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US Treasury announces new Iran sanctions

US President elect Donald Trump [Anadolu]
US President Donald Trump [Anadolu]

The United States on Friday sanctioned 13 individuals and 12 entities under US Iran sanctions authority, days after the White House had put Iran "on notice" over a ballistic missile test and other activities.

In a statement on its website, the US Treasury listed the sanctioned individuals and entities, some of which are based in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and China.

An official US statement said that the latest batch of sanctions reflected Washington's commitment to enforcing sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile programme and Tehran's destabilising activities in the region.

Iran is the dominant force in Iraqi politics, with many Iraqi factions owing Tehran their direct allegiance, including formal organisations within the Iraqi military such as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). Iran also has significant influence in Syria, Lebanon and even Yemen, where it supports various Shia jihadist organisations, including the Lebanese Hezbollah.

These actions that some accuse Iran of having led to sectarian bloodshed throughout the Middle East has led to Iran's neighbours to feel under threat and react, causing further destabilisation. Many of those under threat include US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Turkey.

"Today's action is part of the Treasury's ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad that is outside the scope of the JCPOA," the Treasury said, in reference to the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Germany, one of the brokers of the deal, has blasted Iran for its breaches of the nuclear deal. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that the ballistic missile tests conducted by Iran on Sunday and admitted by them on Wednesday were a "clear violation" of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the UN bill that endorsed the nuclear accord.

Sanctions target Iranian business interests

Figures and businesses listed by the Treasury appear to be peripheral organisations connected with the Iranian regime, such as Hezbollah and businesses controlled by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Among those sanctioned today were companies, individuals, and brokers the US Treasury said support a trade network run by an Iranian businessman, Abdollah Asgharzadeh.

The Treasury said Asgharzadeh supported Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which the United States has said is a subsidiary of an Iranian entity that runs Iran's ballistic missile program, prohibited under the terms of the nuclear accord.

The Treasury also sanctioned what it said was a Lebanon-based network run by the IRGC, the elite military body that is also powerful in Iranian politics and the economy, and runs a vast business empire both in Iran and abroad.

Recently, the IRGC was awarded several lucrative contracts by the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, including control over a telecommunications network, phosphate mines and other resources. This has been perceived as a reward for Iran's help in propping up the Assad regime.

Lebanese Shia figures mentioned as being the target of US sanctions are Yahya Al-Hajj and Muhammad Farhat, both Lebanese nationals and IRGC operatives who have close ties to Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy and one of the most powerful factions in Lebanon who have fought directly on the side of the Assad regime in Syria.

The sanctions net caught four businesses based in Lebanon, all related to engineering or pharmaceuticals, suggesting that they are not only IRGC business interests, but could also be fronts involved in weapons development.

Trump escalates against Iran

Earlier today and hours before the sanctions were announced, President Trump said that Iran was "playing with fire" on Twitter, and warned them that he would not be as "kind" as former President Barack Obama, the architect of the JCPOA, was.

This came after his tweets yesterday where he echoed National Security Adviser Mike Flynn's words and said that Iran had been "PUT ON NOTICE" for firing ballistic missiles in violation of Security Council resolutions and the deal.

Trump's hard rhetoric against Iran today materialised into sanctions that, although they do not hit Iran directly, have struck a blow to Iran's covert assets.

Though Iran has increased its military spending in recent years, its primary tools of power projection remain the IRGC and its roster of militant and Shia jihadist organisations across the Middle East. Reports indicate that not only do the IRGC operate covertly in the region, but they also operate an elaborate drug smuggling ring that extends to Latin America.

Following the news that sanctions were likely to be imposed by the US Treasury against Iranian interests, oil prices jumped today in their first significant weekly rise this year.

As a show of military force and to reassure regional allies, the United States also stepped up military deployments in the region and placed a Navy destroyer off the coast of Yemen to protect waterways from Houthi Shia militants aligned with Iran, two US officials said today.

The USS Cole arrived in the vicinity of the Bab Al-Mandab Strait off southwestern Yemen where it will carry out patrols including escorting vessels, the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Earlier this week the armed Houthi movement attacked a Saudi warship off the western coast of Yemen, causing an explosion that killed two crew members.

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