The United States national security community is reportedly keeping a close eye on two Iranian naval vessels that may be headed across the Atlantic Ocean to Venezuela, carrying “mystery” cargo, according to sources that spoke to Politico, concerned that Iran could be trying to inflame relations with the U.S. at a particularly fraught moment.
“The U.S. national security community is monitoring two Iranian naval vessels whose ultimate destination may be Venezuela, according to three people familiar with the situation, in what would be a provocative move at a tense moment in U.S.-Iran relations,” the outlet said Sunday.
“An Iranian frigate and the Makran, a former oil tanker that was converted to a floating forward staging base, have been heading south along the east coast of Africa, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject,” Politico continued.
“U.S. officials do not know for sure the destination of the Iranian ships, these officials said, but believe they may be ultimately headed for Venezuela. Iran’s intent in sending the vessels in the direction of the Western Hemisphere remains a mystery, the people said, as does their cargo,” Politico noted. “The two countries — both of them facing severe U.S. sanctions — have developed closer ties over the last few years, with cooperation ranging from gasoline shipments to joint car and cement factory projects.”
The Makran is particularly of concern to American officials after Iran made a point of claiming that the ship could serve as a mobile command platform from which Iran could launch “electronic warfare” efforts and handle “special operations.” The ship reportedly serves, also, as a floating airbase with a fleet of drones and helicopters.
The Iranian military has threatened American interests recently, most notably in April, when a “group of boats from Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps harassed two U.S. Coast Guard ships earlier this month in the Persian Gulf,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “The larger vessel repeatedly crossed in front of the bows of the two U.S. vessels, the Monomoy and the Wrangell, coming as close as 70 yards away, officials said. That forced the [American ship] to make defensive maneuvers to avoid a collision, Navy officials said.”
Both incidents — the harassment in April and the potential threat of two Iranian warships in the Western hemisphere — come as the Biden administration considers re-entering a 2015 deal between the Obama administration and the Iranian government, abandoned by the Trump White House, over concerns Iran was not abiding by an agreement to limit their own nuclear capabilities.
The latest incident also comes as American officials worry Iran is also testing whether it can launch missiles from naval vessels. In January, two warships took part in “missile drills” off the coast of Oman, per Reuters. That exercise also involved the Makran as well as a “missile-launching ship called Zereh.” It is not clear whether the Zereh is the second ship reportedly skirting the coast of Africa.