In the latest U.S. move to pressure Iran, the Treasury Department has sanctioned 37 German, Maltese, and Cypriot companies for being owned or controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL). The new designations on Oct. 27 are a logical next step for the United States and an indication that the Obama administration is continuing a key part of the Bush administration’s approach. For sanctions to bear fruit, both administrations concluded that sanctions should be both targeted and graduated.
The Iranian shipping line and its front companies are also logical targets. IRISL has been one of the central players in Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons capabilities. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said the designations would further “expose the elaborate structures and tactics Iran uses to shield its shipping line from international scrutiny so that it can continue to facilitate illicit commerce.”
The new U.S. sanctions affect 15 shipping companies and 11 holding companies. Treasury also designated five Iranians for acting on behalf of the Iran shipping company.
The United States has now designated almost 70 IRISL front companies and affiliates. It has also identified more than 100 ships as the property of IRISL or its fronts.
The Bush administration first designated Iran’s shipping conglomerate in September 2008 for facilitating the transport of cargo for U.N.-designated proliferators and falsifying documents and using deceptive schemes to shroud its involvement in illicit commerce. The U.N. Security Council has also named IRISL as a company that has engaged in proliferation shipments.
IRISL has also long been implicated in shipping arms to terrorist groups. In January 2008, the Monchegorsk, an IRISL-chartered Cypriot vessel bound for Syria was detained and found to be carrying components for mortars along with powder, propellant, and shell casings for 125mm and 130mm guns. Holland and Britain have also taken action against IRISL. Yet by themselves, the latest U.S. actions are not likely to put sufficient pressure on Tehran to change the regime’s calculus.
Matthew Levitt is director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and a lecturer in international relations and strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.