The Biden administration, Pentagon and several U.S. lawmakers are expressing concern as Iranian warships are making their way across the Atlantic Ocean, reportedly headed for Venezuela to make good on delivering arms in a deal the two nations made last year.
What are the details?
Politico reported Wednesday that as of that morning, two Iranian warships believed to be carrying arms “had completed more than half the journey from Iran to Venezuela, and were steaming slowly northwest more than 1,000 miles from Cape Town, South Africa,” according to a defense official, noting that this is the furthest the Iranian navy has ventured into the Atlantic.
A source told the outlet that the intelligence community “has evidence that one of the ships…is carrying fast-attack boats, likely intended for sale to Venezuela.”
“The sale of the Iranian weapons happened one year ago under the previous [U.S.] administration and like many situations related to Iran under the previous administration — including the breakout of Iran’s nuclear program following the Trump administration’s reckless withdrawal from the [Iran nuclear deal] — we are working to resolve it through diplomacy,” a senior Biden official told the outlet. “But to be clear, Iran sold weapons to Venezuela over a year ago, which we believe was to test the Trump administration’s maximum pressure posture.”
In reaction to the article, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted, “#Venezuela bought attack boats from #Iran last year, but only now are they trying to deliver them. Ignore the petty sniping from Biden official & focus on what matters. Either #Maduro unconditionally turns them away or U.S. should force them to turn around.”
AFP reported that during a congressional hearing on Thursday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) addressed the situation with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, asking the Pentagon chief whether the Biden administration “knows exactly what is on those Iranian vessels.”
The Democrat noted that satellite imagery shows the fast-attack boats on the deck of one of the warships, but that “it’s still unclear whether those boats were aboard when the ships began their journey.”
Blumenthal also pointed out that “there are reports that Venezuela was considering purchasing missiles from Iran, including long range ones.”
“I am absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons, any type of weapons, in our neighborhood,” Austin told Blumenthal at one point, adding, “And so, I share your concern.”
The Washington Post reported that the ships travelling through the Atlantic are the Iranian destroyer Sahand, and a support vessel named Makran.
The two ships began their voyage last month according to Iran’s deputy Army chief, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, and Iranian state-owned television provided footage of them chopping through the Atlantic waters.
“The Navy is improving its seafaring capacity and proving its long-term durability in unfavorable seas and the Atlantic’s unfavorable weather conditions,” Sayyari said, according to The Post.