In the midst of the U.S. election turmoil, it may be understandable that an important statement from the head of the U.S. Southern Command has gone relatively unnoticed.
On Dec. 2, 2020, Admiral Craig Faller told The Wall Street Journal that additional military personnel and weapons are arriving in Venezuela from Iran.
Adm. Faller said that Iran is sending Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force troops as well as unspecified weapons shipments to the Marxist regime of Nicolas Maduro.
The Quds Force is a division of the IRGC, itself designated a U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization in April 2019.
In that announcement from the White House, the Quds Force was specifically included in the IRGC designation.
This is by no means the first time that the Tehran regime — which remains the number one state sponsor of terror in the world according to the U.S. Department of State — has sent Qods Force operatives, weapons, and explosives to Venezuela. Such activity dates back at least a decade or more.
The Pentagon's August 2019 report "Iran Military Power" made only brief references to Tehran's military relationship with Venezuela, but notes that "Tehran maintains particularly close military-to-military ties with Syria and Iraq and has signed basic military cooperation agreements with Afghanistan, Belarus, China, Oman, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, and Venezuela."
Nor is the Trump administration unaware of the Iranian regime's activities in the U.S.'s own backyard.
In October of 2020, Elliott Abrams, the State Department Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, issued a forceful warning, declaring, "The transfer of long-range missiles from Iran to Venezuela is not acceptable to the United States and will not be tolerated or permitted."
Without actually claiming that such Iranian missiles to date had been shipped to or positioned in Venezuela, another unidentified senior U.S. official added that "We will make every effort to stop shipments of long-range missiles, and if somehow they get to Venezuela they will be eliminated there".
Earlier, in April of 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned the Maduro regime against allowing landings by Iranian airlines such as Mahan Air (which has been used routinely for weapons shipments from Iran).
On Sept. 21, 2020, the U.S. slapped new sanctions against Iran's Ministry of Defense, Iran's Defense Industries Organization and its director, Mehrdad Akhlaghi-Ketabchi, among others, targeting more than two dozen entities and individuals involved in Iran's military, nuclear, and ballistic missile sectors.
An accompanying Executive Order, signed by President Trump also on Sept. 21, 2020, blocked property of persons involved in buying or selling Iranian conventional arms, providing financial resources, or advice and services connected with such sales.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear during a Sept. 21, 2020 press conference that these measures were being undertaken "to enforce the U.N. arms embargo and hold those who seek to evade U.N. sanctions accountable."
Along with other new sanctions aimed at the Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, these measures were all part of the Trump administration's campaign of "maximum pressure" against the Iranian regime.
The Trump administration for some time has been seeking to enforce sanctions on the export of Iranian oil and gasoline products to Venezuela.
In both May and October 2020, Iranian oil tankers succeeded in delivering petroleum shipments to Venezuela in defiance of those sanctions.
In August of 2020, however, the U.S. Navy intercepted and seized four Iranian oil tankers bound for Venezuela. Now, in late 2020, a flotilla of 10 Iranian vessels is reported ready to set sail to Venezuela to deliver Iranian crude oil through the Caribbean Sea where the U.S. Navy patrols and the U.S. is "watching what Iran is doing," per Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Iran and Venezuela.
As both regimes fall under increasing pressure from the U.S. government, the Iran-Venezuela relationship seems to be growing closer.
Tehran finds Venezuela a friendly and strategic foothold in the Western Hemisphere from which to exert leverage against the U.S., whose presence in the Persian Gulf region it seeks to curtail.
That intended leverage extends well beyond oil shipments to the economically collapsed Maduro regime.
The IRGC and its Quds Force represent the expeditionary tip of the spear of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose constitution commits it to establishment of a global Islamic State under rule of Shariah (Islamic Law).
The IRGC even has its own dedicated section of the Iranian constitution, where it is called "An Ideological Army" whose mission is global jihad.
The pressure against Tehran has ratcheted inexorably upward in recent months and included not just the January of 2020 takedown of Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and the more recent assassination of Brig. Gen. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (director of Iran's nuclear weapons program), but a long series of damaging attacks against myriad Iranian military and nuclear program facilities.
Tehran has been left sputtering in an impotent rage, apparently unable to defend against any of them.
And while Tehran for decades has dispatched the IRGC and Quds Force throughout its regional Mideast neighborhood, in Venezuela and Latin America in general, it has relied more often on Hezbollah, its Shi'ite terror proxy militia, to launch strikes further abroad.
With that presence of Hezbollah and now reinforcements of Quds Force personnel and weapons to Venezuela, with Caracas a mere 1,363 miles from Miami, Florida, regime threats of retaliation and vengeance must be taken seriously.
This time, the threat is increasingly close to home.