Two Iranian warships believed to be carrying weapons to Venezuela despite US warnings have reached the Atlantic, Iranian state television reported Thursday.
The home-built destroyer Sahand and intelligence-gathering vessel Makran departed the southern port of Bandar Abbas last month, Iran’s deputy army chief Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said.
He described their mission as the Iranian Navy’s longest and most challenging voyage to date. Iranian state television has released a short clip of the destroyer sailing through the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean.
Two Iranian warships believed to be carrying weapons to Venezuela despite US warnings have reached the Atlantic, Iranian state television reported Thursday with images of the destroyer Sahand (pictured)
The former oil tanker Makran is one of two ships currently sailing south along the east coast of Africa
The video is believed to have been shot from the Makran, a converted commercial oil tanker with a mobile helicopter launch pad.
“The Navy is improving its naval capacity and proving its long-term durability in adverse seas and the adverse weather conditions of the Atlantic,” Sayyari said, adding that the warships would not call at any country ports during the mission.
Images by Maxar Technologies from April 28 appear to show seven Iranian fast attack craft typically associated with the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards on the deck of the Makran.
Satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. suggest it left a port near Bandar Abbas sometime after April 29, but it was not immediately clear where the Makran and destroyer are now.
Late last month, the US said security forces were tracking the two warships and trying to discover what kind of cargo they were carrying over concerns that Iran was trying to intimidate Washington.
Iran has close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, (left) and has shipped gasoline and other products to the country amid a US sanctions campaign against fuel-poor Caracas
Iran has close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and has shipped gasoline and other products to the country as part of a US sanctions campaign against fuel-poor Caracas.
Venezuela is believed to have paid Iran, under its own US sanctions, for the shipments.
Iran has also established both a car assembly plant and a massive cement plant in Venezuela.
A top Maduro employee has denied press reports that the ships will dock there. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive geopolitical issues.
At a press conference on May 31, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh declined to say where the Makran was going.
“Iran is always present in international waters and has this right under international law and can be present in international waters,” he said.
“No country can violate this right, and I warn that no one miscalculates. Anyone who lives in glass houses has to be careful.’
The home-built Iranian destroyer Sahand (pictured) is currently sailing in the Atlantic Ocean (pictured in the Persian Gulf in April 2019)
The Sahand (pictured) carries surface-to-ground missiles, air defense systems and torpedoes
The fast attack craft aboard the Makran are of the type used by the Guards in its tense confrontations with American warships in the Persian Gulf and its narrow mouth, the Strait of Hormuz.
It is not immediately clear what Venezuela’s plans would be with those ships.
“If the boats are delivered, they could form the core of an asymmetric force within the Venezuelan armed forces,” the US Naval Institute said in a previously published analysis.
“This could be aimed at disrupting shipping as a means of countering superior naval forces. The shipping routes to and from the Panama Canal are close to the Venezuelan coast.’
Earlier this month, fires sank Iran’s largest warship, the 207-meter-long Kharg, which was used to resupply other ships of the fleet at sea and to conduct training exercises.
Officials offered no reason for the fire, which follows a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 and targeted commercial vessels in the Middle East’s waterways.
The unusual trip comes ahead of Iran’s June 18 presidential election, in which voters will choose a successor to relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
The Kharg, an Iranian naval support vessel and one of the armed forces’ largest ships, sank near the port of Jask this morning after burning for more than 20 hours at night.
Iran said the fire broke out “in one of the ship’s systems” on Tuesday, with no further details. It comes amid a series of attacks that Iran and Israel are blaming each other for