Monday, January 10, 2011

US sanctions against Iranian civil aviation and safety of air travel in Iran


Today's plane crash near the city of Urumiyeh in western Iran; Photo by Mehr News
It has been reported today (1/10/2011) that a Boeing 727, belonging to Iran’s national airlines, has crashed in the vicinity of Urumiyeh, a city in western Iran, killing 73 , including the crew, and injuring more than 30 others aboard. There are contradictory reports as to what caused the incident. Earlier reports cited technical failures as the main cause of the plane crash but only to be denied later in the day by Iran’s higher civil aviation authorities blaming environmental factors as the main cause. It is understandable that Iranian authorities would want to downplay the role of technical factors in frequent plane crashes in Iran and blame these incidents on uncontrolled environmental factors in part in order to maintain passengers’ confidence in the safety of Iran’s airlines. But it is hard to cover up the fact that Iran’s aging civilian fleet , purchased mostly in the early 1970s under the Shah , which are denied access to spare parts under U.S. sanctions, are taking excessive human toll.

This incident is yet another sober reminder that sanctions can in many ways hurt innocent civilians. Because of U.S. sanctions, which prohibit the sale of commercial aircrafts and their spare parts to Iran, this country has been forced to keep its aging civilian fleet still in service or resort to the purchase of aircrafts from Russia or other former Soviet bloc countries, all of which in one way or another have contributed to the soaring rate of plane crashes over the past decade in Iran. It is useful to know that over the past two decades well over 2000 civilians have died in plane crashes in Iran.

U.S. sanctions prohibiting the sale of civilian air fleet and their spare parts to Iran indirectly target Iranian civilians as their victims, even though the stated goal of these U.S. measures are to pressure the Iranian government to change its foreign policy behavior. This immediately conjures up the familiar logic that political ends justify the means for many policy-makers . This incident shows that after all one does not have to think only about terrorism to be reminded of this logic.

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