To pretty much everyone’s surprise it appears the five Iranian gasoline tankers will be able to offload their fuel to Venezuela without incident, despite US threats to thwart what Washington sees as illicit sanctions-busting. It remains that the return trip could be a different story, however.
Dramatic video emerged early this week showing the first couple of tankers’ arrivals within Venezuelan coastal waters, accompanied by what appeared a large Venezuelan military escort, as Maduro officials promised.
First tanker to successfully arrive, the Fortune, docked by Monday, while all are now reported in Caribbean waters, with the second vessel soon to reportedly to dock as well, already safely within Venezuela’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
According to multiple widely circulating videos, Maduro’s military deployed multiple warships to escort the tankers along with what appears at least a half-dozen Russian-produced fighter jets and F-16s. No doubt the Pentagon and Trump administration has monitored the images closely.
There were growing fears of a ‘tanker war’ Caribbean-style given that last month Trump reportedly ordered a US naval build-up in the region against alleged Maduro government narcotrafficking.
Though with plenty of oil, Venezuela has struggled to obtain gasoline for domestic consumption given its network of broken and derelict refineries, which its ally Iran has responded to by delivering 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and refining components.
Venezuelan officials declared the fuel delivery as a “landmark in struggle for sovereignty” while unusually an Iranian flag appeared over downtown Caracas:
Given that Maduro made good on his promise to send significant armed forces to provide security for the tankers, it’s likely the White House saw too many ‘unknowns’ if the US Navy were to attempt an intercept of the fuel.
But as one international report underscored days ago, “There are still chances for the US to make trouble for Iran’s tanker fleet. More ships will arrive in the coming days and then they have to go back to Iran.”
Caracas is attempting to flex its military muscle as a warning to Washington and its allies, while perhaps also viewing this as a ‘test run’ for future Iranian fuel shipments.
“We’re ready for whatever, whenever,” Nicolas Maduro declared last week when he and his generals rolled out plans for a major military operation to ensure the tankers arrive safely.
Should the whole operation go down without conflict or interference, it will indeed set a precedent – meaning there will be more Iranian tankers and supplies to come in the next months.