By Jason M. Brodsky
August 13, 2020
In recent months, the United States has been focusing its diplomatic efforts to extend the U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which is scheduled to lapse on October 18, 2020. It has consumed much of the debate among the commentariat. But there’s another sunset that has gone less noticed since the death of former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani: the expiration of the U.N. travel restrictions on leading Iranian officials, which are also set to end this October.
Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, all countries are required to prevent entry into, or transit through their territories, the individuals on what’s known as the 2231 List. Most of those who appear are a part of the Islamic Republic’s security establishment.
However, the list is grounded in the regime dynamics of the past, with the original designations made between the years of 2006 and 2012 and amendments made through 2014. Much has changed since that time. For instance, the current commander-in-chief of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, is designated. However, he was listed in his former capacity as a one-time commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force. Another example is Mohammad Hejazi, who was sanctioned originally in 2007 for being the commander of the IRGC’s paramilitary Basij resistance force. But Hejazi’s portfolio has significantly evolved since that time. Now he is the deputy commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force. Both are scheduled to be delisted in October.
There’s more. Since Soleimani’s death in January, the sitting commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force hasn’t been subject to an international travel ban. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s successor as commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, was never added in his former capacity as Soleimani’s deputy. Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, the current commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, is also nowhere to be found on the 2231 List. In fact, even when the nuclear negotiations were ongoing between the “P5+1” and Iran, it didn’t reflect the reality of the Iranian regime at the time. When the U.N. Security Council agreed to sunset the travel ban in 2015, Yahya Rahim Safavi, the former commander-in-chief of the IRGC, was included, but nowhere to be found was the then-incumbent head of the Revolutionary Guards—Mohammad Ali Jafari.
The implications are not insignificant. When Soleimani visited, in violation of his travel ban, Russia in 2015 and 2016, he was able to enlist Moscow’s support to prop up Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and reportedly revived a deal to deliver the S-300 air defense system to Iran. Since he ascended to the commandership of the Quds Force, Ghaani has made trips to Iraq and Syria. With his deep connections in Afghanistan and Africa—stemming from his tenure as deputy commander—there is a risk he could have a more expansive footprint than even Soleimani, especially given the clandestine nature of his recent travel. With China solidifying a long-term partnership agreement with Iran that includes shared development of defense industries, the commander-in-chief of the IRGC will also conveniently be free to travel come October.
Mohammad Hejazi also stands to gain. The Israel Defense Forces identified Hejazi as the “commander of Iran’s precision-guided missile project in Lebanon” and the director of certain Iranian personnel stationed in Lebanon. That was before his elevation as deputy commander. Once his travel restrictions are removed, he will have increased ability to operate in managing the Quds Force’s terror network.
What makes the failure to update the list even more inexcusable is that authority exists in Resolution 2231’s Annex B to assign additional individuals for travel bans for assisting designated persons or entities in “evading or acting inconsistently” with its strictures. Ghaani and Hajizadeh, in particular, have been candidates for this list for years. In the case of Ghaani, he has a history of enabling the shipment of arms to Iran’s partners and proxies—including during the time when Soleimani himself was subject to the travel ban. A 2012 U.S. Treasury Department designation highlighted his past experience with financial oversight of a weapons shipment to Africa. Hajizadeh, as commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, has played a leading role in Iran’s development of ballistic missile technologies, with the U.S. government accusing him of “overseeing” the program and most recently leading efforts to launch a military satellite into space. Multiple countries have argued that Iran is defying Resolution 2231, following ballistic missile tests and satellite launches in recent years. The United Nations has been negligent in this regard.
Equally egregious is the failure to revise the travel ban to include the current leadership of the Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO) and its subsidiaries, the Shahid Bagheri and Hemmat Industrial Groups (SBIG and SHIG, respectively). SBIG spearheads the production of Iran’s solid-propellant missiles, whereas SHIG produces the liquid-propellant missiles. These components are vital in the advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Ahmad Vahid Dastjerdi, who is subject to the travel ban, is still listed as the head of AIO; but the current head, Afshin Khajeh Fard, is nowhere to be found. That’s not to mention that the managing directors of its SBIG and SHIG entities—Mehrdad Akhlaghi Ketabchi and Naser Maleki—were both added to the 2231 List in 2007, and there is no evidence of any updated entry to reflect their current management structures. The negligence in maintaining this list is even more inexplicable because of Resolution 2231’s stipulation that additional designations may be made for “having assisted designated individuals or entities in evading” its provisions or acting “on behalf or at the direction of designated individuals or entities.” That leaves ample room for capturing sitting AIO, SBIG and SHIG officials.
As a result, on October 18, the international community stands a lot more to lose than just the arms embargo on Iran. Some of the ayatollah’s most dangerous men will receive a permission slip to travel. It’s time for increased vigilance over the 2231 List.