison or living in exile if they are still alive. What is known today as Basij is a tool to create terror.”

Another highlighted Basij’s role in intimidating and suppressing peaceful protesters, saying, “Basij members keep shockers and tear gas canisters at home ready to be used against demonstrations as they break out. Sometimes they even frighten the regular police.”

What he called the Basij members being “brainwashed” to believe the regime’s core ideology and Supreme Leader Khamenei’s personality cult, was discussed by another listener.

Radio Farda’s expert on the IRGC, Morad Veisi said, ”IRGC has four forces and two organizations. The four forces are the ground force, the aerospace force, the naval force and the extra-territorial Qods Force.

The two organizations are the Intelligence organization and the Basij. The Basij network starts from Tehran and spreads to the rest of the country down to the smallest villages via a capillary network.” Veisi added, “This structure, which runs through every street and alley, was widely used in the disputed Presidential election in 2009.

The network efficiently carried out decisions about supporting hardline candidates favored by IRGC down to the last person. The government has been using this network as a key tool since then.”

He continued, “Meanwhile, Basij has spread its structure into various sectors, creating sub-structures such as Students Basij, Government Employees Basi and so on.” Veisi then described Basij’s interests in the stock market and banks and steel plants, as well as its role in regional activities. He said, “The Islamic Republic has duplicated Basij’s structure and organization in various Middle Eastern countries to support the political forces that align with Tehran.”

He explained, “The first of such experiences was the creation of Hezballah in Lebanon, which is now a key player in that country. According to IRGC commanders, later on, in Syria, when the armed opposition was about to capture Damascus, IRGC commanders armed civilians to defend the Bashar al-Assad government. The first commander of the Basij-like forces in Syria was an IRGC general who was later killed in a road accident.”

A listener said that Basij helped the Islamic Republic to attain its goals in the war against Iraq, but later it was turned into a force for suppression. Another listener agreed, saying that Basij identifies reform-minded individuals and intellectuals and clamps down on them.

Veisi said that Iran is duplicating Basij’s model in Yemen, where it has been strengthening the militia group Ansarollah based on Basij’s structure and mission.