Iranian warships appear to be heading for Venezuela


IT IS NOT exactly the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the beginning of June, two warships circled the Cape of Good Hope and were the first Iranian naval ships to enter the Atlantic without a port stop. The IRINS Makran, which moves at the speed one would expect from a former oil tanker, is intended to transport fast attack ships – small, agile warships with missiles – into Venezuela. The United States has warned that any arms delivery would be “a provocative act and a threat to our partners in this hemisphere” and deserve “appropriate action”.

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Iran and Venezuela are united in their hostility to the United States, which has imposed harsh sanctions on the former for its nuclear program and the latter for its domestic oppression. Last year, Iran sent equipment and experts to help Venezuela revitalize its ailing oil refineries, as well as fuel and groceries to an Iranian supermarket in exchange for Venezuelan gold.

Since a U.N. Arms embargo in October, Iran is also free to sell arms to anyone it pleases. Venezuela is a happy customer. In December is the head of the US Southern Command cited “growing Iranian influence” and claimed that Iran had sent its Quds Force, an elite expeditionary force, to support the regime of Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan dictator. American officials told the Politico website that the arms treaty was signed last year. Fast attack boats would be a welcome addition to the Bolivarian Navy, which has not been covered in fame. Last year she lost a patrol boat after ramming a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

The United States has few good options to that Makran and the frigate that goes with it. In October, Donald Trump’s administration simply threatened to “eliminate” all long-range missiles sent to Venezuela by Iran (there was no evidence that Iran intended to send any). Joe Biden’s administration stopped facing such threats. A year ago, the US State Department threatened sanctions against Greek tankers to prevent Iranian fuel from being delivered to Venezuela. But warships have “practically absolute sovereign immunity,” says Cornell Overfield of CNA, a think tank, which means the United States cannot lawfully seize or attack them. This principle, in effect from around 1812, was reinforced when international courts blocked an attempt by the US to seize an Argentine warship in a port in Ghana in 2012.

In the midst of a heated presidential campaign, Iran is currently negotiating America’s return to the multinational nuclear deal that Trump had abandoned. It seeks, therefore, to project defiance. But Mr Maduro may have less courage to confront. To ease the pressure on his regime, he recently dropped the U.N.The World Food Program of the World Food Program has resumed operations in Venezuela and released six former employees of an American oil company. There is still time for a change of heart. Some Venezuelans speculate that Iran’s shipment should arrive by June 24, the 200th anniversary of a famous battle against Spain, traditionally the national armed forces day.

This article appeared in the The Americas section of the print version under the heading “Gunboat Diplomacy”.

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