A Boeing 737 MAX sits outside the hangar during a media tour of the Boeing 737 MAX at the Boeing plant in Renton, Washington December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight

April 06, 2017

The IRGC could benefit from Boeing's latest deal

Originally published in AEIdeas

Boeing didn’t make its latest deal with just any devil. The Iranian purchaser of three billion dollars’ worth of US-made aircraft is Aseman Airlines, led by a dyed-in-the-wool regime ideologue with longstanding ties to the IRGC named Hossein Alaei. Alaei’s extensive service in the IRGC and commitment to the bedrock principles of the Islamic Republic are clear indicators of who is likely to benefit most from a fleet of shiny new planes.  

Alaei forged his relationships with the current echelon of IRGC leadership in the fire of the Iran-Iraq War. Alaei served as the first commander of the IRGC Navy, which was established in 1985. He later became chairman of the IRGC General Staff, and the head of Iran’s Aerospace Industry Organization.

So far so good, but Alaei’s relationship to the IRGC and the regime has not been without its issues, in what should be another red flag for the United States. In 2012, Alaei dared, albeit implicitly, to criticize Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for his oppressive actions during the 2009 Green Movement uprising.  But the IRGC’s management of the incident indicates that Alaei remains politically and ideologically close with the Guards: Typically such commentary on Khamenei’s authority would be tantamount to treason, the traitor blacklisted accordingly. Instead, the IRGC managed Alaei’s case discreetly, and shepherded him back into the fold. This is a person of special interest indeed.

Still confused about cui bono? The 20-30 year lifespan of aircraft like the Boeing 737 MAX means the deal will reinvigorate Aseman’s fleet for decades. The US has no way of preventing Aseman Airlines from selling the planes to the IRGC or the state’s flagship airline, Iran Air, or from simply putting its craft in the service of the IRGC as Iran Air has done.  Iran Air is one of several Iranian commercial airlines actively resupplying the IRGC and other forces in Syria. This “airbridge” to Syria has been vital to the regime’s efforts to preserve its network of proxies engaged in military conflicts throughout the region.

 If the Trump administration wants to get serious about cutting off support to the IRGC, it must recognize that the de facto beneficiary of Boeing’s deal with Aseman Airlines is nothing less than the IRGC itself. And act accordingly.