By Malik Ayub Sumbal
Yas Air, an Iranian cargo airline, has become a nightmare for the United States amidst the United Nations sanctions, which failed to keep a check on arms shipments to Iraq and Syria from Iran. Yas Air portrayed itself as a private cargo company, but on the ground the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp is behind all its operations.
Yas Air caught the attention of the world media after March this year, when the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the designation of the Iranian cargo airline Yas Air, Behineh Trading, three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Qods Force (IRGC-QF) officials, and one Nigerian shipping agent – all pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 for acting or on behalf of, or providing support to, the IRGC-QF, designated terrorist entities.
The airline, the trading company and the three Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Qods Force officials were involved in arms shipments to Syria, the Treasury said, under the guise of humanitarian aid. In 2011, the Qods Force officials oversaw and authorized Yas Air taking a series of flights transporting weapons destined for Syria, working with Hezbollah and Syrian officials to ensure the delivery of its cargo.
Earlier, a U.N. Security Council committee had also published a report on Iranian sanction violations on by Yas Air, including shipments of weapons to Syria in breach of a U.N. ban on weapons exports by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Without the support of the IRGC and QF, how can it be possible for a private cargo airline, having half a dozen old Russian aircrafts with a small crew of no more than 178 employees at Mehrabad Terminal No. 6, to be involved in the transportation of heavy arms and ammunitions to Syria?
It is not less than an ordeal to get information from Iran on any issue, and especially when there is some sort of strategic matter it’s impossible for any Iranian will share it with you. The Iranians know well the consequences of sharing information with anyone; they usually prefer not to risk their lives. So this information collected had been taken through various sources and channels during the last couple of months.
According to sources during the investigation process about Yas Air, it has been unearthed that Mr. Mansour Avizheh, its commercial manager, is the key person who deals with all the general cargo arrangements with the international private sector. Yas Air has its main office at Mehrabad Airport in Iran, however it also has offices and outlets in other major cities of Iran. The sources confirmed that he is also one of the partners of the airline. Mansour holds a senior position in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC).
The United States, since March 2012, has been trying to block Yas Air flights laden with heavy arms and guns to Syria through Iraq, but still failed. According to sources, despite U.N. sanctions on Yas Air, there are some German companies who have recently signed some business deals with Yas Air.
According to sources from Iran, Yas Air was established back in 1995. Yas Air is part of Pars Aviation but under the cover of a new name, Yas Air, to show the world and especially to the U.S. that it is a private group and the Iranian government has nothing to do with it, which was exposed recently on the Syrian drop scene.
Almost the entire maintenance work of Yas Air is being carried out by Pars Aviation. A majority of the repairing is being performed in Iran, however the skills that they don’t have are being provided from Ukraine or Russia. Yas Air has not taken any aircraft from Pars Aviation, but the latter mostly arranges or helps in with the leasing of planes for Yas Air. Mostly, Yas Air gets support and help from Pars Aviation including all kinds of crew and other technical staff support.
There is a massive network and a lot of support for Yas Air in all European countries, whether from the business point of view or due to the leftists lobbies supporting their own causes. According to the sources, Malta is a place where the Iranians can play those shell games.
Despite being a member of the European Union, Malta not only supplies flagging services to IRISL ships, but is also home to 24 shell companies that help conceal Iran’s ownership of vessels. “Transport Malta” is also home to the country’s public shipping register, the location of the paper trail of Iran’s shell games, as well as evidence of those who have worked for the country. As sanctions have tightened, the Maltese register shows Iran’s ships that have not regularly switched flags, names, registered owners, registered agents, and the addresses of owners and agents.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s recent report, the next month, the CIA picked up detailed intelligence that Iran was using an Iranian private cargo airline, Yas Air, to fly arms over Iraq to Syria, according to U.S. officials. In an official complaint to Baghdad called a démarche, the U.S. demanded an end to the flights, said officials briefed on the discussions. “You’ve got to stop this,” the Americans told Iraqi leaders, according to one senior U.S. official.
The action again exposes Iran’s maligned influence in the Middle East. As the Iranian regime exports its lethal aid and expertise to foment violence in Syria and Africa, will the Treasury continue to expose the officials and companies involved and work to hold them accountable for the suffering they cause in the region or are they tightening the web around Iran to hold it accountable for unrest in the region?
Malik Ayub Sumbal is a senior investigative journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan. He has worked for more than ten years for a number of national and international newspapers, magazines, journals, wire services and television channels. Malik is an expert of peace and conflict studies and also an analyst of defense and strategic studies. He can be contacted at [email protected]