The United States and its allies have faced a problem in countering Iran’s drones since the 2010s, when Tehran increasingly deployed unmanned aircraft to harass adversaries across the Middle East. But Iran’s UAV arsenal became even more of a flashpoint after it exported drones to Russia in August 2022 for use in the war against Ukraine. Iran had reportedly agreed to send Russia at least 1,700.
In eight rounds of sanctions between September 2022 and April 2023, the United States designated more than two dozen individuals and entities, including Iranian drone manufacturers and the Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, as well as the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force with close ties to the Kremlin. The United States also sanctioned transportation firms in Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
By January 2023, Russia had launched hundreds of Iranian drones, including two types of suicide drones, the Shahed-131 and the Shahed-136, as well as the Mohajer-6, which can conduct both strikes and reconnaissance. Russia fired suicide drones on Ukrainian military positions as well as residential buildings, power stations, bridges, playgrounds, sewage treatment plants and other infrastructure, killing civilians.
Tehran's decision to aid Russia reflected a deepening strategic alliance with Moscow. Both countries faced mounting diplomatic, economic, and military challenges from Western powers. Both were also sanctioned by the United States—Iran for nuclear advances and Russia for invading Ukraine. “Iran has now become Russia’s top military backer,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in announcing sanctions on January 6. “Iran must cease its support for Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity.”
But U.S. sanctions on both Iran and Russia had limited impact. They only froze assets of sanctioned people and entities that were under U.S. jurisdiction. They also prohibited any financial transactions using the U.S. financial system, even if all parties are outside the United States. The U.S. restrictions, for example, did not prevent Iranian exports to Russia because they did not involve the U.S. financial system.
On June 9, 2023, the United States warned people and businesses around the world about the threat posed by Iran’s drone activities and issued guidance on how to avoid support—intentional or otherwise—for Tehran’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program. The joint effort by the Departments of State, Justice, Treasury, and Commerce reflected Washington’s increasing concern over Iran’s use and proliferation of drones as well as its commitment to neutralizing the threat. “The United States is committed to countering Iran’s UAV programs, including through preventing abuse of the U.S financial system and disrupting the procurement of foreign-sourced components,” the guidance said. The following is a chronology of U.S. sanctions on people and entities involved in the drone transfers.
Related Material: U.S. Warns Industry about Iran’s Drone Program
Sept. 8, 2022
The United States sanctioned four Iranian companies and a defense contractor for providing drones to Russia for use in Ukraine. The move reflects a tightening of the sanctions noose around countries facilitating Vladimir Putin’s war machine. “The Russian military is suffering from major supply shortages in Ukraine, in part because of sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to turn to unreliable countries like Iran for supplies and equipment,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “The United States will hold those who support Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine to account, including by continuing to sanction Iranian or other entities that provide lethal aid to Russia.”
- Safiran Airport Services: The Tehran-based firm coordinated military flights between Iran and Russia.
- Paravar Pars Company: The drone manufacturer was linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
- Design and Manufacturing of Aircraft Engines: The firm was involved in the IRGC’s Shahed-171 drone program.
- Baharestan Kish Company: The firm managed Iranian drone manufacturing projects.
- Rehmatollah Heidari: The Iranian man was Baharestan Kish Company’s managing director and a board of directors member.
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Iran for Providing Drones to Russia
Nov. 15, 2022
The United States imposed sanctions on Iranians and Russians involved in the export of drones used in Ukraine. The State and Treasury Departments designed three Iranian entities, a Russian paramilitary, two Russian nationals, and two transportations firms based in the United Arab Emirates. The United States is “determined to sanction people and companies, no matter where they are located, that support Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned in a statement.
- Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center: The Iranian company produced the Shahed-136 suicide drone used by Russia against Ukraine.
- Qods Aviation Industries: The Iranian company produced the Mohajer-6 attack and reconnaissance drone used by Russia against Ukraine.
- Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force: The military branch likely helped facilitate Iran’s supply of drones to Russia.
- Wagner: The Russian private military company sought to acquire Iranian drones. It had reportedly deployed to warzones in Europe, the Middle East and Africa on behalf of Moscow.
- Abbas Djuma and Tigran Khristoforovich Srabionov: The two Russian men were involved in Wagner’s acquisition of Iranian drones
- Success Aviation Services FZC and i Jet Global DMCC: The transportation firms, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), coordinated flights between Iran and Russia. Both had cooperated with Safiran, a sanctioned Iranian transportation company. i Jet had also assisted Cham Wings, a Syria-based airline, that helped move Syrian fighters to Russia.
