Iran Using Commercial Airlines for Military Purposes, in Violation of International Law

Iran has made deals with some of the world’s largest aircraft companies in order to buy a new, modern fleet for what they claim is commercial purposes. Maghsoud Asadi Samani, secretary of Iran’s Aviation Companies Association, told state-owned media that these deals come with modernization packages, including technology and education, that allow Iran to participate in producing aircraft parts and equipment.

Claiming there is no evidence that Iran is violating international law and its commitments to the nuclear deal, Iran’s advocates ignore its history of using its commercial airlines for military purposes.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, president of the International American Council, writes in his article for Arab News, “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.”

In a letter demanding a formal investigation by the Trump administration, several US congressional leaders wrote, “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.”

Mahan was under international sanctions for shipping weapons to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, prior the nuclear deal, which were lifted after the agreement.

Iran’s enhancement of its military capabilities should not facilitated by Western airlines. According to several governmental and intelligence reports, Iran is the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, and is top of the 2016 Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index Report.

Tehran has been acquiring the skills necessary to easily convert modern commercial aircraft into military ones since 1979. By itself, the US cannot by itself prevent Tehran from doing this, so more countries must join the cause. The international community must hold Iranian leaders accountable for violating international law, as well as 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,” according to Dr. Rafizadeh.