The US has two lists for classifying individuals and entities associated with terrorism. The first is the Executive Order List and the second is the FTOs list, which is based on the Immigration and Nationality Act. The US State Department has responsibility for maintaining and updating the list.
The Executive Order list identifies individuals and entities that, from the United States’ point of view, support terrorism financially or by arming and training terrorists. The Foreign Terrorist Organizations list classifies individuals and entities that are directly involved in acts of terrorism. In other words, it identifies entities that pose the biggest danger to the national security of the United States — and neutralizing this danger is considered a top priority for the American government. It includes organizations such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS (Islamic State), Jundallah, the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Haqqani network, Boko Haram and the Abu Sayyaf network, and includes individuals targeted by the US military over decades, including in the past, for example, Osama bin Laden.
Previously, the Revolutionary Guards, its extraterritorial Quds Force, the Basij paramilitary organization and a number of the Guards’ commanders featured on the first list, meaning that they were designated as supporters of terrorism through the financing, training or arming of terrorists, but they have now been placed on the FTOs list and are considered terrorists themselves.
This is the first time that the US has labeled the military of a UN member state as a terrorist organization. Before this, except in rare cases, the US refused to issue visas to members of the Revolutionary Guards or even those who had served their compulsory military service with the Guards. So now that the IRGC has been declared a terrorist organization, it is easy to see how difficult it will be for individuals who have served with the Guards, including conscripts, to obtain visas for the US.
According to US anti-terrorism laws, the new classification means that members of the Revolutionary Guards, property that belongs to them, and their equipment and other assets are legitimate targets for the US military. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the US will make an announcement soon regarding the specifics of these targets.
The Heightened Danger of Military Clashes
In retaliation, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council announced that it had designated the United States Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, and all its forces as terrorists and labeled the US as a “supporter of terrorism.” The council based its decision on the “law for confronting American violations of human rights and its adventurist and terrorist actions in the region.” According to this law, individuals appearing on Iran’s list of terrorists cannot enter the Islamic Republic and the judiciary can confiscate their properties if they have any. Of course, it is unlikely that in such a tense situation a member of the US military would want to visit Iran or would own properties within the Islamic Republic that could be confiscated. Nevertheless, tensions in US-Iranian relations have now reached a point where confrontation and military action it is no longer inconceivable.
More on the Revolutionary Guards and Affiliated Entities:
IranWire's Revolutionary Guards infographic
IranWire's Revolutionary Guards interactive diagram