In a major development, Iran has sent warships to Latin America. Yes, WARSHIPS.
Why is Iran sending weapons? What’s Tehran message? And, what does it mean for Latin America?
Last week, Iran said that 86th flotilla of warships is currently cruising near the western coast of Latin America. Iran’s 86th flotilla of warships comprises of warships Dena and Makran. Dena is a Mowj-class warship, domestically produced in Iran. It joined the Iranian Navy in 2021. The military ship is armed with torpedoes, naval cannons, and anti-ship cruise missiles. Whereas, Makran is a 121,000-ton forward base ship. The warship is used to supply the combat warships with logistical support. It has the capacity to carry five helicopters.
But, what are these ships going to do in Latin America?
Iran’s warships in Latin America
In recent years, Iran has focused on sending troops into Latin America. It has deepened ties with anti-American regimes, most notably in Venezuela. Tehran’s government has shown enormous support for Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro. That’s why Iranian ships have been docking there regularly. These actions are a direct challenge to the United States which has disregarded Maduro’s government. It also shows that Tehran has the capability of positioning its military forces just a short distance from American soil.
Rear Admiral Shahram Irani, the commander of the Iranian Navy, in the second week of January had stated that preparations are being made to send naval forces to the Panama Canal as Iranian servicemen approach the coasts of the Americas. The Brazilian Navy has said that two Iranian vessels had been granted access to Brazilian ports. Just to remind you, Brazil has allowed this despite the US sanctions.
One expert said, “This is a tremendous escalation if it is to happen. Many people may discount Iran in terms of its capabilities … but I would not discount it because they have been building to this for a very long time.”
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How long? For the past 30 or 40 years. The Iranian-backed militant organisation Hezbollah also has a long-growing foothold in Latin America. In Venezuela and the largely lawless Tri-Border Area, which covers Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, Hezbollah fighters are known to move freely. In recent, Iran has been preparing for this kind of voyage by participating in joint drills with countries like Russia and China. It has even established bilateral agreements and embassies with numerous countries. In addition to Venezuela, Iran has strong diplomatic ties with Colombia and Nicaragua.
The ships in question would leave Brazil by early February before sailing through Venezuela to the Panama Canal. By February 7, they should arrive in Panama.
Iran has also developed new maritime combat helicopters. Rear Admiral Irani has said that they would be delivered to the region soon. According to him, the navy’s participation in the Panama Canal aims to “strengthen our maritime presence in international waters.”
Iran vs USA in Panama Canal
Panama Canal is a vital trade route in the United States’ backyard. Panama Canal links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and provides a new route for international trade and military transport.
US build it more than a hundred years ago. The Americans were aware of their need to quickly move ships from east to west. Panama Canal established their control over the oceans and gave them a significant rise in their geopolitical power. The Canal was part of a geopolitical plan to elevate the United States to the position of world dominance.
The economic impact was also significant. It combined the trades of two oceans. Basically, Iran has challenged the pillars of US’ supremacy. Iran also aims to demonstrate that it is feasible for the Islamic Republic to conduct patrol missions in the waters off Latin America.
It has already rattled US’ lawmakers be it republicans or democrats.
Further, through its presence, Iran can advance and safeguard its interests in nations like Venezuela, where Iran has been assisting Maduro in repairing his nation’s out-dated oil facilities. In June 2022, Iran and Venezuela governments inked a 20-year cooperation agreement.
In addition, Iran has used Latin American countries as a centre to make arms deals and avoid U.S. sanctions.
But, what is in it for Latin America?
It’s always good to have options. Latin America has been in the US shadow for too long and has only lost more than it has gained from this partnership. It’s time to grow out of it. However, it should also beware of being dragged into the rivalry of these two nations. The attacks that Iran had conducted on Israel embassies in 1992 and on Jewish centres in 1994 in the region is a testament of this. It is important that no foreign wars are fought on a continent already wrecked by foreign intervention.