Why Boe­ing and Air­bus deals with Iran shouldn’t fly

Aid­ing and abet­ting ter­ror­ists is bad busi­ness

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Clif­ford D. May Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Washington Times.

Some­times in­ter­na­tional law is am­bigu­ous. Some­times not. When it comes to mur­der­ing civil­ians and us­ing chem­i­cal weapons to get the job done, there are no grey ar­eas, no fuzzy lines, no mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances. Such prac­tices are clearly and specif­i­cally pro­hib­ited un­der what’s called “the law of war.” That makes Bashar Assad, Syria’s dy­nas­tic dic­ta­tor, a war crim­i­nal. And it makes Iran his chief ac­com­plice. As far back as 2005, Jane’s De­fense Weekly re­ported that Iran’s rulers were ac­tively help­ing Mr. Assad launch an “in­no­va­tive chem­i­cal war­fare pro­gram” — pro­vid­ing tech­nol­ogy to build equip­ment that would pro­duce “hun­dreds of tons of pre­cur­sors for VX, sarin nerve agents and mus­tard blis­ter agent.”

When it comes to the Is­lamic re­pub­lic, Pres­i­dent Trump and his ad­vis­ers are un­der no il­lu­sions. “Ev­ery­where you look, if there’s trou­ble in the region, you find Iran,” Secretary of De­fense James Mat­tis said last Wed­nes­day dur­ing a visit to Saudi Ara­bia.

“Iran is the world’s lead­ing state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism,” Secretary of State Rex Tiller­son reaf­firmed the same day. The cler­i­cal regime, he added, “is re­spon­si­ble for in­ten­si­fy­ing multiple con­flicts and un­der­min­ing U.S. in­ter­ests in coun­tries such as Syria,

Ye­men, Iraq and

Le­banon and con­tin­u­ing to sup­port at­tacks against Is­rael. An unchecked Iran has the po­ten­tial to travel the same path as

North Korea and take the world along with it.”

So what’s the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy for check­ing Iran? That’s still a work in progress. But some mea­sures can and should be taken im­me­di­ately. In par­tic­u­lar, un­like his pre­de­ces­sor, Mr. Trump should re­frain from fa­cil­i­tat­ing Iran’s sup­port for ter­ror­ism and war crimes.

For ex­am­ple: Dur­ing the fi­nal months of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the U.S. Trea­sury Depart­ment is­sued a li­cense for Boe­ing to sell 100 new planes to Iran Air, “the air­line of the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic of Iran.” Trea­sury also is­sued li­censes to Air­bus for a sim­i­larly sized deal. Ira­nian of­fi­cials claim these air­craft will be used for civil­ian pur­poses only.

The ev­i­dence sug­gests they’re ly­ing. Emanuele Ot­tolenghi, my col­league at the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, has been painstak­ingly track­ing Iran Air flights be­tween Tehran and Damascus. There have been 768 since Jan. 16, 2016, the day that Pres­i­dent Obama’s nu­clear deal with Iran, the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion (JCPOA) was im­ple­mented. Of those 129 were on Iran Air.

Mr. Ot­tolenghi be­lieves few, if any, are fer­ry­ing tourists keen on sight­see­ing, shop­ping and fine din­ing. He be­lieves they are sup­ply­ing mil­i­tary equip­ment and fight­ers in sup­port of Mr. Assad’s forces and those of Hezbol­lah, Iran’s Le­banon-based proxy mili­tia, which has been de­ployed to help de­fend Mr. Assad’s regime.

It’s worth re­call­ing that, in 2011, Trea­sury “des­ig­nated” Iran Air for pro­vid­ing ma­te­rial sup­port and ser­vices to Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, which had it­self been des­ig­nated for pro­lif­er­at­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion. Trea­sury par­tic­u­larly noted that Iran Air had been trans­port­ing “mis­sile or rocket com­po­nents to Syria.”

Then, sud­denly, just over a year ago, Iran Air’s des­ig­na­tion was re­moved. Ad­min­is­tra­tion spokes­men de­clined to ex­plain why ex­cept to say they were act­ing “pur­suant” to the JCPOA. An ed­u­cated guess: Pres­i­dent Obama had added a sweet­ener — one of many — to a deal he saw as es­sen­tial to his legacy.

Decades of sanc­tions against Iran’s civil avi­a­tion sec­tor were lifted as well. In con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony ear­lier this month, Mr. Ot­tolenghi said that from Iran’s per­spec­tive, the tim­ing could not have been bet­ter: This was the point at which the avi­a­tion sec­tor “be­came vi­tal to Tehran’s war ef­forts in the Syr­ian the­ater.”

Mr. Ot­tolenghi is rec­om­mend­ing that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, at the least, now “sus­pend li­cens­ing for air­craft deals while it con­ducts a thor­ough re­view of their role in the air­lifts to Syria.”

The U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity has the means to de­ter­mine what’s mov­ing be­tween Iran and Syria. If these flights are, in fact, mil­i­tary rather than com­mer­cial and civil­ian, Mr. Ot­tolenghi would urge the ad­min­is­tra­tion to sanc­tion — or rather re-sanc­tion — Iran’s en­tire avi­a­tion sec­tor. Be­cause these would be non-nu­clear sanc­tions, do­ing so would not vi­o­late the JCPOA. Air­bus’ li­cense can and should be sus­pended as well be­cause its planes con­tain key parts made in the USA.

The same week Mr. Assad used chem­i­cal weapons to slaugh­ter more than 70 people in north­west­ern Syria, yet an­other Ira­nian air­line, Ase­man, signed yet an­other deal to pur­chase Boe­ing planes. Ase­man’s CEO, Hos­sein Alaei, spent most of his ca­reer in Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps and its Min­istry of De­fense, a branch of Iran’s govern­ment also des­ig­nated for pro­lif­er­at­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion and their de­liv­ery sys­tem. Mr. Trump should in­struct Trea­sury not to grant a li­cense to Ase­man, ei­ther.

Ex­ec­u­tives, stock­hold­ers and lob­by­ists for Boe­ing and Air­bus will not be pleased by what I’ve writ­ten above. But they should ask them­selves: Do they re­ally want his­tory to record that they helped Iran Air en­able Mr. Assad’s mass mur­der of in­no­cent men, women and chil­dren?

Un­der the JCPOA, Iran’s rulers agreed to de­lay — not end — a nu­clear weapons pro­gram whose ex­is­tence they do not ac­knowl­edge. In ex­change, they’ve re­ceived bil­lions of dol­lars as well as per­mis­sion to join the nu­clear weapons club a few years down the road. What if, at that point, they’re still the world’s lead­ing spon­sors of ter­ror­ism, vow­ing geno­cide against Is­rael and “Death to Amer­ica!”? Un­der the deal Mr. Obama con­cluded, that won’t mat­ter.

When it comes to the threats Mr. Obama left for his suc­ces­sor, none is more daunt­ing than that posed by Tehran. In prin­ci­ple, Mr. Trump should be en­cour­ag­ing Boe­ing and other Amer­i­can com­pa­nies to make a buck abroad. But as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple, Mr. Trump should not al­low Boe­ing nor any other Amer­i­can com­pa­nies to be in the busi­ness of aid­ing and abet­ting ter­ror­ists and war crim­i­nals.


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