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New sanctions slapped on supporters of Iran's Guard Corps

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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A picture taken on March 12, 2017, shows an Iranian speedboat patrolling as a tanker prepares to dock at an oil facility in the Persian Gulf. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has used these fast attack boats to disrupt the free flow of commerce and international security. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

New sanctions imposed on individuals, entities and networks that support Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are necessary to curb the regime's malign activities in the Middle East and beyond, experts told Al-Mashareq.

Sixteen entities and individuals were sanctioned on July 18th for supporting illicit Iranian actors or transnational criminal activity.

The US Department of the Treasury designations include seven entities and five individuals for engaging in activities in support of Iran’s military or the IRGC, an Iran-based transnational criminal organisation and three associated persons.

The three networks designated supported Iran’s military procurement or the IRGC through the development of unmanned aerial vehicles and military equipment, the production and maintenance of fast attack boats, or the procurement of electronic components for entities that support Iran’s military.

The transnational criminal organisation designated, along with two Iranian businessmen and an associated entity, orchestrated the theft of software programmes which were sold to the government of Iran.

The US State Department also designated two Iranian organisations involved in Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

Sanctions were 'imperative'

The sanctions imposed on those involved in the production of ballistic missiles for the IRGC were imperative, said Al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Fathi al-Sayed, who specialises in Iranian affairs.

"This step is due to the grave harm that is expected to result from the military manufacturing operations that enable Iran to increase its proliferation in the region," he told Al-Mashareq.

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq have revealed that IRGC affiliates in those countries -- Hizbullah and the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) -- possess technologically advanced weapons produced by Iran, al-Sayed said.

"These include machine guns equipped with the latest surveillance systems and instant firing mechanisms, as well as drones," he said.

This poses a serious threat to the security of the region and prolongs the turmoil that serves to tighten the IRCG’s grip, he added.

Al-Sayed said the IRGC's development of military speedboats threatens the security of maritime navigation in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz -- a vital route for global commerce in the region.

Illicit weapons development

Two companies, Rayan Roshd and Qeshm Madkandaloo, have been sanctioned for their role in producing materials in support of illicit IRGC weapons development procedures, according to the Treasury.

The two entities are key supporters of IRGC efforts to develop weaponry, said Helwan University communications professor Mahmoud Shaheen, who also serves as technical adviser to an Egyptian telecommunications company.

Both companies include substantial research and development centres, he told Al-Mashareq.

In light of the proliferation of website unblocking programmes in Iran, Rayan Roshd "has become the primary company the Iranian regime uses to tighten its grip on the telecommunications sector", he said.

Rayan Roshd has developed applications that identify individuals who access regime-blocked social networking sites or attempt to unblock websites or connect to online addresses outside Iran via encryption, Shaheen said.

The company developed a tracking method which Iranian online security teams use to report those who use website unblocking apps, he added.

"As news spread of youth getting caught through the use of this technology, the number of Facebook, Twitter and recently Telegram users declined sharply," he said, noting that the regime has blocked Facebook and Twitter and has been monitoring Telegram.

Freedom of expression in Iran has declined because of this monitoring technology, Shaheen said.

Abetting weapons production

Most Iranian technology companies are involved in the manufacture of weapons in one way or another, military expert and retired Egyptian army officer Maj. Gen. Talat Moussa told Al-Mashareq.

IRGC manufacturing companies are actively involved in the production of speedboats and remote-controlled aircraft, he said, in addition to advanced machine guns equipped with electro-optical sensors.

The imposition of sanctions on Qeshm Madkandaloo did not come as a surprise as the company is involved in both the manufacture of weapons for the IRGC and in the import of parts needed for this process, he said.

The research and development unit of the company's airline division is the primary producer of remote-controlled aircraft technology, he said, developing planes capable of transmitting high-resolution video and photographs.

Qeshm Madkandaloo also was able to reduce the weight of the remote-controlled aircraft and make its propulsion engine powerful enough to enable it to carry explosives and remotely-guided missiles, Moussa said.

"The Iranian regime's production of ballistic missiles is abetted with the support of this company and Rayan Roshd," he said, adding that the two companies have worked together to transport main parts from abroad.

This also applies to speedboats, he said, which are now able to traverse long distances in a short amount of time, he said.

The IRGC has used these fast attack boats to disrupt the free flow of commerce and international security.

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