By Bowen Xiao
The Treasury Department on Dec. 11 imposed new sanctions on an Iranian airline as well as an Iranian shipping network involved in smuggling lethal aid to Yemen on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF).
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) targeted three general sales agents of Mahan Air who were based in the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong. The airline was targeted for the role it played in weapons of mass destruction proliferation. Mahan Air is the biggest airline in Iran.
The U.S. government, last month, seized weapons that were smuggled on a small boat destined for Yemen. The sanctions, according to the Treasury Department, were the latest example of the government “cutting off all avenues for the delivery of weapons to Houthi rebels,” according to a release.
“The Iranian regime uses its aviation and shipping industries to supply its regional terrorist and militant groups with weapons, directly contributing to the devastating humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.
“Aviation and shipping industries should be vigilant and not allow their industries to be exploited by terrorists,” Mnuchin added.
The Trump administration in April officially designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in a move that was both symbolic and unprecedented. Iran immediately condemned the move.
On Dec. 5, the United States accused Iranian security forces of killing potentially more than 1,000 people as part of a crackdown against recent protests in the country. The Pentagon, meanwhile, is mulling whether to send additional U.S. troops to help combat the violent suppression. Widespread protests broke out in Iran on Nov. 15 after authorities announced a new petrol-rationing scheme that would see gasoline prices increase as much as 50 percent.
The new sanctions come just days after a weekend prisoner swap between the historic foes, a rare act of cooperation since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The latest sanctions target Iranian businessman Abdolhossein Khedri and his companies Khedri Jahan Darya Co and Maritime Silk Road LLC for alleged shipping operations on behalf of the IRGC-QF.
Mahan Air has previously been blacklisted for alleged support it has provided to the IRGC-QF, Hezbollah, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Treasury Department statement. The IRGC-QF has for years used Khedri and other firms under his control to support maritime weapons smuggling operations.
The Treasury sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of those targeted and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.
The Iranian regime acknowledged on Nov. 27 that 200,000 took part in the protests and 7,000 were arrested, marking possibly the largest anti-government demonstrations in the regime’s 40-year history.
Following the revelations by the state department that Iran had potentially killed over 1,000 protesters, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, condemned the actions by the IRGC. The IRGC is a branch of the Iranian military controlled by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“Iran’s mullahs are soaked in blood. The slaughter of at least a thousand men, women, and children shows what Iran’s dictatorship is really about: complete and brutal power,” Sasse said in a statement. “If the mullahs served the Iranian people rather than their vicious ideology, they wouldn’t be mowing down innocent protesters and stacking the bodies like cordwood.”
Reuters contributed to this report