The US took aim at Tehran's drone programme on Friday by slapping new sanctions on four people and two entities linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In a statement, the Treasury Department said the IRGC has been providing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to Iran-backed groups, including Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and to crisis-hit Ethiopia, “where the escalating crisis threatens to destabilise the broader region".
Iranian drone strikes have been directed against multiple tankers in the Arabian Gulf in recent years, including the May 2019 Fujairah attack off the UAE coast that damaged Saudi, Emirati and Norwegian vessels.
“Iran’s proliferation of UAVs across the region threatens international peace and stability. Iran and its proxy militants have used UAVs to attack US forces, our partners and international shipping,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said.
“Treasury will continue to hold Iran accountable for its irresponsible and violent acts.”
Friday's sanctions were placed on the commander of the IRGC's Aerospace Force, Saeed Aghajani, who is accused of ordering several drone attacks in Gulf waters over the past two years.
His unit orchestrated the July 29 attack on the commercial shipping vessel Mercer Street off the coast of Oman, which resulted in the deaths of two crewmen, the Treasury Department said.
“Aghajani also was behind a UAV attack against a Saudi Arabian oil refinery in 2019,” the statement read.
Also named in the sanctions was the IRGC's Gen Abdollah Mehrabi.
Two Iran-based drone companies, Kimia Part Sivan and Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar, along with two people affiliated with them, were added to the sanctions list for helping the IRGC modernise its drone programme.
The Treasury said the IRGC's Quds Force has used and distributed lethal drones throughout the region, noting that Iranian-funded groups including Hezbollah, Hamas in Gaza, Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq and the Houthi rebels in Yemen have received Iranian UAVs.
The statement said the Ethiopian government has also used Iranian UAVs against rebels in the northern Tigray region.
Open-source intelligence website Oryx reported in August that Ethiopia had secured a contract with Iran for the delivery of Mohajer-6 unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
“After seemingly having arrived at Ethiopia's Semara airport in north-eastern Ethiopia on the 1st of August, the drones' Ground Control Station (GCS) was then pictured as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited the base not more than two days later,” the intelligence website said.
The Ethiopian embassy in Washington was not immediately available for comment.
Agencies contributed to this report