Now that election day is behind us, the President will have to spend more time on overseas developments. One such development is Iran’s plan to smuggle ICBMs into Venezuela. These missiles are capable of reaching the entire east coast of the United States and parts of the Middle and Southwest.
Much has been written about this threat, but there have not been many suggestions as to how the U.S. can prevent it. I would like to suggest a number of measures, some of which would give the U.S. more time to combat this threat, while others could completely eliminate it. These measures are intended to complement the sanctions already in place and the “Maximum Pressure Campaign” initiatives that are already in place.
Before outlining these policy options, we need to understand how Iran works and assess its capabilities. With its strategy in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic aims to push any future war away from its borders. It began by setting up militias throughout the region and then established smuggling routes to arm these groups. This allows Iran to threaten its enemies through proxies without responsibility or consequences. A classic example of this strategy is Hezbollah in Lebanon, on Israel’s northern border.
In addition, Iran has maintained close relations with Latin American countries in recent decades, especially Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia. Most of Iran’s activities in Latin America are conducted through the IRGC and the 910 unit of Hezbollah. While the United States continues to exert paralyzing pressure on Iran, and with the expiration of the UN arms embargo, it has become clear that Iran wants to copy its Middle East model in Latin America by stationing ICBMs in America’s backyard Venezuela.
For a political response to be successful, the United States must first be able to recognize when a shipment contains missiles and when it does not. The first policy I would recommend is that our intelligence agency station people on the ground in Iranian and Venezuelan ports. Gathering information about logistical channels, the timing of shipments, and access to aircraft and ships is crucial. The successful assassination of Qasem Soleimani was in part due to this very tactic. I would recommend that American espionage, which may already be underway, tap into certain ports. This action alone will neither gain time nor prevent Iranian shipments, but it will ensure that all measures we take against this threat are based on accurate information.
The second recommendation would be diplomacy. Similarly to what we have done in Europe, we must join with our Latin American allies in calling Hezbollah a terrorist organization in its entirely political and military weapons in equal measure. This would slow down Iranian activities in Latin America and gain some time.
The next step would be to force Iran out of the various trade blocs and organizations in Latin America. If the IRGC and Hezbollah are prevented from operating in Latin America, Iran’s logistics in the region will be weakened and Tehran will be forced to focus only on its strongest alliances – allowing America to focus its efforts on a handful of countries rather than the entire region.
And finally, the US should work with African countries. Recently, Iran managed to fly a Boeing 747 aircraft, owned by a U.S.-sanctioned airline associated with the IRGC, to Caracas. While the distance between Tehran and Caracas is about 12,000 km and a Boeing 747 can fly 14,000 km (according to Boeing’s website), the Iranian plane had to stop on its way in Africa, allegedly to refuel. If African countries were to prohibit Iran from refuelling in Africa or, even better, if they were to prohibit Iranian airlines from flying over their airspace, Iran would be forced to fly planes around the African continent, extending flights to more than 21,000 km – beyond the range of a 747. This would prevent any cargo aircraft from transferring Iranian ICBMs to Latin America and would limit the regime’s options to cargo-only ships.
Although the American sanctions and naval activities in the Persian Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean have prevented numerous Iranian sanction breaches, they have not been 100 percent successful. If we want to prevent the next Cuban crisis, we must reduce the financial pressure