The first of five Iranian tankers, sent in violation of US sanctions, is set to arrive in Venezuela today to combat fuel shortages.
Tensions between the US and Iran—already heightened by crippling sanctions, the PS752 plane crash and the recent American stonewall of Iran’s sought-after IMF loan—will spike again with these pending transgressions. Washington has indicated the possibility of forcible seizure, while Tehran insists that any violent provocation will be met with a “quick and decisive response”. Despite warnings from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reports suggest that a contingent of US Navy warships deployed in the Caribbean is prepared for military confrontation.
The Trump administration believes the tankers may buttress the besieged Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro—whose internationally contested and criticised regime has plunged the nation into economic ruin—and encroach upon Washington’s sphere of influence in the Americas. Expect the US to consider additional sanctions and punitive legal measures in response, which could further complicate Iran’s COVID-19 mitigation timeline. A perceived American concession could set a controversial precedent and encourage repeat violations. A violent confrontation between the Navy and the tankers could spark accusations of US piracy from Iran, as well as further conflict down the line.
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Daniel is an analyst and editor on the Current Developments team. He contributes regularly to the Daily Brief, focusing primarily on European, Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan politics.