One very effective way of curbing Syria is to disrupt the Islamic Republic’s airlifts to the country, and this can easily be achieved with sanctions on the civil aviation sector. Despite the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015, the US still has the possibility of using sanctions against Iran regarding its support for terrorism.
So far though, this method has not been used as much as it should have been. The Iranian regime is carrying out a large number of airlifts – not just to Syria, but also to its militias in the region, e.g. Hezbollah.
The Iran nuclear deal actually simplified the regime’s support of Assad in Syria because it allowed Iran to purchase aircraft. Experts believe that this should be re-sanctioned with immediate effect – not least so that the country’s commercial airliners are not used to fuel the civil war in Syria.
A handful of Syrian and Iranian commercial airlines do regular military airlifts to Syria. This has been happening since 2011. Records show that from the day the nuclear deal was implemented in January 2016 until the end of last month there have been almost 700 flights to Syria from Iran, and only 6 of them were by Iran’s air force.
Six years ago Mahan Air and Iran Air were blacklisted by the Department of the Treasury for cooperating with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by carrying out these airlifts. Mahan Air, because of its ongoing support for terrorism, is still under US sanctions, but Iran Air has had its sanctions lifted despite its support for the IRGC. Iran Air was delisted for political reasons including the nuclear deal, but there is no evidence to suggest that the company has cleaned up its practices.
Iran Air has commercial flights to Damascus on a regular basis. There are two flights a week despite the country being in the midst of a war. This is one indication that it is still involved in terrorist activities. Furthermore, the flights between Iran and Damascus cannot be purchased online and Damascus is not listed as a destination on its website. Tellingly, the flights sometimes go via Abadan which is a major logistical hub for the IRGC.
There is more than enough evidence that would justify sanctioning Iran Air again and the United States should stop the sale of more aircraft to Tehran. Details about the Boeing and Airbus deals are very vague, so Congress should demand transparency.
As it has been proven previously that Iran responds well to sanctions, now is the time to impose more to curb the terrorist transfers of military forces and weapons.