By Patrick Goodenough
(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has exclusive control over nearly half of the country’s official shipping docks and uses them to evade sanctions, export arms to proxies in violation of international embargoes, and carry out other illicit activities.
That’s according to a new report by the exiled Iranian opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)/People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (MEK), which includes information and photographs of a number of the 90 docks it says are controlled by the IRGC in southern Iran.
Released at a press conference in London on Tuesday, the report further lifts the lid on the activities of a vast enterprise which the Trump administration is considering designating a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
Separately, the NCRI’s office in the U.S. will on Wednesday launch a new book highlighting ways in which the IRGC and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have, over the past eight years in particular, extended their grip over huge swathes of the Iranian economy, using the profits to sponsor terrorism.
Entitled The Rise of the Revolutionary Guards’ Financial Empire: How the Supreme Leader and the IRGC Rob the People to Fund International Terror, the book warns that Western companies seeking to do business with the “private sector” in Iran now that sanctions have been eased under the nuclear agreement, will likely find themselves doing business “with Khamenei and the IRGC.”
“[B]ehind the official banks and companies lies a web of institutions controlled by the theocracy, and specifically the IRGC,” it says.
“Western companies, governments and the citizens they represent cannot avoid the reality that today the gate keepers to Iran’s economy are those who suppress the Iranian population and export the very terrorism and fundamentalist ideology that threaten the West.”
Wednesday’s event will include a panel discussion examining options to counter the threat posed by the IRGC.
The report released on Tuesday in London says the IRGC funds its activities by smuggling items ranging from oil and gas to cigarettes and narcotics, with imports and exports moving through the docks worth some $12 billion a year.
Ports under its control are located in the Persian Gulf-bordering provinces of Bushehr and Hormozgan and on the Gulf islands of Farsi – where the IRGC Navy captured and humiliated U.S. sailors after their small patrol boats unintentionally entered Iran’s territorial waters in January 2016 – and Faror.
By order of Khamenei, the report states, “no authority is allowed to oversee the activities of the IRGC at border areas, be it on the ground, sea or air docks and it can import anything in any quantity without paying any customs fee.”
The IRGC also controls ships and oil tankers, some of which are at times hired by other countries – such as Venezuela – with the funds raised going directly to the IRGC’s coffers.
The NCRI/MEK says that according to its sources within the regime, the IRGC uses its docks to ship arms to proxies in the region, such as the Houthi militia in Yemen, with weapons being smuggled to Yemen via ports in Oman (to evade a block on Iranian vessels in Yemeni ports).
One IRGC shipping company, Admiral Group, was established five years ago by the sons of Ali Shamkhani, a former IRGC Navy commander and Defense Minister who is now secretary of the regime’s Supreme National Security Council.
The company, which has nine ships, “has been specifically engaged in the dispatch of arms to Yemen,” the NCRI claims.
Other shipping companies involved in such activity were identified as Hafez Daya Arya and Valfajr.
To stabilize the Middle East, weaken the IRGC
NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee member Hossein Abedini said the revelations about the IRGC’s control of scores of ports underscore that the organization “is utilizing all its leverages, in particular economic leverages, to export Islamic extremism and terrorism that emanates from it.”
He stressed that many Iranian companies which Western firms want to do business with “are affiliated to the IRGC and the revenues generated in these transactions for the Iranian side in practice are used to finance terror and fundamentalism.”
Abedini called for the IRGC to be designated as a terrorist organization, and targeted in its entirety for “serious and comprehensive sanctions,” along with any foreign entity that deals with it.
Foundation for Defense of Democracies executive director Mark Dubowitz and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ray Takeyh argued in a Foreign Affairs article last week that the Trump administration “cannot stabilize the Middle East without first weakening the IRGC. And to do that, it should go after the group’s financial empire.”
According to American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin, the Iran nuclear deal saw the U.S. forfeit most of the leverage it had against Iran.
In a policy brief late last week, he called for a strategy aimed both at restoring that leverage, and targeting the resources of the IRGC – and in doing so removing “the single greatest impediment to the Iranian people achieving their democratic aspirations.”
Among other things, Rubin said, the U.S. should work to reduce the IRGC’s independent financial base; identify fissures within the IRGC to exploit; and “put reputational pressure on IRGC business partners to undermine and undercut IRGC-led firms.”
It should also find ways to support independent Iranian trade unions and to back strikes by “poorly-treated Iranian workers operating in IRGC-dominated economic sectors.”
“Any labor unrest would undercut the IRGC’s financial base and could spark political violence which would further test the IRGC,” Rubin wrote. “Should the IRGC lose its financial base and should the privileges of membership disappear, then the rump IRGC may no longer be able to stand up to the Iranian people.”