Iran and its primary terror agent, Hezbollah, are a threat not only to the security of Israel and the Arab Gulf states — their tentacles stretch across the globe. In Latin America, Iran is building a strategic response against the United States with a protected base in Venezuela under President Nicolas Maduro. Iran’s build-up of long-range ballistic missiles, and the Russian supply of the lethal S-400 missile system to Iran, pose a serious threat to the security of the United States. These Russian missiles will eventually end up in Venezuela. Russia is poised to retaliate against the U.S. supply of missiles to Ukraine, by arming both Iran and Venezuela with the S-400 missile system.
With the Biden administration’s desperate quest for a nuclear deal with Iran, it is crucial now more than ever for Washington to include Iran’s long-range ballistic missile development onto the nuclear talks agenda among other forums. The Ayatollahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran may eventually drop their demand for lifting the U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), since they already have cleverly deceived the western powers by deliberately buying time to be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for several bombs. Robert Malley, the U.S. envoy to the Vienna nuclear negotiations with Iran, recently warned that Iran can “make a nuclear bomb within a matter of weeks.”
Last March, the Biden administration flirted with lifting oil sanctions on Venezuela in order to temper surging oil prices. White House and State Department officials traveled to Caracas, Venezuela to meet with the anti-American President Maduro, the Venezuelan dictator. It seemed as if the Biden administration was willing to fund a ruthless dictator, who is serving Iran’s strategic interests in facilitating an IRGC forward military base against the U.S. At the same time, however, the Biden administration is unwilling to encourage investments in domestic energy production.
Israel Defense Forces Maj. (Res.)Tal Beeri, head of the research department at the Alma Research and Education Center, an Israeli defense watchdog, issued a report highlighting a new weapon in Iran’s hands that the U.S. or its European allies have failed to deal with – the arrival of Iranian-made Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the western hemisphere, specifically in Venezuela. Just 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) separates these UAVs from “the Skyscrapers of Miami.” These Iranian-made UAVs are designed to gather intelligence, and to strike surface or air targets, either by launching missiles and bombs, or conducting a suicide explosive attack by diving into a target. The U.S. Treasury Department described the expansion of the UAV Army in the region and beyond as “a threat to peace and destabilizing international stability.”
According to Beeri, Venezuela is essentially in the backyard of the U.S., and is a state that the office of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei classifies as being a part of the radical Shiite axis. In fact, Venezuela, much like Iran, is isolated and shares common interests with Iran in being anti-western and anti-American in particular. Iran has clear military and economic interests in Venezuela, and is exploiting its weakness. For Venezuela, it benefits by receiving military hardware such as UAVs from Iran. Venezuela also swaps its heavy oil in exchange for Iranian condensate oil, which can be used to produce gasoline. Venezuela can also use it to improve the quality of its tar-like crude oil.
Iran’s calculation is that placing military assets so close to American soil could contribute to its deterrence posture against the U.S., forcing Washington to “think twice” before taking military action against Iran. Previously, in 2010, foreign policy figures in Washington began warning against a new threat within the region: an alliance of Iran, Russia, and Venezuela. They figured that this coalition could, in theory, place nuclear weapons into America’s backyard.
In fact, in November 2010, the Israeli intelligence assessment was that Iran had already stationed long-range missiles in Venezuela. The German newspaper Die Welt, using sources within the German intelligence services (BND), revealed that the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, agreed to station long-range ballistic missiles in Venezuela. But unlike the action President John F. Kennedy took during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the Obama administration did nothing on this matter.
Earlier, an Israeli daily Ha’aretz headline (May 25, 2009) quoted an Israeli secret document which announced that “Venezuela, Bolivia Supplying Iran with Uranium.” The report concluded that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was trying to undermine the U.S. by supporting Iran. The same Israeli government report also charged that the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists based in Lebanon have set up cells in Latin America. It stated that Venezuela had issued permits that allowed Iranian residents to travel freely in South America. The document concluded that “Tehran has been promoting an aggressive policy at bolstering its ties with Latin American countries with the declared goal of ‘bringing America to its knees.’” It is clear that at that time (2009), Venezuela and Bolivia were in violation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) economic sanctions against Iran.
Politico reported on June 11, 2021, that “Iran and Venezuela are testing Biden with suspected weapons transfer.” Some former U.S. officials and analysts have come to the realization that the Iran-Venezuela alliance, and the continued expansion of their military cooperation, as well as the active participation of China and Russia in this anti-American arrangement, are likely to weaken America’s ability to effectively impose sanctions, or utilize a more severe response.
Last month, Maduro flew to Iran for a two-day state visit that included signing a 20-year bilateral agreement involving aviation, economic and military deals. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, in welcoming Maduro, stated that “The Islamic Republic of Iran foreign policy has always been to have relations with independent countries, and Venezuela showed that it has had incredible resistance against threats and sanctions by enemies and imperialism.” Raisi was essentially saying that both countries are enemies of the U.S. The Trump administration’s former Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, warned both countries in 2020 that the U.S. would act if Iran sends missiles to Venezuela. He said, “We will not accept, we will not tolerate, the placement in Venezuela of Iranian missiles that can reach the U.S.”
It remains to be seen how the Biden administration will respond to Iran’s close military ties with Maduro’s Venezuela. Considering the administration’s weak posture toward Iran in the Vienna nuclear talks, we are unlikely to see tough action against Iran or Venezuela.