When President Trump recently signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), most of the public attention centered on his objections to the sanctions it imposed on Russia. Therefore, it went largely unnoticed that a key provision of the law could create serious legal liability for Boeing if it goes through with its announced sale of 30 B737 Max aircraft to Iran’s Aseman Airlines.
Boeing’s excuse for selling new airplanes to a terrorist state is that the U.S. government has determined Iran is adhering to the 2015 nuclear deal. However, that Obama administration deal left Iran’s global terrorism apparatus intact and enhanced it with lavish new funding, which it is now using to try to upgrade its logistics capabilities with modern commercial aircraft. The Trump administration must use the new authority contained within CAATSA and all other tools at its disposal to prevent this sale.
The direct and extensive relationships between Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism and the airlines the regime uses to carry it out is undeniable. At the center of those relationships is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). CAATSA now requires that it be treated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization and, therefore, makes it a crime for U.S. companies to do business with the IRGC and its Qods Force anywhere in the world because of their involvement in “Iran’s international program of destabilizing activities, support for acts of international terrorism, and ballistic missile program.”
The CEO of Aseman Airlines is Hossein Alaei, a decades-long senior member of the IRGC. More than just an obscure piece of trivia, this is an important example of the leadership connections between the IRGC and Iran’s civil aviation as well as evidence for how this sale could violate the new law Mr. Trump signed. The practical connections between Iran’s airlines, the IRGC and terrorism are even worse.
Iran has regularly used its commercial airlines to facilitate its terrorist activities. The United States has been forced to impose sanctions three times in the past six years on Mahan Air due to its ongoing links to terror, including ferrying IRGC members to and from Syria for military training as well as delivering arms to the Syrian government. The airline has also been providing transportation services and weapons to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy. But Iran has also used its airlines to target U.S. troops.
According to intelligence assessments, at least 500 U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were directly linked to Iran. The primary weapon favored by Iran was explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, which used a precision design to create a molten copper slug capable of devastating armored Humvees and even breaching the hulls of tanks. As a result, EFPs were more lethal and effective than non-military grade improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
Beginning in 2005, the U.S. military recognized the EFP threat as well as Iran’s role in manufacturing, supplying and training Shia militias in Iraq on how to target U.S. troops with them. Over time, the United States also discovered Iran was using its commercial airlines to transport EFP components to its terrorist allies.
Iran Air, which Boeing also wants to provide with 60 modern planes, has been linked to the illicit transportation of IED components found on the battlefields of Iraq. In 2011, the Department of Justice indicted an Iranian citizen and others for illegally exporting 1,200 radio frequency modules into Iran using Iran Air. Many of these modules had been found in roadside bombs in Iraq.
Despite this evidence, Boeing still says it wants to help Iran upgrade their commercial aviation with state-of-the-art aircraft. To do so they will need a special exemption from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, which is reviewing the matter. Under the new CAATSA law, there is also a risk that both Boeing and even banks financing such a sale could be in violation of U.S. law. The Trump administration has been presented with a golden opportunity to use these tools to deny Iran’s terror masters the new logistics capabilities they desire.
Boeing has sought to portray the sale in economic terms, touting the number of jobs aircraft sales might support. But given Iran’s documented use of its commercial airlines to transport and arm terrorists who have murdered hundreds of American troops, this sale should be viewed in moral and strategic terms alone. The United States may not ever be able to diminish Iran’s appetite for terrorism or its desire to murder our citizens. But our government and American industry should never enable it.
• Gary Osen and Ari Ungar are partners at Osen LLC, specializing in Anti-Terrorism Act cases.
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