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Iran-Russia Drone Facilitators
Dec. 9, 2022
The United States sanctioned three Russian entities involved in procuring Iranian drones. “The Kremlin is deploying these UAVs against Ukraine, including in large-scale attacks on civilian infrastructure,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. The State Department designated the following entities:
• Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), the intended beneficiary of the drone agreement
• 924th State Center for Unmanned Aviation, which sent personnel to Iran for training on drones
• Military Transport Aviation (VTA), which was involved in transferring the drones to Russia
Jan. 6, 2023
The United States sanctioned six executives of an Iranian firm that produced drones exported to Russia for use against Ukraine. It also sanctioned the director of an organization that managed Iran’s ballistic missile program. “Iran must cease its support for Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
- Seyed Hojatollah Ghoreishi, Qods Aviation Industries (QAI) board of directors chairman and deputy defense minister
- Ghassem Damavandian, QAI managing director and member of the board of directors
- Hamidreza Sharifi-Tehrani, influential member of the QAI board of directors
- Reza Khaki, member of the QAI board of directors
- Majid Reza Niyazi-Angili, member of the QAI board of directors
- Vali Arlanizadeh, member of the QAI board of directors
- Nader Khoon Siavash, Aerospace Industries Organization director
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Iranians for Drone Supply to Russia
Feb. 3, 2023
The United States sanctioned eight executives of Paravar Pars Company, which manufactures suicide drones for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC had exported the firm’s Shahed-series drones to Russia for use against Ukraine. “The United States will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
- Hossein Shamsabadi, managing director and CEO of Paravar Pars Company and member of the board of directors
- Ali Reza Tangsiri, chairman of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors and IRGC Navy commander
- Abualfazl Nazeri, vice chairman of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
- Mohammad Sadegh Heidari Mousa, member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors and IRGC Navy official
- Mohsen Asadi, member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
- Mohammad Reza Mohammadi, member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
- Abulghasem Valagohar, member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
- Abulfazl Salehnejad, former member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Iranian Drone Maker Executives
March 9, 2023
The United States sanctioned five companies and one woman based in China for supporting Iran’s efforts to procure drone components. The network was linked to Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA), which produced Shahed-136 suicide drones. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were used by Iran to attack oil tankers and exported to Russia for the war in Ukraine. “Iran is directly implicated in the Ukrainian civilian casualties that result from Russia’s use of Iranian UAVs in Ukraine,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson. “The United States will continue to target global Iranian procurement networks that supply Russia with deadly UAVs for use in its illegal war in Ukraine.”
- Hangzhou Fuyang Koto Machinery Co., Ltd, which facilitated the sale and shipment of components that included light aircraft engines to HESA
- Raven International Trade Limited, which facilitated millions of dollars in transactions involving aerospace parts
- Guilin Alpha Rubber & Plastics Technology Co., Ltd, which facilitated the sale and transfer of thousands of parts to HESA
- Shenzhen Caspro Technology Co., Ltd, which facilitated the sale and transfer of thousands of parts to HESA
- S&C Trade PTY Co., Ltd, which facilitated the sale and transfer of thousands of parts to HESA
- Yun Xia Yuan, an employee of S&C Trade
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Firms Supplying Iran Drone Maker
March 21, 2023
The United States sanctioned three men and four organizations that procured equipment for Iran’s drone and weapons programs. The network, based in Iran and Turkey, had links to the Ministry of Defense. One firm was owned by the ministry. Two of the men tried to acquire European-made engines that could propel unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and surface-to-air missiles.
- Amanallah Paidar, an Iranian commercial manager and procurement agent for the Defense Ministry-affiliated Defense Technology and Science Research Center (DTSRC)
- Asghar Mahmoudi, an Iranian who has facilitated the supply of equipment including marine electronics to Paidar, the DTSRC, and Defense Ministry drone developers
- Murat Bukey, a Turkish procurement agent who has worked with Paidar and the DTSRC
- Defense Technology and Science Research Center (DTSRC), which conducted procurement, research, and development and is owned by the Ministry of Defense
- Farazan Industrial Engineering, Inc., which was based in Iran and used to acquire equipment for the DTSRC
- Selin Technic Co, which was based in Iran and run by Asghar Mahmoudi
- Ozone Havacilik Ve Savunma Sanayi Ticaret Anonim Sirketi, which was based in Turkey and run by Murat Bukey
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Network Supplying Drone Parts
April 19, 2023
The United States sanctioned an Iranian man and six companies based in Iran, China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia that procured electronic components for Iran’s drone and military programs. The network was linked to Pardazan System Namad Arman (PASNA), an Iran-based company designated in 2018 for ties to the Ministry of Defense. The United States “will continue to enforce its sanctions against Iran’s military procurement efforts that contribute to regional insecurity and global instability,” Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson said in a statement.
The United States designated the following man and firms:
- Mehdi Khoshghadam, managing director of PASNA
- Amv AJ Nilgoun Bushehr Co., an Iran-based front company for PASNA
- PASNA International SDN. BHD., a Malaysia-based front company for PASNA
- Arttronix International (HK) Limited, a Hong Kong-based firm that supplied electronic components to PASNA
- Jotrin Electronics Limited, a China-based firm that supplied electronic components to PASNA
- Vohom Technology (HK) Co., Limited, a China-based firm that supplied electronics to PASNA
- Yinke (HK) Electronics Company Limited, a China-based firm that supplied electronic components to PASNA
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Network Supplying Drone Parts
Photo Credits: Mohajer-6 via Mehr News Agency (CC BY 4.0)