Arab News – June 18, 2021
Two Iranian warships, thought to be trafficking arms to Venezuela, have changed course and are now moving up Africa’s west coast.
The Biden administration had been pressuring Venezuela, Cuba and other countries in the region to turn the ships away, and a senior US official warned that it would take “appropriate measures” to prevent the delivery of arms to its hemisphere, which it views as a threat.
American officials believe that the diplomatic outreach can be credited for the ships’ change of course.
According to US news outlet Politico, a defense official believes that the ships are now headed for Syria via the Mediterranean, or for Russia.
The two ships are composed of a domestically manufactured destroyer, the Sahand, and the Makran (pictured above), a former oil tanker fitted with a helipad and other military upgrades to make it a support vessel.
TankerTrackers.com tweeted: “We believe that the Iranian navy vessels MAKRAN and SAHAND are on their way to Syria in order to engage in navy exercises with Russia.”
Tehran has invested considerable amounts of money and manpower to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, including by providing personnel and funding, and by arming militias.
In the past, satellite imagery has shown fast attack boats on the Makran’s deck — vessels regularly used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to harass the commercial and military vessels of Iran’s adversaries, including US Navy and Coast Guard ships.
The White House and Pentagon have refused to comment publicly on the ships’ movements, but speaking before a committee last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers: “I’m absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons, any type of weapons, in our neighborhood.”
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton referred to the ships as “pirate ships,” saying the US “has a legitimate right of self-defense against both of them.”
The journey that the ships have undertaken is the longest of any Iranian warship in history. US Sen. Mark Rubio tweeted: “This does not look like an oil or fuel cargo delivery. This has all the markings of delivery on an arms sale (such as fast attack boats) to Venezuela coupled with the opportunity to project a message of strength to the Biden administration.”
Politico reported last year that Venezuela, also a US adversary, was considering purchasing long-range missiles from Tehran — a move considered a “red line” by Washington. That sale never came to pass.