Taking Iran's Missiles in Venezuela Seriously

In the last several days it has been reported that Iran is planning to place medium-range missiles in Venezuela. Such information seems to confirm last November’s article published by the German daily Die Welt. The newspaper reported that an agreement was signed last October between the two countries; a fact that has remained mostly unknown to the public.

The Menges Hemispheric Security Project has often spoken about such a possibility. Indeed, Venezuela and Iran have mutual interests in doing this. Iran which has come under international sanctions initiated by the United States is constantly seeking ways to avoid them. But most importantly, Iran also seeks the ability to deter the U.S. Certainly, the missiles positioned on Venezuelan soil could become not just mere assistance to Venezuela but also a direct threat to the U.S. This is especially the case should the U.S or Israel take military action against Iran’s nuclear facility or any other act perceived by the Iranians as hostile.

On the other hand, there is also a Venezuelan agenda that makes this type of action a perfect match between the two countries.

Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez has aggressively tried to influence the different countries of the region and pretends to be the regional leader that will put an end to American influence in the region. He has systematically allied himself with U.S enemies as is the case with Iran and has taken hostile, mostly indirect, action against U.S friends such as Colombia. Colombia is an obsession in Chavez’ eyes. Currently, the Venezuelan army is no match for the Colombian army which is far superior in numbers and training. This is why Venezuela has been arming itself mostly by purchasing weapons from Russia for billions of dollars. Moreover, there has even been suspicions that Chavez was seeking nuclear weapons as he himself publicized in the fall of 2009. He said that Venezuela and Iran were working to build a “nuclear village”. Sophisticated weaponry could give Chavez the military might he has pursued for a long time.

Iran already has ballistic missiles with a range of more than 1,500 miles. This represents a real threat to the U.S. If Iran goes nuclear the chances of facing a crisis similar to the 1962 Cuban crisis is higher. The Nuevo Herald cited intelligence sources who pointed out that a number of underground bunkers have already been built in different areas of Venezuela. Some former members of the Venezuelan military confirmed that Iranian war material was found in these bunkers.

General Douglas Frasier commander of Southern Command, at a recent conference sponsored by the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami pointed out that there is no indication that the Iranian presence in Latin America constitutes a threat to the U.S.

In a different presentation in Florida a week later, former U.S Ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, omitted to speak about the security challenges posed by Chavez and did not mention a word on the Venezuelan-Iranian relation. What we learned from Ambassador Duddy’s presentation is that there is an extraordinary, almost superhuman effort on the part of our foreign policy establishment to work things out with Chavez even if this task is virtually impossible

It was only last year Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed a bill that imposed very harsh economic sanctions against Iran precisely because Iran is a threat to world security. Certainly, the Obama Administration’s recent placement of sanctions against Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, is a positive step. It is also known that Iran is involved in a plethora of places such as Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. It sponsors terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and has relations with Al Qaeda, Hamas and other such organizations. In fact, the man chosen to replace Bin Laden in that organization, Saif al- Adel, found refuge in Iran after he was expelled from Afghanistan by U.S. forces. In the last several years, Iran has maintained a very close relationship with Venezuela including nuclear cooperation and now placement of medium range missiles. The fact that Venezuela is cooperating with Iran on weaponry and nuclear matters places it in violation of the sanctions against Iran approved by the United Nations Security Council.

Now that this information is known what else does the U.S. defense and foreign policy establishment need in order to understand that Venezuela is a rogue state. Both countries, Iran and Venezuela, given the opportunity, would do harm to the United States. As in many past foreign policy challenges, waiting for the current situation to worsen will only require more drastic measures in the future.

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