Iran Under Pressure From Multiple Vectors

The US and France unveiled new sanctions against Iran this week, as Facebook announced a massive purge of fraudulent accounts linked to Iranian information operations abroad.

NEW ROUND OF US SANCTIONS TARGETS IRANIAN COMPANIES

On March 26, following weeks of warnings by senior Trump administration officials, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued a new round of sanctions targeting 25 individuals and entities in Iran. The main targets include a network of front companies that, according to the Treasury Department, have transferred over a billion dollars to the IRGC and the Iranian Ministry of Defense, as well as procured millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles for the Iranian military. In a statement posted to the Department website, Treasury claims the new round of sanctions ”exposes an extensive sanctions evasion network established by the Iranian regime, which it increasingly relies on as the United States’ maximum pressure campaign severely constricts the regime’s sources of revenue.”

Commenting on the measure, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, “We are targeting a vast network of front companies and individuals located in Iran, Turkey, and the UAE to disrupt a scheme the Iranian regime has used to illicitly move more than a billion dollars in funds.” He added that the U.S. would continue to maintain “maximum pressure” on Iran “while the regime funds terrorism and other destabilizing activities across the region.” 

BOLTON VS POMPEO: TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DIVISIONS OVER WHETHER OR NOT TO GRANT WAIVERS

Within the upper echelons of the Trump administration, senior officials appear to be debating whether or not to constrict access to the Iranian economy still further. The administration has until early May to decide whether or not to renew waivers to eight governments -- China, India, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Greece, South Korea and Taiwan -- allowing them to continue buying Iranian oil without financial penalties.

National Security Adviser John Bolton and officials in the Energy Department are reported to be advocating within the administration to cut off the waivers. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iran special representative Brian Hook, for their part, are said to have cautioned President Trump that the sudden removal of 1.1 million barrels per day of Iranian crude from the market could lead to a price spike.

Joining the former camp, Senator Tom Cotton tweeted on March 18 that “the Iranian regime uses its petrodollars to fund terrorism and sow chaos throughout the region. Going forward, the proper amount of oil exports from Iran is zero.”

FRANCE BANS FLIGHTS FROM MAHAN AIRLINES

On March 25, authorities in France announced the country was banning flights in and out of the country by Mahan Air, Iran’s first private airline and the largest of the country’s fleets of commercials aircraft. Paris has accused Mahan of transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other war zones.

The decision comes on the heels of Germany’s decision to ban the airline in January. "We knew of their activities from our own intelligence services and after the German move it was a question of credibility," said a French diplomatic source.

 

FACEBOOK ANNOUNCES CRACKDOWN ON IRANIAN NETWORKS

In the same week as the American and French decisions, Facebook announced a large-scale purge of accounts “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior” on behalf of Iranian government entities. The company’s head of cybersecurity policy released a statement on March 26th declaring that the company had removed 513 pages, groups, and personal accounts “as part of multiple networks tied to Iran” which “operated in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Kashmir, Kazakhstan or broadly across the Middle East and North Africa.” The removed accounts specialized in repurposing and amplifying content from Iranian state media over regional conflict zones. The move may be the first of further measures by the technology giant toward Iranian information warfare online.


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