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Iran Still Operating U.S.-Sanctioned Airline in Support of Assad, IRGC

An Iranian airline is still operating in Europe, which it uses as a base to provide arms, fighters, and logistical support to the Syrian regime despite American sanctions against it.

Benjamin Weinthal and Emanuele Ottolenghi, fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, reported Tuesday in Politico that Mahan Air continues to expand its European connections in the wake of the nuclear deal.

Even after the nuclear deal in Vienna lifted restrictions on the sale of passenger aircraft in Iran, Mahan Air remains sanctioned under U.S. law. Mahan Air is expanding its European destinations regardless, a sure sign that U.S. sanctions against it will be ignored. Europe should closely monitor Mahan aircraft landing at its airports, as there is no indication that the airline has changed its harmful practices.

Mahan Air has habitually used the same planes to transport passengers to and from Europe, to ferry weapons and military personnel around the region, and to carry nuclear and ballistic missile technology to the Islamic Republic. Its commercial planes are accessories to the Syrian regime’s war crimes, and help Hezbollah fight alongside Syria’s army while expanding its 100,000-strong rocket and missile arsenal for war against Israel. These arms shipments are a blatant violation of the arms embargo imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1747, expanded by UN Security Council Resolution 1929 and retained under the nuclear deal for another five years. They also violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Europe’s ban on arms exports to Syria.

The UN embargo prohibits Iranian airlines from transporting arms as cargo. The airlines thus falsify flight manifests, lying about the nature of their cargo, and concealing flight records to Syria, all in contravention of international aviation standards. Expecting Iranian and Syrian civil aviation authorities to enforce such standards is absurd. It is up to European authorities to ensure compliance with international standards by ramping up inspections of Iranian aircraft and barring planes and airlines from European airspace that are found to be in violation.

Weinthal and Ottolenghi tracked Mahan flights from Iran to Syria several times in recent months. These planes sometimes subsequently traveled to Europe. As recently as May, the United States Treasury Department blacklisted Mahan’s newly acquired aircraft, noting that “Mahan Air works with the IRGC-QF [Iran’s external paramilitary force] to ferry operatives, weapons, and funds in support of the Assad regime on its flights to Syria, and also provides transportation services to Lebanese Hezbollah, which has been separately designated as a terrorist group.”

Despite the blacklisting, Mahan reportedly acquired new airplanes anyway. It was later reported that the United States had been informed of Iran’s effort to acquire the planes but did nothing to stop it.

[Photo: ERIC SALARD / Flickr ]