The Iranian regime trumpeted with much fanfare an agreement to buy 80 commercial airliners from Boeing, as well as lease another 29 airliners for a total value estimated upwards of a whopping $25 billion for Iran Air. Far from being a simple transaction for new aircraft any national airline might make, this deal represents far more for both the Iranian regime and the hopes of the mullahs in Tehran to gaining unrestricted access to currency exchanges.
The deal is the linchpin to a larger effort by the regime to lift restrictions put in place limiting the regime’s access to U.S. currency exchanges, as well as access to sensitive technology that could be used by Iran for illegal or military purposes.
While the nuclear deal reached with Iran last year lifted a number of economic sanctions, it did not lift sanctions still in place related to Iran’s abysmal human rights record, support of terrorism and the illegal test launches of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, but that has not stopped some in the U.S. administration from trying an end-run in supporting the Boeing deal and using loopholes such as the creation of a new Iranian bank located literally offshore its coast on an island to get around currency restrictions.
An effort was mounted in Congress to block the sale with the House approving two amendments by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) to block sales by Boeing and Airbus aircraft to Iran to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act 239-185.
The amendments both passed by voice vote, which a statement from Roskam’s office said indicates “overwhelming, bipartisan support.”
One amendment prohibits the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) from using funds to authorize a license necessary to allow aircraft to be sold to Iran.
The other amendment ensures Iran will not receive loans from U.S. financial institutions to purchase militarily-fungible aircraft, by prohibiting OFAC from using funds to authorize the financing of such transactions.
Democratic Representative Denny Heck of Washington state, where Boeing has major operations, said that if proposed bills to restrict the deal became law they would also affect other companies’ sales to Iran. Because virtually all modern jets have more than 10 percent U.S. content, including those Airbus plans to sell, they already require export licenses from the U.S.
This is precisely the reason why the Boeing deal needs to be blocked because its passage would open the proverbial floodgates for the Iranian regime to pursue unrestricted deals with virtually any business without fear of sanctions or consequences. The deal would also essentially make null and void all sanctions in place for human rights and terrorism violations.
It would be hard to contemplate a more universal dismissal of the importance of human rights than the explicit approval to resume business with the regime and ignore all of the vile acts it commits against its own people and the rest of Middle East.
Can we imagine past “business as usual” deals with the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia during the killing fields or with Serbia or Rwanda as genocides were being committed? When does conscience give way to financial gain?
Republican and Democratic critics of the deal expressed concern that the aircraft would be used by Iran for illicit activities, such as ferrying weapons to Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to the Obama administration in June saying it is “virtually certain” the aircraft would be used for nefarious purposes, since Iran Air is aligned with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which remains under sanction.
Iran Air was removed from a sanctions list as part of the nuclear deal with Iran, which rolled back sanctions in exchange for limits to Iran’s nuclear program.
“Iran Air’s aircraft will undoubtedly be used in the future to continue to funnel lethal assistance to Assad, to Hezbollah, and to other terrorist entities,” Sherman wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker on June 30.
Opponents of the Boeing deal pointed out that the Treasury imposed sanctions on Iran Air in 2011 for using passenger and cargo planes to transport rockets and missiles to places such as Syria, sometimes disguised as medicine or spare parts. At other times, members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards took control of flights carrying sensitive cargo. Those sanctions were lifted in July 2015 after the nuclear deal was signed.
“Boeing is signing a deal with an Iranian aviation company and an industry complicit in the regime’s weapons proliferation and destabilizing adventurism,” Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based public policy group, testified at the hearing.
Dubowitz said that Iran Air made three trips to Syria just last month carrying weapons and supplies for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria that’s opposed by the U.S.
“The deal between Boeing and Iran risks implicating major U.S. companies in the Islamic Republic’s support for terrorism and regional adventurism,” said Dubowitz, who has advocated tough sanctions against Iran and helped lawmakers craft them.
Predictably, the Iran lobby voiced its displeasure over the efforts to kill the deal.
“By attempting to block Boeing’s pending sale of commercial passenger aircraft to Iran, opponents of the Iran nuclear accord are also seeking to undermine significant U.S. commercial interests and to impose humanitarian suffering on the Iranian people by denying them access to safe air travel,” said Tyler Cullis of the National Iranian American Council in a press release.
It’s a noteworthy sentiment since not many ordinary Iranians are likely to be flying Iran Air flights loaded with military hardware and ammunition bound for Syria, Iraq or Yemen, but naturally Cullis and the rest of the Iran lobby ignore the illicit uses the Iranian regime has used commercial aircraft for previously.
It’s also important to remember that Cullis and the NIAC make no promises or guarantees that the aircraft would not be used for military purposes, which lies at the heart of why this deal frankly stinks. Without any reasonable guarantees or enforcement or monitoring mechanism, the U.S. and Europe through Boeing and Airbus would essentially be providing the Iranian government and military with a massive upgrade in its airlift and cargo capabilities at a time when its’ military is deeply involved in three proxy wars straining the regime’s ability to move supplies, hardware and troops.
While the first step was taken by the House to stop this bad deal, the Senate needs to take the matter up quickly and pass similar legislation.
By Michael Tomlinson