The Obama administration’s failure to stop a sanctioned Iranian airline from sending weapons and personnel to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria reflects a loss of American leverage, Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote Monday in an analysis published at The Hill.
Observing that Mahan Air, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department since 2011, “might as well rename itself IRGC Air” for the support it gives to the Iranian force, Ottolenghi explained:
Mahan uses its commercial fleet to support Tehran’s regional proxy wars while easily buying planes from European suppliers and getting ground services at foreign destinations. Unless the Obama administration is ready to inflict heavy penalties on firms, especially in Europe, enabling Mahan to continue its operations with impunity, the credibility of current U.S. policy on Iran will be further eroded.
In May, reports surfaced that the airline was using a front corporation to illegally purchase planes from a European supplier, in violation of U.S. sanctions. It was later reported that the U.S. had received advanced warning of the purchases, but did not try to stop them. When the Treasury Department suggested that it might attempt to enforce sanctions by having the planes seized in international airports, Iran threatened to take legal action.
Ottolenghi pointed out that, since Mahan flies through Europe, the U.S. could penalize local companies that service its planes, calling this possibility “eminently feasible.” The White House’s apparent unwillingness to do so, however, “speaks volumes to the administration’s will to hold Tehran accountable now that the nuclear deal is signed,” he concluded.
A June report by the Government Accountability Office revealed that the State Department was three years late in enforcing certain sanctions on Iran. A report released by the UN committee on Iran sanctions earlier that month “raised questions about whether countries, including the U.S. and its European allies, have looked the other way on some sanctions violations,” according to Bloomberg News.
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