On Monday, the Trump administration followed through on its promise to formally label a segment of Iran’s military forces “terrorists.” Today, Tehran fired back with its own provocative move: It now considers all US troops in the Middle East to be terrorists too.
Iranian lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the measure after the country’s defense minister introduced a bill on the issue, according to Iranian state TV. Some politicians wanted to name the entirety of the US Army — not just forces deployed in the region — as terrorists, meaning Iran’s reaction actually could’ve been worse.
This was the likely next step after a move President Donald Trump made last week.
He announced on April 8 that he would label the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — Iran’s hugely influential security and military organization that’s responsible for the protection and survival of the regime — a “foreign terrorist organization.” He followed through on that promise on Monday, making it the first time the United States had ever designated part of a foreign government in this way.
The IRGC isn’t just any military organization. It has its hands deep in Iran’s economy, domestic politics, and foreign policy, aiding regimes and funding proxy groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Middle East. It views itself as the only organization in Iran that can truly defend the country’s Islamic system of governance, some experts say. It’s therefore no surprise that Iran would bristle at Trump’s move and that it would want to retaliate.
The problem is that it’s unclear what either country’s new label for each other’s forces really means. For example, the United States already designates Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, so the new IRGC designation changes very little.
Plus, the US already has substantial sanctions on Iran and individual members of the IRGC. No one really knows if the terrorist designation will add enough pressure to really make much of a difference, especially because few actually do business with the group now.
And Iran has already attacked and killed scores of American troops in the Middle East, so there’s not much more it could do to devastate the US military.
That means these moves amount to a highly escalated war of words. The hope is that the rising tensions don’t turn into an actual war down the line.