Thirty-seven designations and a hill of beans

November 14, 2010

False names, false flags, rapid changes in owners, managers, and operators—all of this is part of Iran’s effort to use IRISL, its shipping fleet, to evade international sanctions.  Iran doesn’t just sit down and take its medicine from the U.S., Europe, and the United Nations.  It does everything it can to move goods, supplies, weapons, and materials in and out of the world’s ports without detection.

Although the U.S. has already designated IRISL’s known ships, it took an additional step forward last month by designating 37 companies that own or control IRISL ships.  From Treasury’s press release:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury today announced the designation of 37 front companies based in Germany, Malta, and Cyprus and five Iranian individuals for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and its affiliates.  Today’s action…targets IRISL’s complex network of shipping and holding companies and executives and further exposes Iran’s use of its national maritime carrier to advance its illicit weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program and to carry military cargoes.

“We will continue to expose the elaborate structures and tactics Iran uses to shield its shipping line from international scrutiny so that it can continue to facilitate illicit commerce,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey. “This pattern of obfuscation is leading the private sector around the world to refuse business with Iran rather than risk becoming involved in its nuclear and missile programs.”

Tighter sanctions are a plus, but there are always limits.  In an investigation into IRISL earlier this year, the New York Times found that Iran’s abilities to evade “goes well beyond the knowledge of even the Treasury Department” and that, “As difficult as it is to keep track of ships that are on the blacklist, ships that have never been listed present an even greater challenge.”  The New York Times suggests that no matter how many ships and companies Treasury designates, Iran will just keep finding ways around the sanctions. 

But when our leaders basically take military options off the table, and Iran writes-off diplomatic options, futile economic restrictions are about all that’s left.

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