US sanctions Iran's biggest airline

State Department announces new sanctions on Iran’s biggest airline and its shipping network.

Elad Benari,

Mahan Air airplane
Mahan Air airplane

The United States on Wednesday imposed new sanctions on Iran’s biggest airline and its shipping network, Reuters reports.

The State Department targeted Shanghai-based ESAIL Shipping Company, which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “knowingly transports illicit materials from Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization, which oversees all of Iran’s missile industry” and has worked with Iranian organizations subject to UN sanctions.

The sanctions on ESAIL and additional sanctions on Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines will take effect in June 2020.

Also blacklisted was an Iranian shipping network involved in smuggling lethal aid from Iran to Yemen on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm, the Quds Force.

New sanctions were also imposed on Mahan Air and three of its general sales agents by the State Department and the US Treasury Department over its alleged role in weapons of mass destruction proliferation, expanding on counterterrorism sanctions imposed in 2011 over support it provided to the IRGC forces, Pompeo said.

Iranian security agencies have in the past secretly transferred wounded and dead soldiers and ammunition from the battle sectors in Syria and Yemen via Mahan Air’s civilian flights.

In July of 2018, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Mahan Travel and Tourism Sdn Bhd, a Malaysia-based sales agent for Mahan Air.

In January of this year, Germany announced it had banned Mahan Air from its airports, in an escalation of sanctions adopted by the European Union against Tehran over attacks on opponents in the bloc.

In addition to the sanctions on the companies, Pompeo threatened additional sanctions on those who conduct illicit transactions with them.

The tensions between the US and Iran have escalated since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

In response to the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and its imposition of sanctions, Iran has scaled back its compliance with the 2015 deal.

This past weekend, however, the two countries carried out a prisoner swap in a rare act of cooperation.

Pompeo on Wednesday said he hoped that the prisoner exchange on Saturday might lead to the release of other Americans held in Iran, though he cautioned against false optimism.

“I do hope that the exchange that took place will lead to a broader discussion on consular affairs. We still have Americans held in Iran, too many for sure. We are working to try and develop that, to expand that, to use this as an opportunity to continue that effort,” he said.