The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) Tuesday published an analysis of the dangerous geopolitical games that President Donald Trump's administration seems to be eager to play as five Iranian supertankers head towards Venezuela. The text of that study is presented below.
Iran Warns US Against Actions on Oil Tankers Heading to Venezuela
One of the consequences of the U.S. blockade of Venezuela is a gasoline shortage, as any nation that sends the necessary additives to process Venezuelan crude into fuel faces heavy-handed sanctions.
Yet without gasoline, Venezuelans are unable to transport food and other necessities from the point of sale to their homes and workplaces. And this precious commodity, which was virtually pennies on the gallon just months ago, is presently being sold on the underground market at exorbitant prices in U.S. dollars.
Five Iranian supertankers on the way to Venezuela, carrying approximately 45.5 million gallons of gasoline and related products, as reported by the British outlet Express.
According to Reuters, an anonymous senior Trump administration official said the Iranian fuel shipment “is not only unwelcome by the United States but it’s unwelcome by the region and we’re looking at measures that can be taken.”
This message, as yet unconfirmed by the Trump administration, has been taken seriously by Iran as a threat to impede the arrival of the supertankers.
Also, unconfirmed reports over the weekend that the U.S. Navy has deployed four additional warships to the Caribbean along with a P-8 Poseidon multi-mission aircraft has raised alarm bells in Tehran, as Iranian authorities warn against U.S. interference with commerce between sovereign states.
In response to the perceived threat to their oil tankers, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying: “Coercing nations into complying with the U.S. illegal demands threatens multilateralism, as the foundation of international relations, and sets a dangerous precedent, paving the way for those who aspire rather divide, not unite, nations,” as reported by Reuters.
Tehran lodged a protest with the Swiss ambassador to Iran, who represents U.S. interests against any possible actions to impede its ships.
“If the United States, like pirates, intends to create insecurity on international highways, it will take a dangerous risk that will certainly not go unnoticed,” the Iranian news agency NOUR warned.
And the leader of the Islamic Revolution, the Ayatollah Seyed Ali Jamene, highlighted “the repugnance” the world’s people feel towards U.S. intimidation, attacks, and occupation. The ayatollah went on to declare that “the U.S. will be expelled from [Iran’s neighbors] Iraq and Syria,” HispanTV recalled.
“In the face of U.S. eagerness to dominate two regions of the world, Venezuela plays in Latin America the role that Iran plays in West Asia,” political analyst Carmen Parejo Rendon said.
Both countries insist on preserving their national sovereignty and intend to exercise the right to trade on mutually beneficial terms without the interference of an outside power. Though Venezuela has a different social system than Iran, it has incurred a similar fate.
Iran Slams Failed US Incursion to Overthrow Venezuelan Leader
Despite whatever differences, their crime, in the ideological framework of U.S. exceptionalism, is daring to exist outside Washington’s sphere of influence. Nearly two centuries after the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. continues to see both regions as part of its backyard.
“You have to ask yourself what interest Iran has in Venezuela, where we have seen recent indications of Iranian military & state support. It is to gain a positional advantage in our neighborhood as a way to counter U.S. interests,” the U.S. Southern Command tweeted.
Both Venezuela and Iran have been historically subjected to U.S. intervention against democratically elected governments and have paid a heavy price for forging independent domestic and foreign policies.
Since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, Washington has backed a broad spectrum of regime change strategies, most recently on behalf of the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido.
After several failed coup attempts, Guaido’s most recent debacle was acting as “commander in chief” of a foiled mercenary attack on this South American nation just two weeks ago.
And Iran’s experiment in democracy was subverted by a CIA backed operation in 1953 when Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup, leading to over two decades of U.S. backed dictatorship.
Iran has good reasons to take the threat against its vessels seriously. In May 2018, President Trump broke with European partners and pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear program, and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
Last summer, in a remarkable display of double standards, British Royal Marines stopped and raided an Iranian ship “suspected of carrying oil to Syria.”
Days later, according to the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense, “contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz,” as CNN reported.
The Trump administration’s targeted assassination in January of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who coordinated anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East and was a national hero, sent shock waves throughout the Middle East and brought these two nations to the brink of war.
On April 22, in the context of heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, Trump tweeted: “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
In both the Persian Gulf and the Caribbean, U.S. warships have become the explicit arm of Washington’s gunboat diplomacy.
Any U.S. military action to impede the arrival of the Iranian oil tankers at Venezuelan ports could set up a clash between Washington and two of the principal nations it has targeted for regime change.
If U.S. warships block the Iranian vessels in international waters and Iran makes good on its threat of retaliation, other nations may quickly be drawn into a conflict that would undermine efforts by the UN to foster a worldwide cessation of hostilities.
However, should Iranian oil tankers arrive safely at Venezuelan ports, two sanctioned nations will have opened a breach in the U.S. imposed economic blockade through an act of mutual assistance during a health and food emergency.
As Carmen Parejo Rendon observes “what the U.S. does not realize is that it keeps creating more enemies for itself and with this, it is reinforcing multilateralism.”