Time for a serious reassessment.
Things are unfolding rapidly in Syria as relentless offensives, undertaken by the joint might of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah against a plethora of rival Sunni militias, have taken their toll on the rebels. Analysts are fearful that the pending fall of Islamic State, which seems likely, will create a vacuum that the Islamic Republic will rush to fill. This coupled with the recent revelation that the United States terminated a covert military aid program to rebels seeking to topple Assad, virtually ensures that Iran will remain a dominant power in Syria. A troubling consequence of this development is that Iran will have essentially succeeded in creating a land bridge of sorts that travels through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea, a prospect that is inimical to both U.S and Israeli interests.
Israel is cognizant of the fact that as a result of the leadership vacuum created by the Obama administration, Moscow now pulls the strings in Syria. It also understands that the U.S. decision to terminate funding for certain Syrian rebel groups signals that the U.S. has limited its immediate aims in Syria to toppling the Islamic State. Malign Iranian and Hezbollah influences appear to have become secondary concerns. For good reason, Israel views Iran’s entrenchment in Syria as a direct strategic threat and regional challenge. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his concerns to Vladimir Putin in a meeting between the two leaders which took place on Wednesday in Sochi. Russia’s ambassador to Israel, Alexander Petrovich Shein, noted that Russia would take Israeli interests into consideration when dealing with Syria.
While Iran’s cancerous spread of its hegemony is disconcerting, equally alarming is its continued violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also informally known as the Iran deal. The disastrous and dangerous Iran deal, mendaciously orchestrated by the Obama administration and sold to the American public through half-truths, cynical exploitation of the media and use of “echo chambers,” poses serious challenges to the Trump administration.
Twice since the signing of the accord, Iran has exceeded the JCPOA’s prescribed limitations on heavy water production, and according to German intelligence, Iran continues to utilize front companies in efforts to purchase high-tech equipment for use in nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development. Moreover, Iran’s secretive Parchin facility, where the Islamic Republic conducts its most secretive nuclear experiments, continues to remain off limits to international inspectors. But Iranian malfeasance does not end there.
According to a report compiled by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Iran, in flagrant violation of the JCPOA, has been using commercial airliners to transport Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen and proxy militias to various Mideast hotspots including Syria. Photos obtained by the FDD, and forwarded to congressional leaders show militia fighters affiliated with the Fatemiyoun Brigade, an Afghan Shiite militia, seated in an Iranian commercial airliner bound for Syria. The aircraft belongs to Iran Air, a purported Iranian civilian airliner, and its logo is clearly visible in the photo.
The stunning revelation comes on the heels of a report by the German media outlet Welt am Sonntag that Iran was using commercial airliners to transport military hardware to Syria from where it was shipped to Russia for maintenance and upgrading. Welt am Sonntag featured a satellite image of an Iranian Boeing commercial airliner parked on the tarmac at Khmeimim airbase, Russia’s largest and most important military airbase in Syria. The plane was likely purchased by Iran in the 1970s during the Shah’s era.
These disturbing incidents prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iran is using dual use platforms for military applications. It is a fact that in Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has spread its tentacles far and wide and maintains rooted interests in various civilian enterprises including the airline and banking industries. As noted, it utilizes commercial airlines to ferry troops and military equipment to Syria and elsewhere but it also uses its banking sector to launder money and finance overseas terror operations. In 2016, former secretary of state and Iranian lobbyist wannabee, John Kerry, attempted to persuade Western banks to do business with the Iranians, a request flatly rejected by banking executives who noted the IRGC’s well known infiltration of the Iranian banking sector and other civilian institutions.
Two Iranian commercial airliners – Aseman Airlines and the aforementioned Iran Air – have contracted with Boeing and its European competitor, Airbus, to purchase several dozen commercial airliners in deals collectively worth almost $50 billion. But Boeing needs the U.S. Treasury Department’s approval before the sale can be finalized. Airbus too requires Treasury’s approval because at least 10 percent of the airplanes’ components are of American origin.
Clearly, events of late dictate denial of all sales to the Iranians. Moreover, sanctions must be imposed on all Iranian commercials airline companies for flagrantly breaching international obligations. Those sanctions should be imposed in collaboration with our allies and should include denial of air and landing rights. As noted by Reps. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), Andy Barr (R., Ken.), and David Reichert (R., Wash.) in a letter addressed to Treasury Department, Iran Air is culpable in “facilitating the ongoing atrocities committed against the Syrian people by the Assad regime and its allies.” Lastly, it is patently obvious that Iran, by both word and deed, is defying the terms of the JCPOA. It is time for a serious reassessment of this dreadful accord that is worth less than the paper it is written on.