London, 24 Aug – The new photographic evidence published by a Washington, D.C., think-tank, which they provided to Congress, shows Iran using its flagship commercial carrier, Iran Air, to ferry militants to Syria, who have joined the fight against U.S. forces. The photos have upset congressional leaders, who accuse Iran of violating the nuclear deal, which prohibits it from using commercial air carriers for military purposes. They are demanding that the Trump administration investigate further, and consider imposing new sanctions on Iran.
The release of these photographs comes as top U.S. air carrier manufacturer Boeing continues with a multi-billion dollar deal to sell Iran Air a new modern fleet. Many in Congress have opposed the deal due to Iran’s use of commercial aircraft for military purposes. However, Iran Air’s central role in the transportation of militant forces to Syria could complicate Boeing’s efforts regarding the sale, which requires approval from the Treasury Department.
According to a letter, Congressional leaders are now calling for a suspension of all licenses permitting these sales in light of the new evidence.
“Iran’s use of commercial aircraft for military purposes violates international agreements as well as Iranian commitments under the JCPOA,” wrote the lawmakers. “We believe these photos mandate a thorough investigation of these practices and a comprehensive review of Iran’s illicit use of commercial aircraft.” The letter goes on to say, “During this investigation, the United States should suspend current and future licenses for aircraft sales to Iran.”
Those calling for an investigation include Reps. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), Andy Barr (R., Ken.), and David Reichert (R., Wash.).
“Iran Air has engaged in Iran’s illicit transport of military goods and personnel to Syria since implementation of the nuclear deal”, the lawmakers write.
In the past, The Treasury Department has promised to consider and investigate any new evidence revealing Iran’s illicit use of commercial aircraft. The lawmakers urge follow-through. “In light of these assurances to both investigate evidence of Iranian wrongdoing and to re-designate Iranian airlines engaging in sanctionable activity, we strongly urge you to investigate the enclosed photos. If as a result of your investigation, you find Iran Air guilty of conducting military transports with commercial aircraft, it should be re-designated.”
The photographs, reportedly taken in 2016 and 2017, show Iranian fighters aboard Iran Air planes on their way to Syria. According to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which first disclosed the photographs to Congress, these militants are believed to be affiliated with the Fatemiyoun Brigade, an Afghan Shiite militia.
”These photos seem to display militiamen sitting on seats clearly labeled with the Iran Air logo,” the lawmakers inform the Treasury Department. “These individuals are not Afghani civilians; they are believed to be members of an Iranian-backed militia, trained and funded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), actively fighting for the Assad regime in the Syria.” The lawmakers accuse Iran Air of “facilitating the ongoing atrocities committed against the Syrian people by the Assad regime and its allies.”
Because of the recent attacks by Iranian-backed militias on U.S. forces operating in Syria, is issue is pressing, so the lawmakers demand, “… swiftly investigate and conduct a comprehensive review of Iran Air’s role in supporting Iran and the Assad regime militarily, and hold accountable those found guilty of such activity.”