The US has introduced sanctions against what it called a network of petroleum shipments to Syria, including Russian and Iranian companies and individuals. Washington says it wants to disrupt shipments to Syrian-owned ports.
Six individuals have been sanctioned over oil shipments to Syria, the US Treasury Department has said. Three institutions have also been sanctioned.
In addition to the fresh measures, the US Coast Guard has issued an advisory warning of “significant sanctions risks” on petroleum shipments to Syria. The US has promised that it will “disrupt” any attempted shipments to government-owned ports in Syria.
The Treasury Department claims that the individuals and companies affected by the measures are involved in a “complex and malign scheme” to bolster the regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad. It claims that oil is being imported into Syria from Iran in defiance of American sanctions. The Syrian government then allegedly transfers cash to Islamic militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, at Iran’s direction.
It claims that Russian companies act as middlemen, taking money from Iran to move the oil to Syria. In one case detailed in a Treasury Department press release, the Iranian central bank transferred money to an Iranian pharmaceutical company, hoping that its humanitarian name would throw US observers off the trail.
That money was then allegedly wired to a Russian bank, then to a Russian company that shipped the oil from Iran to Syria. Along the way, the Treasury Department claims that Russian ships would switch off their GPS tracking systems to conceal the origin of their cargo.
Once the cash is stashed in the Central Bank of Syria, it is then allegedly sent to Hezbollah and Hamas units operating in Lebanon and on Palestinian territory.
While the operation is painted as a vast conspiracy unearthed by the US, the latest sanctions build on an ongoing campaign against Iran and its allies. When the US fully reimposed economic sanctions on Tehran earlier this month, it targeted the country’s banking, shipping, and oil sectors. Banks that provided services to Hamas and Hezbollah were slapped with sanctions, as were shipping companies that moved Iranian troops and supplies around the Middle East.
Facing the threat of US penalties, the SWIFT financial messaging system cut the Iranian central bank off from its network a week later, making it even more difficult for the country to settle its import and export bills.
Sanctions against Iran had been lifted under the 2015 JCPOA, or Iran deal. This guaranteed Tehran some sanctions relief in exchange for halting its nuclear weapons program. President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in May, however, and has since reapplied all of the sanctions that it had lifted.
Keeping up the Trump administration’s tough rhetoric on Iran, Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, warned on Tuesday that “shipping companies, insurers, vessel owners, managers, and operators should all be aware of the grave consequences of engaging in sanctionable conduct involving Iranian oil shipments.”
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