After the wasted years of Obama – when the US believed that it could stop Tehran from destroying the region by talking to it nicely – the Trump Administration has finally recognized reality and designated the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. To us in Bahrain, this fact has been obvious for around four decades.
The Revolutionary Guard was only just getting started with its overseas meddling activities at the beginning of the 1980s when Iraqi extremist Abdulhadi al-Mudarrisi was given the role of head of the “Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain” (IFLB). When Bahrain’s leaders threw him out of the country, he fled to Tehran, where Mudarrisi was put in charge of a radio station pumping out anti-Arab propaganda.
When the Gulf Cooperation Council was founded in 1981 – partly to help Arab Gulf states unite against Iranian threats – Tehran decided to retaliate by attempting to stage a coup in Bahrain. Iran chose to use Mudarrisi and the IFLB to lead this coup. However, the entity lacked meaningful support inside Bahrain, so Tehran provided Shia commandoes of various nationalities – many of whom had received IRGC training in the battlefront in the war with Iraq.
The coup was foiled in December 1981 after these mercenaries were intercepted at Dubai Airport (staff became suspicious of these heavily-built men all wearing the same boots!), and IFLB elements inside Bahrain were quickly rounded up.
However, this attempt to destroy Bahrain’s governing system and replace it with an Islamic Republic marked the beginning of forty years of efforts by the IRGC to destabilize Bahrain and other GCC states. Indeed, there was another coup attempt in the mid-1990s, by radical elements sometimes known as Hezbollah-Bahrain.
Also in Saudi Arabia, Iran sought to radicalize and arm local communities, resulting in bombing campaigns, including against the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. Pro-Khomeini riots during the Mecca pilgrimage on occasions resulted in stampedes and dozens of deaths. In 1996 (the same year as the second Bahrain coup attempt) an entity known as Hezbollah al-Hijaz staged an attack in eastern Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen. Subsequent investigations closely linked this activity to the IRGC.
After 2003 it was Iraq’s turn to be plagued by Shia militia forces, created, armed and trained by the IRGC, which killed hundreds of coalition forces and tens of thousands of Iraqis. The toxic sectarian climate created by these IRGC-backed militias by 2013 had created the conditions which gave rise to the rapid expansion of Daesh. After 2011, IRGC Quds Force’s Qassim Soleimani arrived in Syria in order to micromanage the carnage, using paramilitary forces under his control.
In part, the IRGC’s terrorist activities were funded by narcotics smuggling and organized crime, but also through the exploitation of financial institutions to circumvent sanctions. Future Bank in Bahrain had been set up at a time of thawing Iran-Bahrain relations; yet it was exploited for money-laundering purposes to funnel billions of dollars through to IRGC-linked entities until the Bahrain authorities shut it down in 2015.
When protests occurred in Manama in February 2011 calling for constitutional reforms, the IRGC once again seized its opportunity, to send weapons to radical elements, which embarked on a terrorist insurgency campaign. Vast quantities of arms and explosives of Iranian origin were seized at the Bahrain coastline, along with the discovery of weapons caches and bomb factories. Bahraini emigres based in Qom, like Murtada al-Sanadi, were given IRGC support to coordinate this terrorist campaign which led to the deaths of more than 20 policemen. These Bahraini militants received training either at the hands of the IRGC, or by paramilitary groups in Iraq and Lebanon – often through the simple gambit of travelling abroad on pilgrimage. On 1 January 2017, these militants even staged a brazen attack against Jaw Prison in order to free their comrades. Many were rearrested as they sought to make their way back to Iran.
So, yes, the designation of the IRGC is a welcome and necessary move. But we wish America was listening when we advised for this step to be taken many years ago; as the IRGC has been responsible for the killing of hundreds of US troops in Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.