Foreign Policy Blogs

The Sad Side of Sanctions

On January 24th, a Russian-made Iranian passenger aircraft carrying 157 passengers and 13 crew crash-landed in northeastern Iran injuring at least 46 people. The Taban Air aeroplane caught fire upon landing at Mashhad airport at 7:20am local time. Iran has a bloody aviation history. Last July, a Caspian Airlines jet carrying 168 people crashed into a field in northwest Iran, killing all those on board. The Russian-built Tupolev aircraft had been flying from Tehran to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, when it crashed near the Iranian city of Qazvin.  Here is an Al Jazeera report from the crash site:

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Other recent air disasters include:

  • In September 2006, a passenger plane skidded off the runway and burst into flames in Iran’s north-eastern city of Mashhad, killing 29 of those aboard. The aircraft was a Russian built Tupolev.
  • In February 2006, another Russian built Tupolev aircraft, operated by Iran Airtour, crashed during landing in Tehran, killing 29 of the 148 people on board.
  • In November 2006, a military plane crashed on takeoff at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, killing all 39 people on board.
  • In December 2005, 108 people were killed when a Lockheed C-130 transport plane crashed into the base of a high-rise housing block outside the Iranian capital.
  • Iran’s worst aviation disaster came in February 2003, when an Iranian military transport aircraft carrying 302 people crashed in the south of the country, killing all those on board.

  • In 2002, Russian-made Tupolev aircraft, operated by Iran Airtour, crashed in the mountains of western Iran, killing all 119 people aboard.

This list is by no means a comprehensive list of all the aviation disasters faced by Iran in recent years.

Iran’s bloody aviation history can be blamed on the US sanctions, which prevent Iran from purchasing new aircraft or spare parts from western countries, who are the dominant producers of passenger planes in the world market.  US sanctions have left Iran dependent on an ageing fleet, acquired from the former Soviet Union, and since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been harder to get parts for these aircrafts. As the BBC states, series of disasters in Iran involve mainly Russian-built planes. Up to half of Iran’s transport aircraft are believed to be of Russian design, and correspondents say they have a poor safety record.  The New York Times reported that since entering service in 1971, the Russian made Tupolev aircraft has been in 54 crashes, resulting in the deaths of 2,602 passengers and 258 crew members.

As the US Congress passes sanctions on Iran once again, they fail to realize that innocent people die as a result. While we find plenty of rhetoric by the US politician supporting the green movement and making a distinction between Iranian government and Iranian people, there has been no political action that reflects this sentiment. Easing the sanctions on buying civilian airlines would be the right step from a humanitarian point of view and it will also show that the United States supports Iranian people.



Sahar Zubairy

Sahar Zubairy recently graduated from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin with Masters in Global Policy Studies. She graduated from Texas A&M University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. In Summer 2008, she was the Southwest Asia/Gulf Intern at the Henry L. Stimson Center, where she researched Iran and the Persian Gulf. She was also a member of a research team that helped develop a website investigating the possible effects of closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf by Iran.