The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on a shipping network it said was run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, saying it sold millions of barrels of oil to benefit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The sanctions on 16 entities, 10 people and 11 vessels were announced just as Iran was threatening to cut further its commitments under a nuclear deal unless the United States eases its pressure.
The US Treasury Department said that the Quds Force, a unit of the elite Revolutionary Guards responsible for external operations, had backed both Assad and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah through crude oil shipments, mostly to Syria.
“The Iranian regime is leveraging a terrorist organization as its chief conduit for obfuscating and selling hundreds of millions of dollars of illicit oil to fuel its nefarious agenda,” said Sigal Mandelker, the under-secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The State Department said separately that it was offering a $15 million reward for information that can disrupt the financial mechanisms of the Revolutionary Guards, including the Quds Force.
Israel has recently accused the leaders of the Quds Force of planning to attack the Jewish state with kamikaze drones from Syria, in a plot it said it foiled with airstrikes.
The entities that are facing the new sanctions include the Mehdi Group, based in US ally India, and its director Ali Zaheer Mehdi, which the Treasury Department said has managed vessels for Iranian oil.
An Iranian oil tanker pursued by the United States across the Mediterranean Sea slowed to a near-stop Sunday off the coast of Syria, where America’s top diplomat alleges it will be unloaded despite denials from Tehran.
The ongoing saga of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, comes as tensions remain high between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya slowed to a near-stop on Sunday some 50 nautical miles (92 kilometers) off Syria. The ship’s Automatic Identification System does not show its destination after its mariners onboard previously listed it as ports in Greece and Turkey. Turkey’s foreign minister at one point suggested it would go to Lebanon, something denied by a Lebanese official.
The US has been warning countries not to accept the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of crude oil worth some $130 million.
Iran is set to further break the terms of the nuclear deal on Friday if Europe fails to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market. The US under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal over a year ago and imposed sanctions on Iran that are battering its economy.