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How to Handle Iran’s Oil Tankers En Route to Venezuela

Venezuela announced it will lend a hand to Iran when their five oil tankers, currently en route to Venezuela with about 1.5 million barrels of fuel, reach the shore, preventing intervention by the United States.

The oil tankers, allegedly meant to fill Venezuela’s shortage of gasoline amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, face potential interception by four U.S. warships positioned in the Caribbean, according to Iran’s Fars News, prompting Venezuela to step in to escort once the tankers arrive within 200 nautical miles from the shore.

Meanwhile, officials in the Trump Administration are currently deciding how to respond to these actions.

Iran’s actions at sea warrant a closer scrutiny, according to Joseph Humire, Executive Director at Center for a Secure Free Society, who points out that Iran’s shipping industry, and more specifically IRISL, blends its commercial activity with the IRGC’s military actions. Because of this open collaboration, the U.S. took action in December of last year to sanction Iran’s shipping and aviation entities.

Humire also mentions there should be great skepticism about both Iran and Venezuela’s clandestine projects.

For example, Venezuela’s energy industry, namely its state-owned oil company PDVSA, has historically been used by the Maduro regime and the Chavez regime before that as a cover-up for covert military projects with Iran dating back to 2006. Venezuela’s military industry CAVIM was sanctioned in 2013 for this potential dual-use cooperation with Iran.

The most pressing question, according to Humire is if reports are accurate that the Iranian ships are carrying 1.5m barrels of fuel to Venezuela, this would only take care of “no more than a few weeks of gas and fuel shortages in the country.” 

“So the question for the international community to address – is whether it makes sense that Iran travels halfway around the world to simply deliver fuel for a few weeks to Venezuela. Or does Iran have ulterior motives for this shipment? Are these vessels carrying hidden cargo?” Humire said.

Given the track record of the regime, Humire said, “the onus is on Iran to demonstrate to the international community, particularly the Latin American community, that their shipment is clean and the best way to do that would be to reroute the ships to a neutral third-party country that could inspect the ships and then send the fuel to Venezuela.”

Previously, the U.S. imposed sanctions on both Venezuela and Iran to prevent the exporting of fuel. With these sanctions, the Trump Administration has maintained a “Pressure Campaign” on the Iranian regime to change its behavior.

Similarly, Washington slapped sanctions on Maduro’s Venezuela regime in an effort to bolster pro-democracy elements in the country.  

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, has limited capabilities in refining crude oil into gasoline.

Both Iran and Venezuela rely on fuel exports as a main source of revenue.

Maduro intends to pay for Iranian oil with gold, according to Elliot Abrams, U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela. Opposition leader Juan Guaido has claimed that this gold was illegally procured from mining camps in southern region.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a letter to UN Secretary General Guterres that U.S. intervention would constitute piracy and a threat to international peace.

Iran has already warned that if the U.S. intervenes, it will suffer consequences for its actions.

Secretary Pompeo has stated his concern for Iran’s presence in Venezuela.

Just last month, aircrafts belonging to Mahan Air, the same airline that has aided terrorist efforts in the Middle East, have delivered support to the Maduro regime.

This growing relationship could give Iran a foothold in the western hemisphere and be one step closer to the U.S.’ door step.

Photo: Marcos Moreno, AP

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