November 18, 2011
Opinion: America should not repair Iran's "civilian" planes
The Jewish Journal recently ran an article by anti-AIPAC blogger MJ Rosenberg criticizing me for pushing a provision in Iran sanctions legislation that would prohibit the sale of aircraft replacement parts and repair services for Iran’s ageing airliners. Rosenberg is correct that I am the chief advocate for including that provision in the bill. I want to make readers aware of some information he leaves out of his article attacking my motives for championing the provision.
First, I oppose granting licenses needed to repair these planes because Tehran uses its supposedly civilian airliners in ways that help kill innocent people, namely Israelis, Iranian dissidents, Syrian protestors, and others disfavored by the regime in Tehran. Iran has a long record of using its supposedly civilian state-controlled airlines to support terrorism and proliferation.
It is tragic that Iran chooses to fly unsafe passenger planes, but the fact of the matter is repairing these old planes would help enable the Iranian regime to continue its efforts to destabilize the Middle East and beyond.
There are unsafe planes being flown all over the world, in poor countries throughout Africa and other parts of the developing world. That is the reality. We do not go out of our way to fix all of these planes, which go unrepaired because of lack of resources. Yet we would, if the State Department had its way, fix the aircraft of the thugs that rule Iran.
The second, and perhaps more important reason, I believe we need to prohibit the export of the parts and services needed for the repair of Iranian-owned aircraft is this: if we are serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program and terrorism, we have to be serious about causing very deep economic, political and diplomatic isolation of Iran. Keeping their state-run airlines in the air is indeed counter to those objectives.
The Iranian airlines should be grounded. Iranians can still travel on the many European and Asian airlines that fly to Iran, and Iran could even license those carriers to make domestic flights. The United States should make clear to the people of Iran, and to civil aviation authorities everywhere, that their planes are unsafe, people should not fly on them, and they should be grounded until Iran grounds its nuclear program and support for terrorism. We will be happy to fix them when that happens. Until then, any airport in the world that allows them to land is undermining both air transportation safety and nuclear non-proliferation.
If this wider argument does not sway you, allow me to provide a short list of particulars regarding Iran’s use of its “civilian” aircraft:
The U.N. – not the U.S. government or Rosenberg’s bette noir, AIPAC – accused the Iranian government last May of using Iran Air planes to facilitate the trade of missile components with North Korea. The horrible regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang are cooperating in the development of dangerous weapons and these planes play a significant role in that development.
Syria is a conduit for Iranian supply of Hezbollah, and Iran is a lifeline for the Syrian regime, providing it with arms and other support. Regular Iran Air flights between Tehran and Damascus play a major role in this deadly traffic. Hezbollah, of course, has more American blood on its hands than any terrorist organization other than al Qaeda and its activities against Israel do not need retelling here. The Assad regime has turned these guns on its own people, who are trying to rid themselves and the world of the Assad regime.
Iran’s “civilian” airlines have even been used in successful missions to assassinate Iranian dissidents living abroad. In one particularly infamous incident from the early 1990s, Iranian agents killed a dissident in Geneva, then escaped Swiss authorities on a waiting Iran Air 747. Now, Rosenburg urges us to repair the 747s of Iran Air.
Iran Air and another Iranian “civilian” airline, Mahan Air, have been designated under existing US sanctions programs for supporting and assisting the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the radical, parallel armed forces and terrorist organization most recently in the news for the plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador and later, perhaps, bomb the embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia in Washington.
Last March, in response to an FAA safety bulletin, and presumably a license application by a U.S. manufacturer, the State Department notified Congress it intended to license the inspection and repair of 15 Iran Air and Mahan air aircraft originally built by U.S. companies and containing a potentially defective GE engine. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and I opposed this license. So did the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which in November unanimously passed a bill including my provision to prohibit American companies from repairing Iranian aircraft. So, apparently, did many officials of the Obama Administration, as no such licenses have yet been approved. In fact, the Obama Administration has finally approved exactly zero aircraft licenses for Iran since taking office. The last time such licenses were approved, under George W. Bush, was in 2006.
The provision I urge that Congress approve simply asks that we not make that mistake again – rarely made, as it turns out – until Iran changes its policy of seeking nuclear weapons and supporting terrorists.
Congressman Brad Sherman has represented the San Fernando Valley since 1997. He serves as the former Chairman and current top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation.