This is occurring while Iran is striking deals with some of the world’s largest aircraft companies in order to buy a new, modern fleet for “commercial” purposes. The deals come with modernization packages, including technology and education, that allow Iran to participate in producing aircraft parts and equipment, as Maghsoud Asadi Samani, secretary of Iran’s Aviation Companies Association, has told state-owned media.
Tehran’s advocates say there is no evidence that it is violating international law and its commitments to the nuclear deal. But Iran has a history of using its commercial airlines for military purposes. Most recently, it was caught red-handed transporting military personnel to Syria. These soldiers join Syrian regime forces in committing atrocities and crimes against humanity, and promoting a sectarian agenda.
Iran’s commercial airlines, specifically Iran Air and Mahan, are the primary tools used for the illicit transport of weapons and military staff, including members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite Quds Force and the Basij militia. These airlines do not fly to Syria on pre-announced scheduled days, as other commercial airlines do. They choose random days and destinations in Syria.
This week, several US congressional leaders wrote in a letter: “Iran’s use of commercial aircraft for military purposes violates international agreements as well as Iranian commitments under the JCPOA (nuclear deal).
“We believe these photos mandate a thorough investigation of these practices and a comprehensive review of Iran’s illicit use of commercial aircraft… During this investigation, the United States should suspend current and future licenses for aircraft sales to Iran.”
The lawmakers added: “These photos seem to display militiamen sitting on seats clearly labeled with the Iran Air logo. These individuals… are believed to be members of an Iranian-backed militia, trained and funded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), actively fighting for the Assad regime in Syria.”
Iran’s commercial airlines are the primary tools used for the illicit transport of weapons and military staff, including members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite Quds Force and the Basij militia to Syria.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Before the nuclear deal, Mahan was under international sanctions for shipping weapons to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah. The sanctions were lifted after the agreement. It is deceitful for Iran to buy Western aircraft, only to use them against Western interests and foreign policy objectives in the region.
Western airlines should not facilitate Iran’s enhancement of its military capabilities. Iran is the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, according to several governmental and intelligence reports, and is top of the 2016 Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index Report.
Since 1979, Tehran has acquired the skills to easily convert modern commercial aircraft into military ones. The US cannot by itself prevent Tehran from doing so; more countries should join the cause. It is incumbent on the international community to hold Iranian leaders accountable for violating international law and the terms of the nuclear deal.
Corporations that sell modern aircraft and technology to Iran should realize that they are facilitating Tehran’s support for terrorist groups, crimes against humanity and the Assad regime’s atrocities against innocent civilians.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh