The United States on Monday sanctioned Iran’s Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) and nine individuals responsible for implementing the extremist policies – both at home and abroad – of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The new designations send a clear message that the Trump administration remains committed to imposing maximum pressure on Tehran to counter not only its aggression abroad but also its repression at home.
The sanctions come on the 40th anniversary of the seizure by Iranian militants of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, where they took dozens of personnel hostage for 444 days. In a ceremony to mark the occasion, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that Iran still continues to hold U.S. hostages today, underscoring the continuity of Iranian policy over the past four decades. Pompeo also announced a new $20 million reward for information leading to the return of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007.
The new sanctions target some of the bloodiest figures in the regime. Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, played a key role in the 1988 massacre of thousands of political opponents, serving on a four-member “Death Commission” that presided over the execution of inmates at Evin Prison, Iran’s most notorious jail, as well as Gohardasht Prison. Today, as head of the judiciary, Raisi leads Iran’s kangaroo court system, which has executed, imprisoned, and tortured countless political prisoners.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Khamenei, was a mastermind of the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people, including a five-year-old boy. Velayati served as Iran’s foreign minister at the time of the attack. In recent years, he has helped Tehran extend lines of credit to the regime in Syria, making him complicit in Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities.
Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, a military aide to Khamenei, served as the commander of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces in Syria and Lebanon in 1983 when Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, bombed an American military compound in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. service members.
The sanctions against the AFGS and its chief, Mohammad Bagheri, may carry the greatest symbolism. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the AFGS is “the most senior military body in Iran, which implements policy and monitors and coordinates activities within the armed forces, including the IRGC.” By sanctioning this body, Washington stresses that Iran’s military, by its very nature, seeks not merely to defend the country, but to advance a policy of regional expansionism rooted in Tehran’s radical Islamist ideology.
Treasury’s other targets included Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, Khamenei’s chief of staff; Vahid Haghanian, Khamenei’s executive deputy; Gholam-Ali Hadad-Adel, an advisor to Khamenei; Gholam Ali Rashid, an IRGC commander; and Mojtaba Khamenei, the supreme leader’s second son, who has represented his father in an official capacity. Treasury described all 10 designees as a as a “shadow network” that is part of Khamenei’s “inner circle.”
Treasury issued the designations pursuant to Executive Order 13876, signed by President Trump in June, which authorizes sanctions against any person appointed to office by, or acting on behalf of, Iran’s supreme leader. In July, Treasury used the order to sanction Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The new sanctions will bar their targets from accessing the international financial system; any person conducting business with them would be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions. The designations also prohibit their targets from traveling to the United States. While Khamenei’s inner circle likely has no U.S. visits planned, Washington should now attempt to turn this limited restriction into a global travel ban by threatening secondary sanctions against anyone facilitating their travel.
In a statement, Pompeo noted that the 1979 hostage crisis “has cast a 40-year shadow over our relations,” but “the longest-suffering victims of the Iranian regime are the Iranian people.” Monday’s sanctions constitute a poignant expression of solidarity with their plight.
Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). If you would like to receive more of his policy briefs, op-eds, and research, subscribe HERE. For more from CEFP, subscribe HERE. Follow Tzvi on Twitter @TzviKahn. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.