Poor helicopters, Iran pays sanctions. Difficult to find spare parts after 20 years of embargo


By John

The crash of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's helicopter, a US-made Bell-412, probably a legacy of Iran from the times of the Shah, could be a sign of the effects of international sanctions which in recent years have started to tighten Iranian economy. Also making it difficult, in a small way, to find essential spare parts for the maintenance of aircraft, even those supplied to the president.

Iran has been subjected to sanctions since 1984 and then on several occasions in the 1990s, when the specter of the nuclear arms race hidden behind Tehran's officially civilian nuclear program was added to the repression and suspicions of fomenting terrorism. When it was on the verge of emerging from the grip that weighed on its economy and its society, after the agreement on the international control of Tehran's nuclear program was signed in 2015, in May 2018 the situation instead worsened after the unilateral exit decided by Donald Trump in May 2018 by the nuclear agreement.

And after the subsequent fourth wave of American sanctions in November, which was then strengthened in 2019 with a warning to all countries from trading with the Islamic Republic. The new 90 load imposed by the United States extended to banks. But Iran was already under the anvil of United Nations sanctions, which also did not affect the Iranian oil industry, unlike those of the European Union, which since 2012 have targeted the export of hydrocarbons, which produce revenues of over 480 billion dollars. In particular, the European sanctions have hit hard, forcing Tehran to divert the bulk of its exports to China.

Overall, in recent years Iran has been the country most affected by the economic embargo in the world, before ceding the primacy, in successive waves, to Russia, after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

One of the effects of this pressure was the launch of the so-called “resistance economy”, conceived as an ideological manifesto by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei since 2007 and implemented as early as 2012-13, with the attempt to fill the gaps with an increase of national production, attempting to ban imported luxury goods: a regime that instead gave rise to a black market, which included everything from oil to consumer goods.

The second effect was the intensification of economic cooperation with China and also with Russia, especially in the hydrocarbon sector, which brought Tehran supplies of natural gas through Azerbaijan and an agreement with Gazprom for the exploitation of the field on the Kish Islands, in the Persian Gulf.

Almost 20 years of sanctions have had a strong social impact, if, as a recent World Bank study showed, between 2011 and 2020 the number of poor Iranians grew from 20% to 28%. According to this research, purchasing power has collapsed due to high inflation. As late as 2018, under the 'moderate' government of Rohani, research by the Iranian parliament's research center recognized an unemployment rate that from 10-15% in the previous two decades had skyrocketed to over 50%, with peaks over 63 % in some areas of the large country.