It’s time to crack down on Iran-Venezuela relations

Planes and fuel tankers from Iran have been crossing the Atlantic en route to Venezuela. They undermine the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaigns against both ruling regimes—as well as the security of the Americas. It’s time to stop ignoring the threat.

Over a decade ago, former Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela established a special relationship—finding common cause under a banner of “anti-imperialism.” Iran began pledging to invest millions in economic development projects bolstering Venezuela’s petrochemical and small-arms ammunition factories. Iranian diplomatic missions began growing in size and strategic value. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force members descended on the region.

The two countries also created an “Aeroterror” flight, with stops in Caracas, Damascus and Tehran, reportedly carrying arms, cash and drugs twice per month. Later, ProPublica reported on evidence they established a joint intelligence program and increased the ease of travel for Iranian operatives and the transfer of air freight.

Now, under the weight of U.S.-led sanctions, both nations are re-enlisting and repurposing personnel from the Ahmadinejad and Chavez eras. “Thank goodness,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and disputed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro must have agreed on their recent call “that their predecessors established strong bilateral ties, robust smuggling and trafficking networks and that the architects are still able to be deployed.”