Iran Has Made $80 Billion in Illicit Oil Sales Since Biden Took Office

Biden administration’s Iran policies under renewed scrutiny in light of Hamas’s weekend attack

An Iranian-flagged oil tanker
An Iranian-flagged oil tanker (Getty Images)
October 10, 2023

Iran has made around $80 billion from its illicit oil sales since the Biden administration took office and relaxed sanctions on the hardline regime, cash that has helped Tehran keep its terror allies like Hamas afloat.

"Iran has generated approximately $80 billion in revenue from oil sales under the Biden administration," according to Claire Jungman, chief of staff at United Against a Nuclear Iran, a watchdog group that closely tracks Tehran’s illicit oil exports and arsenal of tankers. A large portion of this oil is shipped into China, which counts Tehran as one of its top patrons.

Iran’s oil exports have hit a five-year high due to the Biden administration’s decision to relax economic sanctions as part of an effort to cajole Tehran’s hardline regime into inking a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal. This revenue, analysts say, has enabled the hardline regime to funnel cash to its regional terror proxies, most notably Hamas, which is currently waging an unprecedented war on Israel with Iran’s backing. Iran is reported to have helped plan Hamas's weekend attack and given the terror group the go-ahead to conduct it, according to the Wall Street Journal. Hamas officials have also publicly stated that Tehran provided support for its surprise invasion.

"With the resurgence of Iran's primary revenue source, oil, into play, it's paramount to recognize the substantial financial leeway they've gained through years of relaxed sanctions," Jungman explained. "This surplus not only sustained them but also significantly fortified their proxies," such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Biden administration’s policies toward Iran are under renewed scrutiny in light of Hamas’s weekend attack. In addition to allowing Iran access to billions in oil revenue, the United States released $6 billion in frozen funds as part of a hostage deal last month, money that experts say helped Tehran keep its funding for terror groups on pace. Around $10 billion more was made available to Iran earlier this year, when the administration waived sanctions so that Iraq could pay Tehran for electricity and other debts.

All told, the administration’s most recent deal with Iran freed up more than $50 billion for Iran, according to Richard Goldberg, a former White House National Security Council member who worked on the Iran portfolio.

"This isn’t just about a $6 billion hostage deal," said Goldberg, a senior adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. "It’s about a $50-plus-billion nuclear protection racket that’s been going on since May."

"Billions released from Iraq, skyrocketing Iranian oil exports to China, and all of it telling the Iranians that America is weak and will pay any price to avoid a crisis," he said. "That’s a green light for Tehran to take its sanctions relief and focus all their resources on crippling the one country trying to stop its nuclear weapons drive: Israel."

There are indications that access to this cash is enabling Iran to shore up its terrorism enterprise. In April, for instance, Tehran boosted pay by 14 percent for its terror affiliates working with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which provides logistical support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

The administration’s decision to relax sanctions on Iran’s oil trade has provided the biggest boon for the hardline regime, and has generated opposition from analysts and Republican lawmakers since President Joe Biden took office and reopened diplomacy with Tehran.

United Against a Nuclear Iran, for instance, documented at least $44 billion in oil sales as of August 2022. This marked a rise of 77 percent from when the Trump administration was in office and instituted a strict sanctions policy to zero out Iran’s oil exports.

"Enforcing sanctions on vessels involved in Iranian oil transport and those aiding such activity, is a necessary step, albeit overdue, in safeguarding international stability," Jungman said.

Congress has issued similar demands. In April, a bipartisan group of senators led by Joni Ernst (R. Iowa) and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) blasted the Biden administration for blocking federal agencies from seizing illicit Iranian oil tankers, arguing the policy choice was lining Tehran’s pockets.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.