Iranian weapons on America’s doorstep / Ahmadinejad pursues joint military ventures in Latin America (WASHINGTON TIMES COMMENTARY) By Joseph M. Humire 07/05/12)
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While many of the world’s leaders traveled to a Mexican seaside
resort in Los Cabos for the annual Group of 20 meeting a couple weeks
ago, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled a little farther
south, to Rio de Janeiro, for another meeting of world leaders - the
Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. This was
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s sixth visit to Latin America since 2007 and his
second this year.
In addition to Brazil, Mr. Ahmadinejad visited President Evo Morales
in Bolivia and took time to stop by Venezuela to confer with his
ideological bedfellow, Hugo Chavez, rounding up a three-nation tour
of South America before heading back to Tehran on June 22.
On the surface, these visits produce press releases filled with
pledges of solidarity, and the occasional signing of commercial
agreements, but once the pageantry is over, such commercial
agreements rarely materialize and the pledges of solidarity are
revealed as little more than political posturing. All these
unfulfilled promises and the lack of voluminous trade or business
leave one to wonder what really lies beneath the surface in Iran’s
foray into Latin America.
While we can only speculate as to what goes on behind closed doors,
recent reports shed light on some of the more nefarious dealings
regarding the military-to-military exchange between the
A few days before Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit, Venezuela’s ailing
President Chavez unveiled the newest addition to his military
arsenal: unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. These Iranian-designed,
Venezuelan-built drones were reported on earlier this year by the
head of U.S. Southern Command, Air ForceGen. Douglas Fraser, who
stated that they were of “fairly limited capacity” and most likely
were to be used for “internal defense.” Perhaps Gen. Fraser is right,
but a Spanish media outlet recently reported that the drones could be
a cover for a more threatening program in Venezuela, one that
involves missile engineers and front companies that are part of
Iran’s missile and weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs.
One such company is Kimia Sanaat, an alias for the Iranian firm Qods
Aviation (or Aeronautics) Industries. Kimia Sanaat is sanctioned by
the United Nations for its involvement in Iran’s missile and WMD
programs. However, this has not stopped it from doing business in
Venezuela, as it is suspected of being involved in shipping more than
70 containers to a joint Iran-Venezuela auto manufacturer, Venirauto,
located in Maracay, Venezuela. Known locally as a military-industrial
hub, Maracay also is home of the joint Iran-Venezuela UAV program,
located just a few miles from Venirauto.
In January 2011, another military site in Maracay went up in flames
when an unusual explosion rocked the city and damaged the UAV
facilities. This explosion was more characteristic of a blast that
might have happened in the petrochemical town of Moron, less than 100
miles away. In fact, it is in Moron that Iran is helping build
various chemical plants alongside CAVIM, the industrial arm of
Venezuela’s armed forces.
Suspected of being involved in these joint chemical projects is the
notorious Iranian front company Parchin Chemical Industries (PCI).
PCI is a subsidiary of the Defense Industries Organization, a branch
of the Iranian Ministry of Defense Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL),
all entities heavily sanctioned by the international community for
aiding and abetting Iran’s missile and WMD programs.
This might explain why Venezuela and Iran set up a weekly Caracas -
Tehran flight operated jointly by Conviasa, Venezuela’s national
airline, and Iran Air, Iran’s state airline. This also might offer
some insight into what Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Chavez discussed in
their closed-door meetings a couple weeks ago.
This Caracas-Tehran flight, dubbed “Aero-Terror” by Western
intelligence agencies, is rumored possibly to extend to Santa Cruz,
Bolivia, in the near future, coincidentally just a few miles away
from another joint military venture, the Iran-sponsored Regional
Defense School of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (or ALBA),
a 1 1/4-acre facility located in Warnes, Bolivia, (approximately
eight miles from Santa Cruz) that was inaugurated last year with the
attendance of Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
Just last week, a prominent Spanish newspaper reported that there are
no fewer than 145 credentialed Iranian diplomats living and operating
in Bolivia, some of whom are trainers from the feared Revolutionary
Guards of Iran. Moreover, the Simon Wiesenthal Center recently
denounced the presence of this regional defense school before the
Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington and urged that
multinational body to initiate an investigation of the school.
If that is done, the investigators would have to dig beneath the
surface because the school has been dormant since its inauguration,
which suggests that its presence may have more than one purpose. The
acquisition by Iran of dual-use minerals from resource-rich Bolivia,
such as tantalum and lithium, is perhaps a clue. Both minerals have
military-grade missile applications.
Because of Mr. Chavez’s deteriorating health and the political
instability within Venezuela, Iran could be in a holding pattern as
it calculates the implications of a power shift within the regime of
its closest ally - an ally that has served so far as Iran’s gateway
to the region.
With all these military ventures in play, Mr. Ahmadinejad well may
have used his most recent trip to assess what Latin America would
look like in a post-Chavez world. In such a case, Iran definitely
would want to woo Brazil into a similar military orbit, a feat the
largest and most economically powerful country in the region has
resisted thus far. Given the likelihood of this happening, it is safe
to assume that Iran is not hedging its bets and is continuing to work
with Venezuela, Bolivia and the rest of its ALBA allies - countries
that have been willing to roll out the diplomatic red carpet.
In the wake of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s meetings in South America, we
already know that a new confidential military agreement was signed
with Bolivia to add to the several secret military agreements on the
books with Venezuela.
The truth is that very little is known about the military-to-military
cooperation between Iran and several Latin American countries.
However, on the surface, Iran, Venezuela and Bolivia will acknowledge
only the joint military activities they want us to know about, such
as UAVs and regional defense schools. Nevertheless, as more
information comes to light, we must scratch beneath the surface and
examine the more troubling military activity in the region - activity
that can be a game-changer if Iran is able to develop missile-strike
capability from Latin America.
Joseph M. Humire is a consultant with the Cordoba Group International
LLC and the executive director of the Center for a Secure Free
Society. (© 2012 The Washington Times, LLC. 07/05/12)
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