US adds more sanctions against Iran

The latest series of measures target companies and individuals involved in Iran’s production and transfer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones) used in Russia’s war against Ukraine, as well as the Islamic Republic’s brutal suppression of public protests.

By Erin Viner

Eight entities and people were slapped with punitive measures “in response to Iran’s support of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, including Tehran’s transfer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia, which are being used by Moscow to strike civilian infrastructure and cities,” declared US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“The Iranian government’s military support to Russia fuels the conflict in Ukraine, and its transfer of these UAVs is in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231,” Secretary Blinken said in a written statement, stressing that “The United States will continue to work to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity.”

Heavy US sanctions have already been imposed on many military entities and industries in Iran over its disputed nuclear development program, and now Washington seeks to increase pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, which has reduced cities to rubble and killed or wounded thousands.

Three Iranian entities designated by the Departments of State and the Treasury as guilty of involvement include the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Aerospace Force, which Secretary Blinken said “likely helped facilitate Iran’s supply of military UAVs to Russia,” the state-owed Qods Aviation Industries which produces the Mohajer-6 attack drone, and Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center, which makes the “suicide” or “kamikaze” type recently used in attacks in Kyiv, Odessa and the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.

The European Union and the United Kingdom sanctioned Shahed Aviation Industries last month.

“Further demonstrating that the United States is willing to target international actors involved in supporting Russia’s war machine,” said Binken, two United Arab Emirates-based air transportation firms, Success Aviation Services FZC (Success Aviation) and i Jet Global DMCC (i Jet), were designated for having coordinated flights transporting drones, personnel and related equipment between Tehran and Moscow, all while collaborating with the Iranian Safiran Airport Services firm already under American sanctions.

Russian individuals and entities targeted by the US in the same action include the Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner, which was also previously sanctioned by the EU, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada, for acting as “a low cost, low-risk instrument of the Kremlin to advance its goals,” said Blinken. Abbas Djuma and Tigran Khristoforovich Srabionov were also sanctioned for their involvement in Wagner’s acquisition of Iranian UAVs to support combat operations in Ukraine.

“As we have demonstrated repeatedly, the United States is determined to sanction people and companies, no matter where they are located, that support Russia‘s unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement, adding that the “action exposes and holds accountable companies and individuals that have enabled Russia’s use of Iranian-built UAVs to brutalize Ukrainian civilians.”

After initially denying to have sold drones to Russia, Iran later backtracked and admitted to the sales while claiming they had been sent prior to Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine.

Regarding efforts to step up pressure on the Ayatollah regime for its ongoing attempts to crush ongoing anti-government protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, the US has sanctioned six senior employees of the state-controlled Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) media corporation for serving as a “critical tool” in the suppression and censorship of its people.

Unrest has reportedly spread to 140 cities and towns across the Islamic Republic after the 22-year-old Amini died in custody on 16 September, following her arrest by the so-called “morality police” for attire deemed insufficiently Islamic.

Iranians from all backgrounds have taken to the streets to express fury over her death and the suppression of human rights by clerical rulers in the country; manifesting one of the toughest challenges to the Ayatollah Regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with some protesters calling for the deaths of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi.

The public outrage persists despite an ongoing violent crackdown by authorities and ultimatums issued by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has crushed dissent in the past with the support of its volunteer Basij militia.

The Iranian judiciary says that so far over 2,000 people had already been indicted for participation in the “riots,” over 50% of which were in the capital. Another 750 suspects in three provinces face similar charges, including “incitement to killing,” “harming security forces,” “propaganda against the regime” and “damaging public property.”

The United States-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reports that at least 344 people have been killed, including 52 minors. At least 15,820 protesters have been arrested, of whom 19 face charges which carry the death penalty, according to state media reports.

Iran, which claims Amini’s death was due to pre-existing health conditions, has accused its enemies, including Israel and the US,  of having instigated the unrest to destabilize the country.

The IRIB is a monopoly of domestic radio and television networks whose director is directly appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; that has been subjected to sanctions pursuant to US Presidential Executive Order 13628 under the “Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act” for restriction and denial of the free flow of information to or from the Iranian people.

The Treasury said the latest measures were imposed due to the broadcast of hundreds of forced confessions by detainees by the IRIB, in addition to interviews of family members forced to state that their relatives had not been killed by Iranian security forces during recent protests but instead died due to accidental, unrelated causes.

Both the Director and Deputy Director were among the sanctioned individuals, as well as two of the network’s “interrogator-journalists,” who Treasury accused of cooperating with the government in extracting and airing forced confessions.

“Two of these individuals are responsible for interrogations, which are often conducted in tandem with Iranian security forces,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying that the four others who “have taken actions making IRIB more propagandistic.”

Saying that the current action is being taken pursuant to Executive Order 13846, Washington’s top diplomat stressed, “IRIB acts not as an objective media outlet but rather as a key tool in the Iranian government’s mass suppression and censorship campaign against its own people.  IRIB has broadcasted forced confessions of Iranian, dual national, and foreign national detainees in Iran in attempts to distort facts and spread disinformation about the ongoing protests in Iran.”

Underscoring that the US “is steadfast in our commitment to supporting the Iranian people protesting nationwide and demanding accountability for their government,” Secretary Blinken stressed, “We will continue to hold Iranian officials and government institutions to account for their human rights violations and mass suppression of the Iranian people.”

Echoing that stance, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a separate statement that, “The Iranian government’s systemic reliance on forced confessions illustrates the government’s refusal to speak truth to its citizens and the international community,” and that the US “remains committed to supporting the Iranian people as they continue their peaceful protests” while continuing “to hold the Iranian government accountable for human rights violations and censorship.”

All of the latest decisions freeze any US assets of those designated, and American firms that engage in certain transactions with them also risk being hit with sanctions.