WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a ‘‘foreign terrorist organization,’’ an unprecedented move against a national armed force that could have widespread implications for US personnel and policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Officials informed of the step said an announcement was expected Monday, after a monthslong escalation in the administration’s rhetoric against Iran, its support for militia groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, as well as anti-Israel groups in the region and beyond.
It would be the first such designation by any American administration of an entire foreign government entity, although portions of the Guard, notably its elite Quds Force, have been targeted previously by the United States.
Two US officials and a congressional aide confirmed the planned move. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, seemed to anticipate the designation, saying in a tweet Sunday that President Trump ‘‘should know better than to be conned into another US disaster.’’
The designation, planning for which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes with sanctions, including freezes on assets the Guard may have in US jurisdictions and a ban on Americans doing business with it or providing material support for its activities.
Although the Guard has broad control and influence over the Iranian economy, such penalties from the United States may have limited impact. The designation, however, could significantly complicate US military and diplomatic work, notably in Iraq, where many Shiite militias and Iraqi political parties have close ties to the Guard.
In Lebanon, the designation could further restrict with whom US officials can interact. The Guard has close ties to Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government. Hezbollah is already designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States. Its presence in Lebanon’s parliament and executive branch has forced the United States to avoid any contact with Hezbollah members even as America continues to provide assistance to and works with the Lebanese army.
Without exclusions or waivers to the designation, US troops and diplomats could be barred from contact with Iraqi or Lebanese authorities who interact with Guard officials or surrogates.
The Pentagon and US intelligence agencies have raised concerns about the impact of the designation if the move does not allow contact with foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with Guard personnel. Those concerns have in part dissuaded previous administrations from taking the step, which has been considered for more than a decade. It was not immediately clear whether the designation would include such carve-outs.
In addition to those complications, American commanders are concerned that the designation may prompt Iran to retaliate against US forces in the region, and those commanders plan to warn US troops remaining in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere of that possibility, according to a third US official. This official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Aside from Iraq, where some 5,200 American troops are stationed, and Syria, where some 2,000 US troops remain, the US 5th Fleet, which operates in the Persian Gulf from its base in Bahrain, and the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, are potentially at risk.