July 20, 2017 | Policy Brief

New Sanctions Highlight the Need to Counter Iran’s Non-Nuclear Threats

July 20, 2017 | Policy Brief

New Sanctions Highlight the Need to Counter Iran’s Non-Nuclear Threats

In a joint effort on Tuesday, the Departments of State, Treasury, and Justice released new designations of Iranian, Chinese, and Turkish procurement networks that have facilitated material support for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the country’s ballistic missile program. Specifically, the designations targeted 18 entities and individuals for supporting the IRGC-Navy, producing drones, illegally exporting U.S. missile trajectory software, and other procurement activities that aid Iran’s military-industrial complex.

While these sanctions will likely not have the same economic impact as legislation the U.S. Congress is considering, they nonetheless send an important signal: that Washington seeks to thwart the networks that underwrite Tehran’s non-nuclear threats. It also communicates that Washington will not be impeded by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, which is currently under review.

In fact, the new financial measures were revealed just hours after the State Department affirmed that Iran met the terms of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Review Act while refusing to certify that Iran is in “compliance” with the JCPOA. That distinction, which was accompanied by a letter from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Congress outlining both Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear misbehavior, points out the president’s continued opposition to the accord. The move may have also been an attempt by the administration to intentionally tip its hand, preparing the international community for what a future and more comprehensive Iran policy may look like. 

Out of the three departments, the U.S. Treasury designated the lion’s share, going after 16 persons and entities across three jurisdictions pursuant to two different executive orders. Key amongst these targets were foreign procurement rings that acted on behalf of affiliates of entities subordinate to Iran’s Ministry of Defense.

A day earlier, the Justice Department released a previously sealed indictment involving three Iranians and hacked defense secrets. Mohammed Reza Rezakhah and Mohammed Saeed Ajily were charged with criminal conspiracy relating to computer fraud and abuse, unauthorized access to and theft of information from computers, exporting a defense article without a license, and violating sanctions against Iran. A third accomplice to these crimes was pardoned by the Obama administration. The trio were able to hack a Vermont-based defense firm and steal software that can be used to track and analyze the trajectory of missiles.

Although the State Department targeted just two entities, based on the type of support they can offer Iran’s ballistic missile program, they are by far the most important. They are the IRGC Aerospace Force Self Sufficiency Jihad Organization and the IRGC Research and Self Sufficiency Jehad Organization. As a branch of the IRGC, the IRGC-Aerospace Force serves as the guardian of Iran’s ballistic arsenal, which is the Middle East’s largest according to both current and former directors of national intelligence. The organizations designated on Tuesday are responsible for “ballistic missile research and flight test launches,” and “research and development of ballistic missiles,” respectively.

The post-deal behavior of Iran and its agents/affiliates indicates that the Islamic Republic has absolutely no intention of slowing down the strategic programs that have made it such a threat to international peace and security for over three decades. As the administration weighs its options, it would be wise to see sanctions and designations like the ones issued on Tuesday as the foundation – not the cap – for future action against Iran.                                                            

Tyler Stapleton is deputy director for congressional relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior Iran analyst. Follow Tyler on Twitter @Ty_D_Stapleton.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.


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