Sanctioning Iran’s Basij paramilitary group

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The US recently imposed a new round of sanctions against the Iranian regime. They are specifically designed to put pressure on Iran’s paramilitary group, the Basij, for engaging in operations including recruiting, training and deploying children into battle in Syria and other conflicts.

The sanctions also target part of the banking system and key companies. The sanctioned entities are financial institutions and their subsidiaries, as well as investment and engineering companies, which are either associated with the Basij or involved in supporting it.

These include some of the major banks and firms that have set up a financial network worth billions of dollars. According to the US Treasury Department, these entities include Bank Mellat, Mehr Eqtesad Bank, the Mobarakeh Steel Co. and the Iran Tractor Manufacturing Co.

This is the second major round of sanctions leveled against Iran since Donald Trump became US president. The first significant sanctions, which were imposed in August, came after the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Both US and non-US entities were subject to the first round of sanctions, which targeted Iran’s automotive industry, its precious metals industry, any transactions in its currency, the buying or selling of US dollars by its government, and any direct or indirect purchase, trade, transfer or selling of major construction materials such as aluminum and steel.

The latest US sanctions against the Basij are long overdue; one of the most effective ways to weaken it is to cut off the flow of funds to the group.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

It is the first time that the Treasury Department has officially labeled the Basij, and 22 companies and financial institutions that are affiliated with it, as “specially designated global terrorists.” This means that not only are US entities not allowed to do business with them, but also any assets linked to the Basij will be frozen. These sanctions will certainly impact Iran’s efforts to attract foreign investments and business deals in order to ramp up its revenues.

The sanctions will also affect Iran’s military establishment. The Basij is a pillar of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and has expanded rapidly. Two years after its creation, it became an official part of the IRGC. Basij centers have become ubiquitous in Iran.

The group was granted extensive powers that allowed its members to act as religious and moral police, enforce the regime’s revolutionary laws, monitor people’s daily activities, suppress anti-regime protests, operate in foreign countries, organize religious events throughout Iran, and recruit and train child soldiers for the IRGC. Basij members have shot and killed many protesters.

Although Tehran claims that the Basij is a voluntary resistance group, many of its members are paid. In fact, the regime designates a large budget to the group every year. The Basij has become an important player in both the private and public sectors, and is one the largest investors in the Tehran Stock Exchange. Those who join the group are given financial and non-monetary incentives such as easier entry to universities, obtaining bank loans and getting employment.

In return, the Basij has significantly empowered and emboldened the Iranian regime. As the US Treasury Department said: “In addition to its involvement in violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses in Iran, the Basij recruits and trains fighters… including Iranian children, who then deploy to Syria to support the brutal Assad regime.”

The latest US sanctions against the Basij are long overdue. One of the most effective ways to weaken it is to cut off the flow of funds to the group. Other governments should join the US in holding it accountable.

 

  •  Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

This article was first published by arabnews.

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