Why Are U.S.-Sanctioned Airlines Still Flying to the Gulf States?

America’s Gulf allies are shooting themselves in the foot. While they strive to push back against Iran’s regional aggression and terrorist proxies, they are allowing operations by a Syrian airline that is part and parcel of Iran’s regional agenda. Every one of America’s Gulf allies – with the exceptions of Oman and Saudi Arabia – continues to host Syrian Arab Airlines, which is under U.S. counterterrorism sanctions for airlifting military supplies and personnel from Iran. Dubai has been particularly short-sighted, also hosting flights by Iran’s Mahan Airlines, which has an even worse record of mayhem in the region.

The Sunni-ruled Gulf states have plenty of reasons to be frustrated with President Obama’s policies on Syria and Iran, which they see as too accommodating. Their criticism would carry more weight, however, if they stopped letting in flights by Mahan and Syrian Arab Airlines, also known as Syrian Air. By so doing, they are missing an opportunity to safeguard the integrity of their financial systems, stand up to the Syrian regime’s butchery, and encourage a more active U.S. posture against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

In May 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Syrian Air on charges of providing a platform for the IRGC’s external arm, the Quds Force, to ship illicit arms and ammunition for the Syrian regime’s crackdown. These weapons included “mortars, small arms, rockets, and light anti-aircraft guns” and were shipped with the assistance of Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon and a key player in the Syrian war.

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