When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Geopolitics

Quds v. Revolutionary Guards: Why U.S. Sees Iran's Two "Terrorist" Forces Differently

Is there calculated diplomacy or just confusion behind the Biden administration's ambivalent positions on what can only be defined as 'terrorism' of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards?

Men wave the Iranian flag in front of a poster of General Qasem Soleimani

Men wave the Iranian flag in front of a poster of late Quds General Qasem Soleimani

Ahmad Rafat

-OpEd-

For weeks now there has been talk of removing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the West's list of international terrorists, to meet one of Iran's conditions for renewing the 2015 pact on its nuclear program, or agreeing on a similar pact. Tehran says removing the terrorist label from the Guards and lifting all sanctions on this key military force constitute a 'red line' that must be included in any deal in ongoing, though stalled, talks on its program.

Recently U.S. President Joe Biden and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, voiced opposition, without specifically citing the Revolutionary Guards, to ending the terrorist label for one particular unit of the Guards, the Quds Force. This is a regional task force suspected of meddling in the affairs of several neighboring states, and the previous U.S. administration of President Donald Trump took out its powerful leader Qassem Soleimani in 2020, saying he was a threat to U.S. forces.


The problem with Washington's comments and thinking is the idea that the Guards and the Quds Force are two distinct institutions, when in fact they are part of a single entity.

On Khamenei's orders

The Quds Force or Quds Army (Sepah-e quds) takes its name from Jerusalem (Quds), a city that the Islamic Republic of Iran boasts it will recover for the Muslims. The force emerged from departments created after the 1979 revolution to back operations and Islamist movements outside Iran.

The directorates' names, and their heads, changed through the years of war with Iraq (1980-88), but it was clear they effectively functioned under the aegis of the Revolutionary Guards. After the end of the war, the country's new supreme leader Ali Khamenei, ordered the creation of the Quds Force as one of the five branches of the Revolutionary Guards, alongside their infantry, air force, navy and the Basij (city militias). Thus the operations of the Quds force cannot be considered as independent of the Guards.

The declarations of U.S. officials on the Guards are ambivalent

U.S. officials have not explained why they have separated the two. Some analysts in the United States argue that the Revolutionary Guards operate inside Iran, in contrast with the Quds force, but this again is inaccurate. The Quds force helps arm regional militias like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza or the Hasht al-Shaabi in Iraq. All the arms it channels to these groups are made in Iran by the defense ministry and the Guards' own arms factories. The Quds force is merely tasked with ensuring they reach the recipients.

\u200bA young boy wearing an IRGC uniform and portrait of Qasem Soleimani

A young boy wearing an IRGC uniform and portrait of Qasem Soleimani

Sobhan Farajvan/Pacific Press/ZUMA

Why is the United States quiet?

The declarations of U.S. officials on the Guards are ambivalent, if not confusing. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Guards terrorists, speaking to the broadcaster NBC, but would not say whether or not they would remain subject to sanctions.

The Guards, it should be noted, are listed as terrorists for backing several regional militias, but also Syria's brutal regime. The Quds force however is listed more specifically for its activities in Iraq and consequent role in the deaths of more than 600 U.S. military personnel.

The Biden administration's desire to delist the Guards is no surprise, as it has already done this with Yemen's Houthis, who have targeted civilian sites in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That happened very soon after Biden entered the White House, and is just one reason why the two monarchies have curbed their ties with the United States.

Guards' deadly threats

The head of the Revolutionary Guards land forces, Muhammad Khakpur, recently said that if "all of America's leaders were to die, it wouldn't compensate for Soleimani's blood," referring to Qasem Soleimani, the Quds force general killed in a U.S. drone strike. He said the regime would continue to seek revenge "by other means."

Even Iran cannot understand the distinction.

The Biden administration's response to such threats is feeble, consisting merely in feeding doubts on the Guards' terrorist status and sanctions. Nor is it clear why Washington insists on separating the Guards and the Quds force, when they are more tightly intertwined than the Hezbollah's political and military wings. They are in the same command structure and subject to the Revolutionary Guards' charter.

