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Peace and Conflict

UK imposes fresh sanctions on Iran | Update 30th January 2024

UK imposes fresh sanctions on Iran via BICom

What’s happened: The UK, in concert with the US, has announced a new package of sanctions targeting seven named Iranian or Iranian-linked officials, and one organisation. They are deemed responsible for threats to carry out targeted killings inside the UK and being active members of criminal gangs on behalf of the Iranian regime.

  • According to the UK government statement, all sanctioned individuals are connected to IRGC Unit 840, exposed by ITV in December 2023 for its role in a plot to assassinate two journalists from the opposition news channel Iran International in the UK. They are:
    • Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti: Head of international drug and trafficking cartel, also  linked to the 2019 murder of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul.
    • Mohammed Ansari: IRGC-QF official named in ITV News report for coordinating threat to Iran International.
    • Muhammed Abd al-Razek Kanafani: Named in ITV News report for co-ordinating threat to Iran International.
    • Abdulvahap Kocak: Turkish national linked to the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul.
    • Ali Kocak: Turkish national linked to the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul.
    • Ali Esfanjani: Iranian national linked to the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul.
    • Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh: Iranian national linked to the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul.
  • UK Foreign Secretary Cameron said: “The Iranian regime and the criminal gangs who operate on its behalf pose an unacceptable threat to the UK’s security.”
  • “Today’s package exposes the roles of the Iranian officials and gangs involved in activity aimed to undermine, silence and disrupt the democratic freedoms we value in the UK.”
  • “The UK and US have sent a clear message – we will not tolerate this threat.”
  • Home Secretary Cleverly said: “The Iranian regime has tried to undermine our democracy through repression – we will continue to take action when necessary to protect our country, values and freedom of speech.”
  • “We cannot allow foreign regimes to collaborate with criminals to threaten us. Sanctioning these criminal networks working for the Iranian regime will remind them that we will fight back.”
  • “My priority is to protect our people and to defend our way of life, and the UK will not tolerate threats from the Iranian regime.” 

Context: the UK now has more 400 sanctions designations in place on Iranian individuals and entities, “in response to the regime’s human rights violations, nuclear weapons programme and malign influence internationally.”

  • The latest sanctions have been pursued under a new set of regulations, Iran (Sanctions) Regulations 2023, which came into force in December 2023, giving the UK government broader scope to target Iranian aggression in the country.
  • Since the start of 2022, the UK has responded to at least 15 credible threats and plots to kill British or UK-based individuals by the Iranian regime.
  • The Met Police’s Scotland Yard has also set up a new hostile state unit to tackle foreign governments’ activities in the UK.
  • The government seemingly remains resistant to bow to pressure to formally proscribe the IRGC, with Cameron saying that “neither the intelligence agencies or the police are calling for” such a move.
  • IRGC proscription is the official position of the Labour opposition, but the government has continually resisted it, despite the objections of former ministers such as previous Home Secretary Braverman.
  • Yesterday’s sanctions announcement comes in the wake of Sunday’s drone attack on a US military base in Jordan, close to the Syrian border, in which three American troops were killed and dozens injured.
  • Speaking yesterday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged that "the president and I will not tolerate attacks on US forces and we will take all necessary actions to defend the US and our troops."
  • John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council said that the US “believe[s] that the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades militia, supported by Iran, is behind the attack…”
  • “We do not want a war against Iran and we do not aspire to expand the circle of conflict in the Middle East,” he added.
  • A Pentagon spokesperson also said yesterday that it did not think Tehran sought all-out war with the US either.
  • Appearing on Iranian state TV yesterday, Iranian Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib that Iran-backed members of the "Axis of Resistance" struck the "American aggressors" at their own discretion.
  • The UK sanctions have also been implemented in the context of continued attacks by the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthis on British and international vessels in the Red Sea.
  • UK officials confirmed that on Saturday, a British warship, the HMS Diamond, repelled a Houthi drone attack.
  • "Deploying her Sea Viper missile system, Diamond destroyed a drone targeting her with no injuries or damage sustained to Diamond or her crew," the Ministry of Defence said.
  • Meanwhile, Syrian state media yesterday claimed that “a number of Iranian advisers” had been killed in an attack south of Damascus that it attributed to Israel.
  • Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claiming that the “Israeli strikes targeted a base belonging to Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, killing seven people” including pro-Iran fighters.
  • Israel very rarely publicly acknowledges operations in Syria.

Looking ahead: The US is likely to respond to the attacks in Jordan in the coming days.

  • President Biden is thought to be considering a range of attacks, with targets thought to include Iranian elements in Syria and Iraq, and Iranian naval assets in the Persian Gulf.
  • Cameron travels to Oman today on his latest regional visit for talks with his counterpart Badr Albusaidi.

via BICom