The head of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, visited Russia on Thursday, in defiance of the international travel ban imposed on him. This is the third time Soleimani has defied the travel ban, having visited Moscow in July and September of last year as well. He reportedly arrived on a private jet, operated by Mahan Air, an Iranian airline that has been sanctioned for its use in delivering weapons to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and for providing transport for Hezbollah. According to US officials, during his visit to Moscow last July, Soleimani successfully lobbied President Vladimir Putin to intervene in Syria to bolster the Assad regime.
Soleimani and the Quds Force are designated by the US State Department for their involvement in terrorist activities. The Quds Force is the elite unit responsible for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ external operations including supporting, training, and providing arms to Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Assad’s forces and Shiite militias in Syria, as well as the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Quds Force also funded, trained, and equipped several Shiite militas that killed hundreds of American troops in Iraq. In 2011, Soleimani and other members of the Qods Force were implicated in the failed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US at a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C. As part of the nuclear deal reached with Iran, the UN travel ban on Soleimani will be lifted in five years, in October 2020, or when the IAEA determines that all nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful purposes.
In addition to Soleimani’s illicit visits to Russia, Tehran has violated international law in several ways since the deal was reached last July. Four ships originating from Iran and carrying weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen have been intercepted. These weapons shipments are in violation of both the UN arms embargo on Iran and on Yemen. Iran has also violated the UN arms embargo by sending weapons shipments to Syria via Russian cargo planes. Furthermore, Iran has tested five ballistic missiles since the deal was reached, in October, November, and March, violating the prohibition on engaging in activities related to ballistic missile development. One of the ballistic missiles was inscribed with the phrase “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Tehran is reportedly planning on purchasing fighter jets from Russia, which, without approval from the UN Security Council, would also constitute a violation of the arms ban.
A summit of over 50 Muslim countries criticized Iran on Friday for supporting terrorism and interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbors.The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which concluded its meeting in Istanbul on Friday, stated as part of its final communique that it “deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of the States of the region and other Member States including Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia, and its continued support for terrorism.”Iran supports the regime of Syrian dicator Bashar al-Assad, who is opposed by Turkey and many Sunni Arab countries. Iran also supports the Houthi rebels, who are fighting the Saudi- and American-backed government of Yemen.
The communique also called for “cooperative relations” between Iran and other Muslim nations and to refrain from using or threatening force.
The language criticizing Iran was included a day after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the summit that the group “should not convey any message of disunity and division.”
Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States, warned in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week that even after agreeing to a nuclear deal with world powers last year, Iran remains “hostile, expansionist, violent” and “as dangerous as ever.”