How friendship with Venezuela benefits Iran’s isolated regime

Handout picture released by Venezuelan Presidency showing Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (R) bumping elbows with the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javad Zarif (L) at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, on November 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Handout picture released by Venezuelan Presidency showing Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (R) bumping elbows with the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javad Zarif (L) at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, on November 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R), his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro (C) and Venezuela's First Lady Cilia Flores pose for a picture during the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) summit in Tehran on November 23, 2015. (AFP/File Photo)
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R), his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro (C) and Venezuela's First Lady Cilia Flores pose for a picture during the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) summit in Tehran on November 23, 2015. (AFP/File Photo)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) attend a family photo session during the Gas Exporting Countries Forum at the Kremlin in Moscow, on July 1, 2013. (AFP/File Photo)
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) attend a family photo session during the Gas Exporting Countries Forum at the Kremlin in Moscow, on July 1, 2013. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 01 February 2021

How friendship with Venezuela benefits Iran’s isolated regime

Handout picture released by Venezuelan Presidency showing Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (R) bumping elbows with the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javad Zarif (L) at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, on November 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Tehran’s presence in Latin America is a means of dodging sanctions, fighting isolation and gaining strategic foothold
  • Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah uses its connections in Venezuela to smuggle drugs, launder money and assert influence

RIYADH: One seldom-discussed byproduct of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, which ended with the fall of the Shah and the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, is the diplomatic, economic and strategic collusion between Tehran and several Latin American regimes — right in Washington’s own backyard. 

Tehran has worked hard to consolidate these friendships since the revolution, in particular its entente with fellow oil producer Venezuela during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad between 2005 and 2013.

The Iranian regime has simultaneously intensified its efforts to reshape the international power dynamic in the Middle East and the wider region in its favor through an array of secretive military interventions and its illicit nuclear program. 

To curb these geostrategic aspirations and malign activities across the region, the US has reimposed a raft of sanctions on Iran’s economy, leaving the regime isolated and financially crippled. 




Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (L) shaking hands with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (R) before a bilateral meeting at The Convention Centre in Baku on October 25, 2019. (AFP/Miraflores Palace Presidential Office/Jhonn Zerpa/File Photo)

From this position of weakness, Tehran has looked to its friends in Caracas — another international pariah — in search of dependable allies.

Tehran’s relationship with Latin America dates back to 1960, when Venezuela was among the founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). From here, Iran’s diplomatic ties quickly branched out to include Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Cuba.

But it was not until 2005, early in Ahmadinejad’s presidency, that the company Tehran was keeping in Latin America came under scrutiny. Several of these budding friendships appeared to be based on a mutual dislike for the US and its policies.

After the First World War, waves of refugees began to arrive in Venezuela from the Middle East. The trend gained more traction after the Second World War and reached a peak after the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975.

Iran and its Lebanese proxy militia Hezbollah exploited this trend, using religious and intellectual infiltration to convert Christians and Sunni Muslims to Shiite Islam and Khomeinist teachings on the Wilayat Al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist).




Iranian revolutionary guards secure the area during the inauguration ceremony of a joint petrochemical plant in the Asaluyeh industrial zone - where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez sealed their anti-American alliance in 2007. (AFP/File Photo)

Keen to expand its ideological presence and confront what it viewed as Western hegemony, Iran launched a Spanish-language satellite news channel in 2011 called HispanTV, broadcasting a variety of cultural, political and religious programs targeting people across the continent.

Iran has established more than 36 Shiite cultural centers in 17 countries around the world, many of which are allegedly being used as spy rings to gather intelligence. In Latin America they act as a hub for recruiting expatriates and building popular support for Iranian policies.

After OPEC was established, political and economic relations between Iran and Venezuela were initially based on their shared oil production and price-related challenges. This relationship later flourished and expanded to include several Latin American countries through common membership of the Non-Aligned Movement. 

Founded in 1961, the forum of 120 states, who do not consider themselves formally aligned with any major power bloc, claims to remain neutral and independent in world affairs.

