IRGC Parade in Tehran > YPA, CC-BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Tehran’s much-feared ideological army – has effectively taken charge of the Iranian economy, secret documents published last weekend indicate.

The revelations – published by the Sunday Times – come amid warnings about IRGC assassination plots in Britain and its efforts to rally terror groups in the Middle East to attack Israel.

What happened

  • The Sunday Times obtained documents from an Iranian opposition group which reveal the Resistance Economy Headquarters’ growing grip on the economy.
  • A major investigation by the i newspaper, published on Tuesday, probed the efforts of the Iranian regime to murder its opponents in Britain.
  • On Sunday, thousands of Iranians joined demonstrations in western cities, including London, calling for the IRGC to be banned.
  • Last month, it was reported that the head of the IRGC’s Qud Force, which runs the army’s external operations, had met with Iranian proxy armies, including Hezbollah, to coordinate attacks on Israel.
  • Labour has called for the IRGC to be proscribed in the UK. Last week, the UK government, which has so far resisted those calls, joined the US and European Union in announcing a series of new sanctions against the IRGC.

“A vast network of terrorism and criminality”

The documents published by the Sunday Times provide an insight into the workings of the Resistance Economy Headquarters, which was founded after the US assassination of the IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020.

  • The organisation, which seeks to provide the IRGC with greater control over Iran’s sanctions-strapped economy, is led by IRGC commander Mohammad Bagheri – an individual placed under sanctions by the UK for supplying military drones to Vladimir Putin’s war machine.
  • While the Sunday Times suggests the documents’ authenticity is difficult to verify, experts approached by the newspaper suggested the tone and style was typical of Iran’s bureaucracy.
  • “The documents would appear to confirm the growing dominance of the IRGC in Iran’s economy through a burgeoning number of front companies and their role in extending commercial relations in the region,” Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian history and director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews, told the Sunday Times. “They are especially interesting for the light they throw on the way the country’s oil wealth is distributed among revolutionary institutions, including the supreme leader’s office.”
  • The documents – which focus on ways to increase oil production and joint commercial ventures with countries friendly to Tehran – consist of correspondence between Bagheri and other top IRGC and military commanders.
  • The memos include a December 2022 order to military heads to propose economic co-operation projects for President Ebrahim Raisi to sell on his visit to China in February.
  • A November 2022 memo focuses on “projects in Uzbekistan” says that the Resistance Economy Headquarters is ready to negotiate with Iran’s neighbour “on behalf of the economic institutions of the armed forces”. It provides details of companies “from branches of the armed forces” that are able to participate and cover everything from tractor manufacturing to thermal power plants and magnesium mining.
  • An October 2020 letter to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reveals that, of Iran’s daily production of 1.46 million barrels of oil, 1 million are reserved for “investors” including “affiliated companies of the armed forces”.
  • “This is not an ordinary military organisation by any stretch of the imagination,” Mohsen Sazegara, a founding members of the IRGC, now living in exile in America, told the Sunday Times. “It’s a monster, a vast network of terrorism and criminality,” he claimed in reference to the IRGC’s involvement in drug trafficking and use of proxy armies.

Iran’s “secret war on British soil”

An investigation published by the i newspaper detailed what it termed “Iran’s secret war on British soil”. It revealed claims of plots to poison, kidnap and murder Tehran’s opponents in Britain.

  • Among those interviewed by the paper is an unnamed leader of the Jewish community, who was warned late last year by UK counter-terrorism police of a threat to his life. He had previously been warned by the security services against foreign travel.
  • Another case highlighted involved a UK citizen of Iranian heritage whose father was tortured in Iran after he spoke out against the regime. The man was also sent threatening correspondence and was the subject of a kidnap attempt “in broad daylight in a major UK city”.
  • Kasra Aarabi, an Iran expert at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, told the i there has been a “significant rise in IRGC-related Islamist extremist activity taking place in the UK and their two main targets are the Jewish community and the Iranian diaspora.” He warned: “The IRGC and its linked entities believe that their actions are going without consequences in Britain and that is emboldening them.”

Iranians rally for IRGC ban …

Thousands of Iranians took part in a rally outside 10 Downing Street – as well as at demonstrations in Vancouver, Montreal, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Bonn, Vienna and Milan – on Sunday calling for western governments to proscribe the IRGC. The London protest was addressed by Vahid Beheshti, who has been on a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office since 23 February urging the UK to ban the IRGC.

… as IRGC rallies its terror armies

Last month, it was reported by the Wall Street Journal that the IRGC has been holding secret meetings with its proxy armies throughout the Middle East to discuss attacks on Israel. In early April, General Esmail Ghaani, the head of the IRGC Quds Force, met with the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad at Iran’s Embassy in Beirut. The meeting appeared to lead four days afterwards to the biggest rocket attack from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. On the same day, volleys of rockets were also fired at Israel from Gaza and soon after rockets were launched from Syria into the Golan Heights. The WSJ reported that Ghaani also held meetings in late March with Palestinian terror group leaders in Syria to “to discuss a possible coordinated attack on Israel”.

New sanctions on the IRGC imposed by US, EU and UK

Accusing the IRGC of being “the primary Iranian security forces responsible for the regime’s brutal suppression of the protests that broke out in September 2022,” the US announced a new package of sanctions last week.

  • Washington targeted four senior officials in the IRGC and security forces, as well as the head of Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, which it accused of denying the country’s citizens freedom of expression and access to popular websites.
  • Britain announced a travel ban and asset freezes on the IRGC in its entirety, as well as hitting four senior IRGC commanders. The Foreign Office said the individuals were in command of “IRGC forces [which] have opened fire on unarmed protesters resulting in numerous deaths, including of children”.
  • Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has repeatedly called for the government to proscribe the IRGC – a measure which the Foreign Office is reportedly blocking.
  • The EU slapped sanctions on eight individuals – including a regional IRGC commander – and mobile phone operator Ariantel, which is said to have helped the regime track down protesters.