Even the Iranian regime itself cannot understand the distinction. Dozens of documents published in the United States in past years have linked the Revolutionary Guards to terrorist activity in the Middle East and worldwide. One of the most notorious incidents it is accused of — before the Quds force was created — was the 1983 truck attacks on a U.S. Marine base in Beirut, which killed 241 American service personnel. The Guards began practicing terrorism soon after 1979. The Quds force is simply the department formed to run the mischief carried out abroad.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Hasn't Joe Biden Visited Ukraine?

U.S. President Joe Biden has been evasive when asked if he plans to follow European leaders by visiting Kyiv. However, such a move could have far-reaching consequences for Ukraine and the rest of the world.

Cameron Manley

U.S. President Joe Biden has been unyielding in his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: heavy sanctions on the Russian government and financial markets and strong words about Russian President Vladimir Putin, labeling him a “ butcher" and “war criminal”. The U.S. has also sent upwards of $54 billion in aid to Ukraine.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

This week, the war looms heavily over Biden’s trips to Germany and Spain for meetings with world leaders at the G7 and NATO summits.

Already on this side of the Atlantic, the staging would thus seem perfect for the U.S. president to reaffirm support for Ukraine by going to Kyiv, following in the footsteps of top European leaders, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN chief Antonio Guterres, who have paid recent visits to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

And yet, save a surprise detour this week, it appears that Biden will in fact not be making the much anticipated trip to Kyiv. What's holding him back?

Russians say he's scared

By all accounts, Biden had plans to visit Ukraine, responding positively in April to President Volodymyr Zelensky's invitation to come and see the destruction“with his own eyes.”

However, when asked last week if he still plans to visit Ukraine, Biden evasively said that it depends on “many things regarding whether this will cause more difficulties for the Ukrainians, whether it will distract from what is happening.” When asked to clarify whether this meant that he would not visit Kyiv during his trip to Europe, he replied: “During this trip, it’s unlikely.” He stressed, though, that he spoke with Zelensky three to four times per week.

Russian news has pounced on Biden’s notable absence from Kyiv. On Thursday, Russian daily Kommersant ran the headline: “Not the time to head to Kyiv” and notes that this is not the first instance where Mr. Biden has had to make excuses for not visiting Ukraine.

Russian media sites have mocked Biden for his “fear” of visiting Kyiv.

In March, the U.S. president visited Poland and was closer than ever to the Ukrainian border. The fact that he never walked the streets of Kyiv, unlike British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was explained by the U.S. president himself: He was "not allowed." The White House refused to clarify what or who was stopping him.

Other Russian media sites have also mocked Biden for his “fear” of visiting Kyiv, using tweets from U.S. citizens to substantiate calling the president a “puppet” or “coward.”

Over the course of several months, high-ranking officials from Washington have indeed visited Kyiv, most notably Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and even First Lady Jill Biden, who made an unannounced visit at the start of May.
Photo of \u200bUkrainian President Zelensky on the phone with U.S. President Biden on June 15

Zelensky on the phone with Biden on June 15

Sarsenov Daniiar/Ukraine Preside/Planet Pix/ZUMA

Leaders of war and peace

Of course, when and if he were to visit, the appearance would likely be unannounced, for security reasons. Indeed, a visit from the U.S. president himself carries higher stakes than perhaps any other world leader. It's worth remembering that during the Guterres visit to Kyiv in late April, Russia launched a new round of missile attacks on the city that the United Nations chief said were an attempt to "humiliate" the UN.

Moreover, it may be no coincidence that the first air strikes on Kyiv in weeks have coincided with this current round of European summits, as Russia has continuously demonstrated its readiness to escalate.The U.S. sending its president to Ukrainian soil would no doubt raise the stakes further.

Back in March, Zelensky said that Biden, as the leader of the free world, is also the “leader of peace.” But of course these are war times, and the prospect of a visit to Kyiv begs the question of whether Biden wants to be seen as the leader of the war.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