Sanctions Have Hurt Iran’s Aviation Sector, But Not Enough

Members of an Iranian honor guard stand next to an Iranian Mahan Air aircraft at Tehran’s International Mehrabad Airport. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto/Getty Images.)

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s civil aviation sector has played a vital role in the regime’s support of terror, repressive dictators, and military aggression around the world. It provides logistical support in multiple theaters of war, ferrying militias for Syria’s Assad regime, delivering weapons systems to Hezbollah through Damascus and Beirut, dispatching drones to war-torn Ethiopia, and replenishing Russia’s depleted arsenal since its invasion of Ukraine.

Denying Iran access to new aircraft, seizing existing ones, and disrupting procurement attempts should be a top priority for the Biden administration.

To be sure, U.S. sanctions have successfully limited Iranian access to modern aircraft and the parts and services to keep them running for decades. Its aviation fleet is old and has declined in quantity and quality over time. But a more robust and creative enforcement of sanctions could further curtail Iran’s occasionally successful efforts to evade enforcement.

Indeed, Iran has long engaged sanctions enforcers in a complex and evolving cat-and-mouse game. Displaying ingenuity and inventiveness, Iran has defied bans and bypassed financial restrictions to keep its fleet from being grounded. 

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