Venezuelan government deployed warships and fighter planes to escort the incoming fuel tankers from Iran on May 21, Thursday. The announcement came in the backdrop of a speculated attack or military confrontation with the United States after it threatened to mobilize forces in the region to prevent the shipment from reaching Venezuela.
“When they enter our exclusive economic zone, they will be escorted by Bolivarian National Armed Forces boats and planes to welcome them in and thank the Iranian people for their solidarity and cooperation,” said Venezuelan defense minister Vladimir Padrino López. Thanking Iran for its support, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro told the media “we’re ready for whatever, whenever.”
Iran has dispatched five supertankers, viz, Fortune, Forest, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel, carrying petrol to Venezuela. The shipments were sent to alleviate the severe fuel shortages caused by US-imposed sanctions. The tankers are expected to reach Venezuela by next week. Despite being one of the largest producers of oil, Venezuela’s refinement capabilities are severely restricted because of the confiscation of its foreign assets and refineries by the US and its allies.
The US has opposed the Iranian oil shipments to Venezuela and stated that it will consider all options to ensure the tankers do not reach their destination. Both Iran and Venezuela are already under unilateral sanctions imposed by the US and hence there are very little options left with the US administration of Donald Trump except using military threats and tactics as punishment for violations.
The US has also recently expanded its military presence in the Caribbean under the pretext of combating drug cartels, which it accuses the Venezuelan government of engineering. Last week, senior officials of the Trump administration stated that they are considering sending warships in the region to confront the tankers.
Iran and Venezuela have lodged their protest over this US aggression at the United Nations (UN). On May 17, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote to UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, raising objection with US opposition to the shipments.
The letter insisted that Iran reserves every right to make appropriate response to US actions, adding that “hegemonic gunboat diplomacy seriously threatens freedom of international commerce and navigation and the free flow of energy.” Zarif’s letter also told the UN that it views attempts to disrupt the fuel shipments as “a dangerous escalation.”
Venezuelan permanent representative to the UN Samuel Moncada Acosta also spoke on the matter at the UN Security Council. Moncada insisted that the tankers are carrying essential goods that are made all the more necessary due to the global coronavirus pandemic. “In the midst of a pandemic, forbidding those vessels from reaching our ports would thus constitute a crime against humanity,” he told the UNSC.
Iran, nevertheless, has recently indicated hope that no military escalations would occur. In an interview with EuroNews, Iranian ambassador Gholam Hossein Dehghani stated “it’s completely out of any expectation that conflict would be started by Iran there, by an oil tanker.”