The Sunday Telegraph

US raises concerns over Iranian ships heading for Venezuela

- By Simeon Tegel

CONCERN is mounting over two ships from the Iranian navy thought to be carrying a cargo of missiles and speeding across the Atlantic towards Venezuela.

The ships were last night roughly in the middle of the ocean, after reportedly departing from the port of Bandar Abbas in early May. It marks the first time that the Iranian military has sent vessels round the Cape of Good Hope to enter the Atlantic.

Satellite images show the larger of the two ships, the Makran, a forward supply vessel, carrying small, fast attack boats on its deck. It is unclear what the other ship, a frigate named Sahand, might be carrying.

Yet Venezuela already has a fleet of similar small launches. A greater concern would be Caracas acquiring new capabiliti­es, in particular surface-to-surface missiles, which could threaten Venezuela’s neighbours, starting with Colombia.

Security experts also warn that the missiles could be passed on to non-state actors, such as holdouts from the Colombian terrorist group the Farc. The ships are expected to arrive in Venezuela by the end of the week.

“I am absolutely concerned about the proliferat­ion of weapons, any type of weapons, in our neighbourh­ood,” US defence secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Thursday.

Caracas and Tehran have long had a close relationsh­ip, reveling in their shared status as anti-American provocateu­rs. Both have also already been hit hard by US sanctions. The Biden administra­tion is thought to be using diplomatic back channels to attempt to persuade Iran to turn the ships around.

Evan Ellis, a researcher at the Center for Strategic & Internatio­nal Studies, a Washington-based think tank, suggested those efforts were likely to fail given that neither Caracas nor Tehran, already internatio­nal pariahs, have anything to lose. He said: “The US has few options short of acting directly against the ships on the high seas, which would give [President Nicolás] Maduro exactly what he wants, the chance to play the role of victim.”

 ??  ?? US defence secretary Lloyd Austin discussed the issue of the vessels in the Atlantic potentiall­y carrying weapons
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin discussed the issue of the vessels in the Atlantic potentiall­y carrying weapons

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