By Jamie Crawford
The United States sanctioned an Iranian airline, three Iranian officials, a trading company and a shipping agent Tuesday for providing support to an elite Iranian military unit that has already been branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
All of the entities sanctioned were involved in the shipments of weapons to the Levant, a collection of countries on the eastern Mediterranean Sea that includes Syria, as well as to Africa, the Treasury Department said in a press release.
They have all assisted Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, the Treasury Department said.
"Today's action again exposes Iran's malign influence in the Middle East, Africa and beyond," David Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the release. "As the Iranian regime exports its lethal aid and expertise to foment violence in Syria and Africa, Treasury will continue to expose the officials and companies involved and work to hold them accountable for the suffering they cause."
Under the auspices of humanitarian aid, Yas Airline, a cargo company based in Tehran, has moved illicit cargo, including weapons, to Syria on behalf of the Quds Force. The company, which also works with Syrian officials and the Lebanese organization Hezbollah, has also obscured illicit shipments by labeling them as "auto spare parts," Treasury said.
Iran's shipment of weapons to Syria has been under close scrutiny by U.S. officials for some time. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee this month, Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Iran was using its aerial assets to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"In terms of Iran, they are working earnestly to keep Assad in power. They have flown in experts. They are flying in weapons. It is a full-throated effort by Iran to keep Assad there and oppressing his own people," Mattis said. "They are providing the kind of weapons that are being used right now to suppress the opposition."
U.S. officials have also pressed Iraq to deny use of its airspace to Iranian aircraft suspected of ferrying weapons to Syrian forces. Earlier this month, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States was "concerned" about Iranian cargo flights over Iraq, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told a Senate panel earlier this month that Iraq has insisted Iran stop such flights over its territory.
In addition to Yas Air, the Treasury Department also sanctioned Behineh Trading and a Nigerian shipping agent for facilitating the shipment of arms to Africa on behalf of the Quds Force.
According to the department, the two entities orchestrated an October 2010 Quds Force weapons shipment that was seized in Nigeria and destined for Gambia. The shipment, which included grenades, rockets, mortars and ammunition, was hidden among construction materials.
Three officials with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force were also subject to the sanctions announced by the Treasury Department.