Meanwhile, the intelligence community has evidence that one of the Makran ships is carrying fast attack boats, possibly intended for sale in Venezuela, according to a defense official and another person familiar with the intelligence.
Satellite images of Makran from early May, provided by Maxar Technologies, show seven such ships placed on deck, but it is unclear whether these boats were still on board when the ship began its voyage.
“The supply of such weapons would be a provocative act and is understood as a threat to our partners in the Western Hemisphere,” a senior administration official told POLITICO. “We would reserve the right to take appropriate measures in coordination with our partners to prevent the transit or supply of such weapons.”
The White House is pressuring Caracas and Havana through diplomatic channels not to allow ships to dock in their countries, said two defense officials and a congressman, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks. Biden officials are also actively turning to other governments in the region to ensure they divert ships, a congressional official said.
Caracas, meanwhile, is trying to use the situation to get relief from US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, according to two other people familiar with the situation. U.S. mediators have told Venezuelan officials that if you let the ships board there, the United States will be less likely to provide relief to the country. However, Tehran is continuing the voyage, hoping to put pressure on Caracas to allow the ships to dock, according to a defense official.
It was not immediately clear whether the Biden administration also considered the weapons a threat to the United States itself.
The senior administration official added that the United States was trying to resolve the situation through diplomacy. “But to be clear, Iran sold weapons to Venezuela more than a year ago, which we believe is to check the maximum position of the Trump administration,” the official said.
If Venezuela agrees to allow ships to dock and make any arms deal, it will be a demonstration of US disobedience by two rival countries that have stepped up cooperation as both face US sanctions.
Completing a voyage across the Atlantic would be a significant step for Iran’s navy, demonstrating the ship’s capabilities and potentially increasing Tehran’s access to the Western Hemisphere.
State Department and Pentagon officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
U.S. authorities have been monitoring the progress of ships over the past two weeks from the Persian Gulf, down the east coast of Africa, around Cape of Good Hope, and are now heading northwest across the Atlantic. Makran, a former oil tanker turned into a forward base, was accompanied by Sahand, Iran’s newest frigate.
By Wednesday morning, the ships had completed more than half of their voyage from Iran to Venezuela and were slowly sailing northwest, more than 1,000 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, according to a second defense official who was aware of his position. This is the first time the Iranian navy has bypassed the promontory or reached so far across the Atlantic.
Lawmakers, receiving regular briefings on the issue, are publicly pressuring the Biden administration to work to deter ships.
“It’s not like supplying oil or fuel,” Senate Intelligence Committee Deputy Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Wrote on Twitter. “Here are all the delivery marks [sic] sale of weapons (such as speedboats) to Venezuela, combined with the possibility of sending a message of force to the Biden administration. ”
However, some MPs are skeptical that reverse sewerage will work.
“I think you should always try diplomatic efforts. But let’s be realistic, “said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) In a brief interview. “The Maduro regime and the Castro regime – they do not work with us. They do not respect their citizens. They do not respect our government. ”
Farzin Nadimi of the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, which focuses on Iran’s naval strategy and defense industry, said his biggest concern about the possible supply of fast attack boats to Venezuela would include training.
“If Iran helps Venezuela develop tactics similar to those practiced by [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] in the Gulf region, which I think could have serious consequences in the future, “he said.
Iranian speedboat boats have recently attacked U.S. Coast Guard boats in the Persian Gulf, POLITICO reported. And in 2016, IRGC speedboats seized a U.S. Navy boat in the Persian Gulf, creating a disturbance for the U.S. military.
Kirsten Fontaine, a member of the Atlantic Council and a former National Security Council official during the Trump administration who focuses on the Middle East, said the expiration of the UN arms embargo on Iran means that the move could be followed. from more exports of military equipment.
“The threat is the precedent it sets, because the UN arms embargo is no longer for Iran and they can import and export,” she said. “This may be the first of many transfers we see. This allows Iran to spread their model of what I call zero per hero, where they arm failed governments or proxy groups and make them bigger than they are capable of on their own, and create those affiliates around the world that are able to threaten American interests. ”
Fontaine Rose added that America’s transatlantic allies are unlikely to be particularly involved in US efforts to meet the growing challenge.
“We will have to deal with this on our own,” she said.