Challenging the will of the international community, Venezuela has long hinted it will defy sanctions and supply Iran with petroleum products in an attempt to weaken US efforts to exploit Tehran’s dependence on foreign refined oil. 

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s socialist president, has maintained this stance since taking the helm following the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013.

Itself under a strict US embargo, Venezuela is grappling with its own economic crisis, causing unprecedented inflation and shortages of food, fuel and medicine. Despite possessing the world’s largest proven oil reserve, the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) has nosedived and its currency has collapsed.

In December, Iran reportedly sent tankers loaded with gasoline and petroleum components to Venezuela in defiance of international sanctions. After the US imposed its latest round of sanctions on Venezuela in 2019, Iran also supplied Caracas with tools, supplies and technical expertise to support Petroleos de Venezuela, SA — the state-run oil and gas company.

Through its warm relations with Latin American governments, Iran hopes to project the image of a global power, overcome its political and economic isolation, garner diplomatic support for its nuclear program and respond to the US from close proximity.

Venezuela’s former president Chavez strengthened his country’s ties with Iran during his time in office. In 2003, he appointed Syrian-Venezuelan Tareck El-Aissami to lead the Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Foreigners (formerly known as ONIDEX), who is alleged to have used his powers to assist Hezbollah.

During a year-long joint investigation, CNN and CNN en Espanol exposed major anomalies in the issuance of Venezuelan passports and visas, including allegations that documents were issued to individuals with extremist ties. 

According to intelligence reports, El-Aissami was involved in the issuing of 173 Venezuelan passports and IDs to individuals from the Middle East, including people affiliated with Hezbollah. 

Venezuelan opposition groups also accuse El-Aissami of drug smuggling. He is listed by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control as one of the 10 most-wanted drug traffickers.

Since April last year, he has been working in Venezuela’s Ministry of Petroleum.




Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (L) and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez review the honor guard during a welcoming ceremony in Tehran 20 May 2001. (AFP/File Photo)

In June 2008, the US Treasury named naturalized Venezuelans Ghazi Nasreddin and Faouzi Kanaan as supporters of terrorism. Nasreddin worked as charge d’affaires at the Venezuelan embassy in Syria and also held a position at the nation’s embassy in Lebanon. 

According to the Treasury, Kanaan owned a travel agency, organized trips and raised money in Venezuela for Hezbollah members. It also says Kanaan met senior Hezbollah officials to discuss kidnappings and potential terrorist attacks.

According to a US State Department report on terrorism in 2019, Venezuela operates a lenient framework for armed groups, including FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels, the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN), and members of Hezbollah. 

The report says financial ties with FARC and ELN rebels have helped enable repression and graft schemes carried out by the Maduro administration.

Hezbollah has established close ties with drug-smuggling rings and has developed a sophisticated money-laundering scheme. An article published by Politico in 2017 revealed Hezbollah has made $1 billion annually from drug- and weapon-smuggling, money-laundering and other criminal activities.




A handout picture released by the official website of the Centre for Preserving and Publishing the Works of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shows him (R) meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in the capital Tehran on January 10, 2015. (AFP/Khamenei.ir/File Photo)

Iranian involvement in drug smuggling in Venezuela is well documented. Detailed reports from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reveal an extensive cocaine trade route from eastern Venezuela to western Africa and on to Europe. 

It is suspected that the pipeline’s supply comes from Iranian facilities located in Venezuela’s Orinoco River delta, where vessels are loaded with cocaine. Some shipments end up in West Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The proceeds are laundered by various means, including the purchase of used American-made cars for export to Africa.

Launderers allegedly used their relationship with governments, particularly those in the Bolivarian countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela), to move their dirty money through Latin American banks, making it available to Western markets.

Iran has gained considerable influence in Latin America and has consolidated its network of allies. The regime in Tehran is actively expanding this list of friends in the hope of counterbalancing the international community’s stance against its nuclear weapons program and to mobilize support for its policies.

In addition to its nuclear ambitions, Tehran’s politico-economic relationship with Venezuela and other Latin American nations is primarily a means of diversifying its means of survival and overcoming international sanctions. There is little doubt, however, that much of this illicit arrangement is handled and overseen by Hezbollah.

