New concerns Trump admin may be laying legal groundwork for military action against Iran

“One of the reasons why this action occurred could be because there’s an actual interest to do things directly against the IRGC,” said Jason Blazakis, who served as the director of the State Department’s Counterterrorism Finance and Designations Office from 2008 to 2018. While the designation doesn’t provide legal authority itself, it could be part of the administration’s argument, Blazakis said.

In particular, the administration is drawing a clearer line between Iran and the terror group al Qaeda. In its announcement Monday, the State Department said one reason for the designation is that “Iran continues to allow al Qaeda operatives to reside in Iran, where they have been able to move money and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”

“What the Trump administration is doing here though is that this seems to be part of a continued drum beat trying to create a narrative of a nexus between Iran and al Qaeda that started well before this FTO designation,” said Tess Bridgeman, who served as Deputy Legal Adviser to President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “The Trump administration seems to be priming the public for an argument that the 2001 AUMF covers Iran.”