image Photo: Reuters

US targets Iranian weapon development

New sanctions have been slapped on suppliers of Iranian armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones] that the United States says are being used by Russia against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

By Erin Viner

“The Iranian regime’s military support to Russia not only fuels the conflict in Ukraine but has also resulted in violations of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 through its provision of military UAVs without advance, case-by-case approval of the UN Security Council,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an official statement unveiled under the heading: “New Sanctions Targeting Iran’s UAV and Ballistic Missile Industries.”

Labelling Iran as “Russia’s top military backer,” the top US diplomate warned “we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity” until the Islamic Republic has ceased its support “for Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine.”

Moscow has been attacking vital Ukraine infrastructure since October with barrages of missile and drones, causing widespread power blackouts amid the setting in of icy winter weather.

The United States has designated seven individuals in leadership positions with Qods Aviation Industries (QAI), an Iranian defense manufacturer (also known as Light Airplanes Design and Manufacturing Industries) responsible for the design and production of unmanned aerial vehicles, and of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), the main organization responsible for overseeing Iran’s ballistic missile programs, said Blinken’s statement.

The US action “is pursuant to E.O. 13382 and follows our designations in September and November of individuals and entities involved in the production and transfer of Iranian Shahed and Mohajer- series UAVs, which Moscow continues to use in its brutal attacks against Ukraine, including its critical infrastructure,” it added.

QAI, a key Iranian defense manufacturer, has been under US sanctions since 2013.

“We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to deny (Russian President Vladimir) Putin the weapons that he is using to wage his barbaric and unprovoked war on Ukraine,” echoed US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a statement.

The Kremlin has denied its forces used Iranian drones in Ukraine; while Iran first denied and then acknowledged provision of the weapons.

Among the individuals hit by the sanctions was AIO Director Nader Khoon Siavash, who the Treasury said “oversees AIO’s ballistic missile production and testing and deals with international suppliers. AIO was sanctioned under E.O. 13382 on June 28, 2005. Iran’s Central Bank has siphoned millions in discounted foreign currency — ostensibly earmarked for importers of essential goods — to AIO per year, underscoring the regime’s prioritization of its missile programs at the expense of its own citizens.”

The Treasury named designated personnel at QAI as Seyed Hojatollah Ghoreish, QAI board chairman and senior official in Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics who “has led Iran’s military research and development efforts and was responsible for negotiating Iran’s agreement with Russia for the supply of Iranian (drones) for Russia’s war in Ukraine;” managing director and board member Ghassem Damavandian, for facilitating training of Russian personnel on how to use his company’s UAVs, as well as their supply to Iranian military services; and board members Hamidreza Sharifi-Tehrani, Reza Khaki, Majid Reza Niyazi-Angili and Vali Arlanizadeh.

The move is the latest in a series of US sanctions imposed on companies and people it accuses of producing or transferring Iranian UAVs used by Russia to attack civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. The action freezes any assets held by the designees in the US and generally bars Americans from dealing with them or risk being hit by sanctions themselves if they engage in certain transactions.