US imposes sanctions on Iranians supporting Houthis

The US imposed new sanctions on five high-ranking members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) over their alleged efforts to provide missile support to Yemen’s Houthis, the Treasury Department said on Tuesday.

“Today, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated five Iranian individuals who have provided ballistic missile-related technical expertise to Yemen’s Houthis, and who have transferred weapons not seen in Yemen prior to the current conflict,” the Treasury said in a statement.

The new sanctions target IRGC’s al- Ghadir Missile Command and related programmes, the unit’s commander Mahmud Bagheri Kazemabad, as well as IRCG officers Mehdi Azarpisheh, Mohammad Agha Jafari, Javad Amin and Sayyed Mohammad Tehrani, who helped with financing of the IRCG.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the actions of the IRGC “have enabled the Houthis to launch missiles at Saudi cities and oil infrastructure … disrupted humanitarian aid efforts in Yemen and threatened freedom of navigation in key regional waterways”. The sanctions freeze any assets the five may have in US jurisdictions and prohibit Americans from any transactions with them.

The new measures come a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Tehran would be hit with the “strongest sanctions in history” in his first major speech. Pompeo outlined 12 tough conditions from Washington for any “new deal” with Tehran to make sure it “will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East”. These address every aspect of Iran’s missile programme and what the US calls its “malign influence” across the region, including support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah and Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Responding to the speech, Ismail Kowsari, a senior officer in Iran’s IRGC, said that “the people of Iran should stand united in the face of [American policy] and they will deliver a strong punch to the mouth of the American Secretary of State and anyone who backs them”.

Kowsari added that the Iranian people support the IRCG’s elite Quds Force head Qassem Soleimani, whom Pompeo accused of “playing with house money that has become blood money,” and vowed to “apply unprecedented financial pressure” on financial backers of Soleimani’s forces.