House bill would target Iran's airline and test its nuclear deal

The bill seeks to impede Iran's suspected use of its civilian airline for military purposes, including in its involvement in the Syrian conflict.

January 18, 2017 13:29
2 minute read.
The IranAir Boeing 747SP aircraft with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad onboard is pictured befo

The IranAir Boeing 747SP aircraft with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad onboard is pictured before leaving Tehran's Mehrabad airport en route to New York September 19, 2011.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – House Democrats and Republicans are considering a bill that would require the incoming president and his intelligence chiefs to investigate Tehran’s use of its state-run civilian airline to ferry military equipment and fighters to the battleground in Syria.

The bill is part of a larger effort by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) to interrupt Iranian business with two of the world’s largest airplane companies, Boeing and Airbus. His new bill, titled the terror-free skies act, was introduced with Reps. Brad Sherman (D-California) and Lee Zeldin (R-New York).

Iran argues that blocking or impeding its access to Boeing and Airbus products would violate a nuclear deal it brokered with world powers in 2015. That agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, includes a provision which commits the US to “allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services” for “exclusively civil aviation end-use.”

But that last clause – “exclusively civil aviation end-use” – has some members of Congress convinced that Iran’s airline deals can legally be halted, in full compliance with the JCPOA. That’s because the US Treasury Department, State Department and intelligence agencies all assess that Iran Air and its subsidiary Mahan Air are complicit in illicit arms transfers to Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah and in the assistance of Syria’s embattled president, Bashar Assad.

 Iran Air's illicit flights to Syria. CREDIT: Emanuele Ottolenghi / Foundation for Defense of Democracies

The Treasury Department marked Iran Air in 2011 for providing services to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “Commercial Iran Air flights have been used to transport missile or rocket components to Syria,” the department warned.

Roskam and Sherman’s bill would require the president and his national security team to submit to Senate and House committees on armed services, intelligence and foreign affairs “a report on use by the government of Iran of commercial aircraft and related services for illicit military or other activities on or after the date that is the beginning of the five-year period ending on the date of the enactment of this act,” the bill reads.

According to its authors, the bill is meant to notify Boeing and Airbus that its dealings with Iran might be found in violation of the nuclear accord by Congress.
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“I’m introducing the terror-free skies act because we’ve seen what happens when commercial aircraft are converted to weapons of war,” Roskam said after formally introducing the bill last week. “We’re asking the intelligence community to provide a full accounting of Iran’s use of commercial airlines to support its global network of terror proxies, including the tyrant Bashar Assad in Syria, and hold these bad actors accountable for their war crimes.”

A flight chart provided to The Jerusalem Post by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies shows at least 404 flights from Iran to Syria since the nuclear deal was announced in 2015. And just since the agreement was implemented last year, Iran Air conducted 93 of flights from Iran to Syria, while Mahan Air operated 185, according to the FDD analysis, which relied on publicly available flight tracking service.

Airbus agreed to sell 118 planes to Iran last January, and in June, Boeing, which is US-based, followed suit, inking a $25 billion deal selling 109 aircraft to Iran’s national airline.

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