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June 29, 2011

Catch Homa If You Can

Homa is legendary bird in Iran that is said to never come to rest, living its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth, and never alighting on the ground. It also happens to be the logo of IranAir, which last week–following pressure from Congress–was sanctioned by the Obama Administration.
In exchange, one of those members of Congress, Senator Mark Kirk, agreed to finally lift his hold blocking Obama’s choice for the new top Iran sanctions enforcer at the Treasury Department. But others, like Representative Brad Sherman, have demanded that Obama must also nix a plan to allow for repairs for Iranian civilian aircraft. And so, the punishment of Iran’s people for the behavior of their undemocratic government continues.
Sanctions can be evaluated based on their message and their effectiveness. These two points have been the most controversial aspects of the U.S. sanctions against Iran in last three decades, and targeted sanctions were supposed to be a solution to overcome with these challenges. The Iran Air sanctions seem to be a big step backward and demonstrate that these sanctions are anything but targeted.
IranAir has been the only governmental funded airline in Iran since 1946, but it has never play a major role in international flight across the region, and in Iran it mostly considered as a governmental service to Iranian citizens.
The immediate impact of the new sanctions is that it is now illegal for U.S. citizens and permanent residences to buy tickets or use Iran Air services. But if other countries voluntarily join the sanctions and block Iran Air flights, it won’t put considerable economic pressure on the Iranian regime–since Iran Air does not play a substantial role in Iran GDP with less than 5,000 annual international flights. It will, however, have a very significant economic pressure on Iranians who will now have limited options for international flights, with higher prices and more stops.
The new measures may also further prevent the repair of Iranian civilian flights. In the past decade, over one-thousand Iranians have been killed in airplane crashes, and many Iranians blame U.S. sanctions. With Iran Air sanctions, Iranians, who already hold U.S. sanctions responsible for airplane accidents in last three decades, may be further persuaded by regime propaganda that the United States has animosity towards the Iranian people.
Once again, Iranians are being punished for their government’s illegal activities, while they are under repressive pressure from the regime for claiming their basic human rights. We should ask ourselves if grounding Iran’s people is really the message we want to deliver.

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