This move targets the al-Ashtar Brigades, a terrorist group which has claimed responsibility for many attacks in Bahrain, including one in 2014 that killed three police officers.
Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said in a statement: “Al-Ashtar is yet another in a long line of Iranian sponsored terrorists who kill on behalf of a corrupt regime. Today’s designation serves notice that the United States sees plainly what Iran is trying to do to Bahrain through its proxy, the terrorist group Al-Ashtar.”
The terrorist designation will cut the group off from any assets they hold in the US or in US territories and seeks to prevent the group from accessing funding from other sources, perhaps by encouraging other countries to designate it as a terrorist organisation too.
This is the latest in a series of moves by the US to put pressure on the Iranian Regime since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The US has also intensified pressure on Iran by sanctioning groups affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), pressuring other countries to end their import of Iranian oil by November, and encouraging US and non-US firms that have invested to Iran to pull out or face sanctions.
Before he formally withdrew from the nuclear deal in May, Trump made clear that he was against the accord, citing that it did not deal with any of Iran’s malign activities beyond its nuclear programme, i.e. its support for terrorist groups and its human rights abuses.
Trump also noted that the deal failed to properly prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, citing the fact that independent inspectors were prevented from visiting many suspected Iranian nuclear sites.
Of course, al-Ashtar is far from the only terrorist group supported by Iran in the Middle East. In fact, there are dozens, from the Yemeni Houthis to the Lebanese Hezbollah to the Palestinian Hamas, all of which are directed by Iran in conflicts across the Middle East and further afield.
Iran prefers to engage in combat via proxies in order to keep their own hands clean, but they are funding, training, and arming terrorist groups, even supplying ballistic missiles in some cases.
The US has done well to take this stance against Iran and the rest of the world should follow suit, with all Iranian proxies designated as terrorist groups.