Biden targets Iran drone program with sanctions
The Biden administration on Friday sanctioned a top Iranian military official for his role in the July attack on an Israeli-managed commercial shipping vessel in the Gulf of Oman, in addition to blacklisting a network of individuals and companies behind Iran’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program.
Iran’s drone program is a highly criticized aspect of the Islamic republic’s military support and operations in the Middle East against U.S. forces and partners in the region.
This includes actions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; actions against Saudi and Israeli entities; and its reported use in Ethiopia’s brutal, yearlong civil war.
“Iran’s proliferation of UAVs across the region threatens international peace and stability,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.
“Iran and its proxy militants have used UAVs to attack U.S. forces, our partners, and international shipping. Treasury will continue to hold Iran accountable for its irresponsible and violent acts.”
The sanctions come days after U.S. intelligence officials reportedly pointed to Iran as behind a drone attack on a military outpost in southern Syria where American forces reside, although no injuries were reported.
Targeted individuals include Saeed Aghajani, brigadier general for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who oversees the military unit’s drone command and directs the planning, equipment and training of drone operations, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
Aghajani is described as orchestrating a July 29 attack on the commercial shipping vessel Mercer Street off the coast of Oman, killing two Romanian crew members. The incident was condemned by the U.S., the United Kingdom, Romania and Israel. The Israeli management office was located in London.
The Treasury Department further said that Aghajani was behind the planning of a 2019 attack against oil refineries in Saudi Arabia, which temporarily disrupted global oil markets and risked triggering a larger, regional confrontation.
Other sanctioned individuals include IRGC Brigadier General Abdollah Mehrabi, the chief of the IRGC Aerospace Force Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization. The Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar Company, co-owned by Mehrabi, was also sanctioned along with its managing director, Yousef Aboutalebi.
The Treasury sanctioned the Kimia Part Sivan Company (KIPAS), an Iranian-based company that the U.S. says has worked with the IRGC’s elite Quds Force to improve its UAV program, and blacklisted Mohammad Ebrahim Zargar Tehrani for helping KIPAS source UAV components from companies based outside of Iran.
The sanctions block any property or interests held in the U.S. by the blacklisted individuals or companies, prohibit American transactions with those sanctioned and put international financial institutions on notice that they risk being blocked from the U.S. market if they engage with sanctioned entities.
Iran is likely to take issue with the sanctions amid its deliberations to return to international talks to reinvigorate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the international nuclear agreement that former President Trump withdrew the United States from in 2018.
Iran has said it is likely to return to talks before the end of November. The sixth round of talks ended in April.
The intent of the JCPOA is to put strict limits on Iran’s nuclear activities and subject it to intensive oversight, but critics of the agreement say it does little to curb Iran’s other problematic behavior, such as its support for proxy fighting forces across the Middle East.