The Biden administration on Thursday imposed a new round of sanctions on Iranian individuals and companies that it said supported Tehran’s development of armed drones, ballistic missiles and cyber capabilities. The sanctions come as tensions remain high between the US and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program and support for militant proxies across the Middle East.
Treasury Targets Procurement Networks for Iran’s UAVs, Missiles
The US Treasury Department announced sanctions on an Iran-based network that has supplied components and technology used in Iran’s drone program, including parts used in drones sent to Russia last year for use in Moscow’s war on Ukraine.1
Additionally, the State and Commerce Departments took coordinated actions to further restrict Iran’s access to technology used in UAVs and precision guided missiles.
“Iran’s proliferation of UAVs across the region threatens international peace and stability,” said Brian Nelson, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “We will continue to sanction those contributors to Iran’s UAV and guided missile programs, depriving Iran of the items and revenue needed to carry out these provocative acts.”
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated six people and four Tehran-based companies that form a key element of an Iranian network procuring components for the production of UAVs and ballistic missiles:
- Abdollah Asghar Kayen, managing director of Tehran-based Comet Electronics Company
- Mohammad Hasan Baghaei, manager and board member of Comet Electronics Company
- Mehdi Bahadorani, procurement agent for Ababil News Agency, which serves as a cover company for the drone program
- Rahim Rezaei, senior Comet Electronics employee
- Ali Kamani, procurement agent working on behalf of Ababil
- Rehmatollah Heidari, Kamani’s China-based assistant
Comet Electronics poses as a legitimate business but illicitly procures dual-use components for clients connected to Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile programs, per OFAC. Ababil News Agency is a cover company used to obscure procurement for Iran’s drone program.
The sanctions freeze any US-based assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.
Cyber Bureau Targeted Over Water Utility Attacks
Separately, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against three senior officials from an Iranian cyber organization, the Civil Defense Organization of Iran (CDOI), for directing recent cyber attacks against civilian infrastructure.2
The sanctions target the head and two deputies of the CDOI cyber bureau:
- Amir Abdollahi, CDOI Bureau of Cyberspace Director
- Ehsun Mohammadi, Deputy Director of Operations
- Alireza Roshan Sharhan, Deputy Director of Technology
These officials led malicious cyber operations targeting critical infrastructure, including an early 2023 hack of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems at a small water utility in Pennsylvania.
“The United States will not tolerate Iranian threats to the security of Americans at home or abroad,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg, Treasury Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing.
More Sanctions Build US Pressure Campaign
The latest round of sanctions continues the Biden administration’s push to cripple sectors of Iran’s economy like aerospace and weapons, in retaliation for Tehran’s hostile regional activities and to gain leverage in efforts revive the languishing 2015 Iran nuclear deal.3
Talks between world powers and Iran to restore limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic relief have been stalled for a year. The US continues to look for ways bring Iran back into compliance.
Meanwhile Iran has accelerated both its ballistic missile and drone development programs. Just last month, the US shot down a Iranian-made drone over northeastern Syria after it demonstrated hostile intent to US forces.4
And Iran has stepped up cyber intrusions against US targets, including critical infrastructure like water treatment plants.
The new US sanctions also targeted alleged financial facilitators who help fund Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.5 Cutting off funding streams to Iranian proxies has been a key part of the US pressure campaign.
But while sanctions raise the costs to Iran of its foreign interventions and weapons proliferation, most experts think yet more economic penalties alone will not be enough to truly deter or contain an increasingly aggressive Iran bent on expanding its regional influence and military capabilities.
Stronger international cooperation and more forceful responses may ultimately be needed to counter the growing threat posed by Tehran’s drones, missiles and hackers.
What’s Next After Latest US Sanctions
While the Biden administration will likely impose further sanctions as needed to maintain pressure on Iran, most experts see sanctions alone as insufficient to truly contain Tehran’s threatening activities or coax it back into a nuclear deal.
Without stronger international cooperation and more forceful military pushback against Iranian provocations, Iran may feel emboldened to accelerate both its regional interventions and development of UAVs, missiles and cyber capabilities.
Militant proxies like Hezbollah can continue menacing US partners, and Iranian weapons proliferation enables conflict worldwide, despite tighter US sanctions. Iran’s cyber intrusions also pose an ongoing threat to the safety of critical infrastructure.
Ultimately, stauncher global resolve may be required to counter Iran’s increasingly aggressive posture under its hardline regime. If unchecked, Tehran seems poised to continue challenging the US and allies like Israel, even at risk of wider conflict.
So while the Biden team ratchets up economic penalties and looks to revive a nuclear pact, most analysts think more forceful measures are inevitable absent true cooperation from Iran to scale back its disruptive activities. The US may need to prepare other policy options to confront a defiant Iran still committed to expanding its regional influence and military power.
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