US imposes sanctions on Iran’s drone commander behind attack on Israel-linked ship

The US Treasury hit Iran’s drone program with sanctions on Friday, increasing pressure on Tehran ahead of the reopening of negotiations on the country’s nuclear program.

The Treasury said lethal UAVs from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been used to target US forces and international shipping in the Gulf region.

The drones have also been supplied to Hezbollah, Hamas and Yemen’s Houthis, and have also been seen in Ethiopia, “where the escalating crisis threatens to destabilize the region as a whole,” the Treasury said.

The sanctions singled out Brigadier General Saeed Aghajani, who heads the Revolutionary Guards UAV Command.

The Treasury said Aghajani was behind a 2019 drone attack on an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia, as well as the July 29, 2021 attack on the Mercer Street commercial ship operated by an Israeli-owned company off the coast. of Oman in which two crew members died. .

“Iranian forces have been responsible for several high-profile attacks against international shipping in recent years, including two previous incidents this year alone,” the Treasury said.

In August, Defense Minister Benny Gantz publicly named Aghajani as head of the IRGC drone unit responsible for the tanker assault and other UAV strikes, in a briefing with envoys from countries at the Council of United Nations security.

“The UAV command carried out the attack on Mercer Street,” he said. “Saeed Aghajani plans and provides the training and equipment to carry out terrorist attacks in the region.”

The tugboats are moored alongside the Israel-linked MT Mercer Street oil tanker off the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, on August 3, 2021 (Karim Sahib / AFP).

Also included on the sanctions blacklist were two companies, Kimia Part Sivan and Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar, which provide components and help develop the armed UAVs of the Revolutionary Guard.

“The proliferation of Iran’s UAVs throughout the region threatens international peace and stability,” Treasury Undersecretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

“The Treasury will continue to hold Iran responsible for its irresponsible and violent acts,” he said.

The sanctions came nine days after an attack on a US military base in Al-Tanf, Syria, that involved drones.

The Pentagon has not identified the source of that incident, which caused no injuries, but says generally that Iran has provided drones for such strikes in the region.

Illustrative: The Saudi Army shows what they say are an Iranian cruise missile and drones used in recent attacks on its oil industry at Saudi Aramco’s facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, during a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 18 September 2019. (AP Photo / Amr Nabil, file)

“We’ve seen these kinds of attacks in the past from – from Shiite militia groups, which we know are backed and supported by Iran,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.

The sanctions were also announced just two days after Iran said it will resume talks with world powers in November on reviving a nuclear deal.

That engagement came after a five-month gap that saw growing warnings that international patience was running out with Tehran.

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