France on Monday banned flights by Iranian airline Mahan Air, on the grounds that Mahan is employed by the Iranian regime to send troops and weapons to hotspots across the Middle East, including Syria.
The move is a significant step toward European acceptance of the Trump administration’s argument that Iran is a major threat to stability in the Middle East.
Mahan Air, Iran’s oldest private airline, was sanctioned by the United States in 2011 for supporting the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the theocracy-controlled, terror-sponsoring wing of Iran’s military.
The airline was also banned by Germany at the beginning of 2019. France considered a ban under the previous administration but relented because it worried sanctions against the Iranian airline would destroy the allegedly positive diplomatic environment after the Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015.
Germany cited Mahan Air’s ties with the IRGC’s Quds Force, an elite unit with a history of espionage activity, when it revoked the airline’s permits in January. The United States designated Mahan as a material supporter of terrorism due to its Quds Force ties.
“The French ban on the airline, which had four flights a week to Paris from Tehran, takes effect from April 1. The airline’s website is no longer taking reservations and calls to its offices in Paris were not answered,” Reuters reported on Monday.
Reuters explained that while Europe labored mightily to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal, relations have grown tense between Tehran and various European capitals. French President Emmanuel Macron is said to be “increasingly frustrated with Iran’s ballistic missile tests, regional activities and a foiled attack on an Iranian exile group in France.”
According to Bloomberg News sources, pressure from the Trump administration was a major factor in France’s decision to ban Mahan Air flights. A new round of U.S. sanctions against Iranians connected to that country’s nuclear weapons program was announced on Friday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraged other countries to follow Germany’s lead after its ban on Mahan was announced in January:
Today, @USTreasury sanctioned #Iran’s regime for preying on refugees, using them as cannon fodder in Syria. This comes just days after Germany banned Mahan Air, and after recent action against the regime’s despicable use of child soldiers. Maximum pressure continues.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 24, 2019
A representative of Mahan Air confirmed to AFP on Monday that flights to France “have been canceled… as of the first of April” due to “sanctions” by the French government. French customers who bought tickets for Mahan’s four flights between Tehran and Paris have been informed their April bookings are canceled.
Mahan Air has been appraised as a rare bright spot in the generally dismal Iranian economy, having made a comeback and expanded services after sanctions were lifted by the nuclear deal. The fortunes of Iran’s largest carrier, Iran Air, remain uncertain. Its operations seemed to continue undisturbed after U.S. sanctions resumed last November, but concerns have been raised about its ability to acquire new aircraft.