How Obama’s prisoner swap facilitates Iran’s quest to prop up Assad

Josh Rogin at Bloomberg reports that two Iranian beneficiaries of the recent prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran were sanctioned for funneling weapons to the Bashar al-Assad regime and Hezbollah in Syria. Rogin explains:

For years, Iran’s privately-owned Mahan Air has been using its planes to bring soldiers and arms directly to the Syrian military and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah by flying them from Tehran to Damascus, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2013, Treasury sanctioned Mahan’s managing director, Hamid Arabnejad, for overseeing the company’s efforts to evade U.S. and international sanctions and aiding the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force.

“Arabnejad has a close working relationship with IRGC-QF personnel and coordinates Mahan Air’s support and services to the paramilitary group,” the Treasury Department said. “He has also been instrumental in facilitating the shipment of illicit cargo to Syria on Mahan Air aircraft.”

Now, according to the Iranian state media organization FARS, Arabnejad doesn’t have to worry about U.S. sanctions. FARS reports that he one of the 14 Iranians who no longer will have Interpol red notices out on them, The red notices were meant to ensure his arrest and extradition to the U.S. The charges will also be dropped.

The White House declined Rogin’s request for comment on whether Arabnejad was among the de-listed Iranians, but did not dispute the 14 names on the FARS list. This seems like a gutless “yes.”

In addition to Arabnejad. FARS says that Gholamreza Mahmoudi, also a top official at Manar Air whom Treasury sanctioned for working closely with Arabnejad to evade sanctions and purchase new aircraft, will also be off the hook, courtesy of President Obama.

Never shy about misleading the American public, Obama said at the time the swap was announced that none of the seven released Iranians were charged with terrorism or any violent offenses. “They are civilians,” he said.

But Obama failed to mention the 14 who no longer have international arrest warrants, including the Mahan Air executives. They may not have “violent offenses,” but they are facilitating mass violence against the Syrian people in a civil war that already has claimed roughly 250,000 lives. They may be “civilians,” but the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force they aid and abet aren’t.

What is the practical effect of removing the “red notices” on Arabnejad and Mahmoudi? Emanuele Ottolenghi,a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Rogin:

The one big impediment for them to run their business abroad was the red notice, not the U.S. sanctions. . .The fact they are no longer on the red notice means that as long as they don’t try to come to the U.S., they will probably live their professional lives unencumbered.

The lifting of the red notices also has a symbolic effect. According to Ottolenghi, “it tells countries and companies around the world that it’s OK to look the other way as Mahan Air helps the Assad regime and Hezbollah.” “These guys have been working day in and day out flying arms to Assad regime,” says Ottolenghi. “This is another signal that there will be no consequences for this airline and the crimes they are responsible for.”

Oh well. It’s not like Obama is giving Iran $100 billion or so with which to commit these and other crimes.