The head of Britain’s counter extremism unit has criticised the government for going against the UK “national interest” by failing to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp a terrorist organisation.
In light of the IRGC’s support for Hamas and its atrocities in Israel, Robin Simcox said it was “unsustainable” for the British government not to proscribe the outfit.
In his first major speech as the head of the Commission for Countering Extremism, Mr Simcox was outspoken on the need to designate the IRGC, following the US lead in 2019.
“Who government does and does not proscribe is not down to me,” he said in a speech at the Rusi think-tank. “But from a counter extremism perspective, I believe it is in the national interest.”
The IRGC had “operated like a terrorist organisation ever since its inception” in 1979, providing support to other extremist groups “while plotting acts of violence around the world itself”.
He highlighted Iran’s malign influence in Britain which has seen “15 credible threats” to kill or kidnap individuals in Britain since last year. But it was still legal for the IRGC to be “hosted in UK institutions,” said Mr Simcox, a former think-tank director.
“That was highly unsatisfactory before,” he said. “It is surely unsustainable now.”
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat avoided supporting Mr Simcox’s position and rejected his claim that Britain was a “permissive environment” for anti-Semitism.
But Mr Tugendhat admitted that the Tehran regime had “been attempting to attack targets of Israeli or Jewish importance” in Britain and that “we have been fighting them here”.
According to the Home Office, Mr Simcox’s official role is to “provide the government with impartial, expert advice” as well as the policies “needed to tackle extremism”.
Mr Simcox, who has testified to the US Congress about ISIS and al-Qaeda, went on to state that “one of Hamas’s key backers” for cash and arms was Iran.
“But what is underappreciated is the scale of Iranian-backed activity in this country; and the extent to which Iran attempts to stoke extremism here,” he said.
Iran and the IRGC had also trained the Russians to use their Shahed drones to kill Ukrainians and bombing technology to target British soldiers during the war in Iraq.
It had temporarily stopped the Iran International television chancel from broadcasting in Britain after MI5 discovered credible threats to staff.
“Iran looks to spread its influence in the UK via sermons delivered by receptive clerics; television channels; schools and educational institutes; donations to UK universities; or online disinformation campaigns,” he added.
Furthermore, organisations with Iranian links made it “a religious obligation” for Shia Muslims inside and outside Iran to “display obedience to the Supreme Leader”.
He also touched on the extreme right and left wings in Britain, stating that the former was “fractured, divided, incoherent, and chaotic” and politically discredited.
However, he warned of a “vulnerability” in which the hard right “grasps on to certain issues which are of mainstream concern, filters them through an extremist lens, toxifies them”.