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Twitter: @drhamsher7

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France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’
Updated 03 December 2021

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he hoped there would be progress on the Lebanon crisis in the next hours.
“We will do all we can to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon... I hope the coming hours will allow us to make progress.” Macron said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys. The UAE withdrew its envoys.


US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
Updated 03 December 2021

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
  • Planned changes to district boundaries could affect nine members of Congress who have a record of voicing support on Palestinian issues

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.


Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
Updated 03 December 2021

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
  • They posed as Iranian dissidents and smuggled bombs into the Natanz facility disguised as food
  • Israel had pledged to never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

LONDON: Agents from the Mossad convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities by “posing as dissidents” and smuggling explosives disguised as food into facilities, according to reports.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, Israeli agents convinced up to 10 scientists to destroy the Natanz nuclear facility, wiping out 90 percent of its centrifuges – crucial for research into nuclear weapons.

They are said to have smuggled some explosives into the plant in food lorries, while others were dropped in via drones and picked up by scientists – who they convinced to use against the nuclear sites by posing as Iranian dissidents.

The attack on the facility is just one of a long line of Israeli sabotages of Iranian nuclear facilities, a strategy that they have engaged in more as Iranian nuclear research has progressed.

The Natanz facility, a critical nuclear research site, has been hit by at least three attacks linked to the Israeli secret service, the Mossad.

In another incident, agents used a quadcopter drone to fire missiles at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company in an attempt to disrupt its research.

In recent years, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran has increased its atomic energy research, including enriching growing quantities of uranium above the levels required for civilian nuclear activity such as energy production.

In April Iran said that it would start enriching uranium up to 60 percent after the attack on its Natanz plant which it blamed on Israel – that is closing in on the 90 to 95 percent enrichment required for nuclear weapons.

This week – much to the ire of Israel – Iran and the US returned to the negotiating table to try to find a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for relief from crushing economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US and its allies.

But on Thursday, Israeli officials called on the US directly to cease those negotiations.

In a phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for “concrete measures” to be taken against Iran.

He said that Tehran was carrying out “nuclear blackmail” as a negotiation tactic and that “this must be met with an immediate cessation of negotiations and by concrete steps taken by the major powers,” according to a statement released by his office.

The Israeli leader also expressed his concern about a new report from the UN, issued during the US-Iran talks in Vienna, which showed that Iran had “started the process of enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo underground facility.”

Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has pledged never to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.


Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns
Updated 53 min 38 sec ago

Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi has officialy submitted his resignation on Friday to “give Lebanon a chance.”
“I will resign this afternoon,” Kordahi earlier told AFP. “I do not want to cling to this position, if it can be useful, I want to give Lebanon a chance.”
An official at the presidency confirmed to AFP that President Michel Aoun had received a call from Kordahi confirming he would submit his resignation.


UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
Updated 03 December 2021

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
  • Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar

DUBAI: French President Emmanuel Macron met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Friday at the start of a two-day Gulf tour that saw France sell the UAE 80 French-made Rafale warplanes for $18.08 billion (€16 billion). 
France’s Defense Minister said the deal was France’s largest-ever weapons contract for export while the Minister for the Armed Forces hailed the deal as "historic."

There was no immediate confirmation of the deal from Emirati officials. Macron was greeted at the leadership pavilion at Dubai’s Expo site for talks with Sheikh Mohammed.
“I don’t want to reveal the Christmas present” before the meeting, UAE presidential adviser Anwar Gargash told journalists in the build-up to the talks in Dubai.
Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar, host of next year’s World Cup, before traveling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The UAE, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday, is expected to order dozens of Rafale jets to replace its Mirage 2000 aircraft acquired in the late 1990s.
The Emirates is the fifth biggest customer for the French defense industry with $5.31 billion (€4.7 billion) from 2011-2020, according to a parliamentary report.
Macron is accompanied by a large delegation in Dubai including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Defense Minister Florence Parly.