Iranian tankers full of gasoline approach Venezuela

As I mentioned earlier this week, Venezuela is in the midst of a gasoline crisis reminiscent of the United States gas crunch in the 1970s. Venezuela’s gas is heavily subsidized and is usually cheaper than anywhere else in the world but the collapse of the Venezuelan economy has led to shortages. People are now waiting in line for hours and even days in hopes of getting gas at the subsidized price. But Venezuela has apparently worked out a deal with Iran and five tankers loaded with gas have been on their way to Venezuela this week. The first of those tankers is now entering the Caribbean.

Five tankers carrying Iranian fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela are approaching the Caribbean, with the first vessel expected to reach the South American country’s waters on Sunday, Radio Farda was informed by

The tanker closest to the Caribbean is Fortune carrying around 43 million liters (11.3 million gallons) of gasoline that can fill around one-third of cars in Venezuela…

Iranian media on Friday reflected a celebratory tone saying the country’s flotilla “is in America’s backyard”. Earlier this month reports said Venezuela sent a huge quantity of gold to Iran, in what might have been a payment for the gasoline shipment.

Venezuela is saying it will send it’s military to escort the ships to port:

Venezuela’s military will escort Iranian tankers bringing fuel to the gasoline-starved country as soon as they enter its exclusive economic zone, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Wednesday…

“When they enter our exclusive economic zone, they will be escorted by Bolivarian National Armed Forces boats and planes to welcome them in and thank the Iranian people for their solidarity and cooperation,” Padrino said on state television, adding that the government was in touch with Iran’s defense minister.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is carrying out naval exercises in the Caribbean which the Washington Post reports are the largest in a decade:

The convoy was heading toward the largest U.S. military presence in the Caribbean in at least a decade. The Pentagon has dispatched destroyers, littoral combat ships, Poseidon maritime planes and Air Force surveillance aircraft to the region as part of an operation to shut down drug trafficking routes off the Venezuelan coast.

U.S. officials are downplaying Iran’s suggestion that those forces will confront the convoy. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Thursday he was not aware of plans to launch a military operation against the Iranian tankers.

But a senior Trump administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, said the administration “would not abide” Iran’s support of Maduro.

So while there’s no indication things are about to turn ugly, there is at least the potential for a naval confrontation between Iran and the United States. Are we about to see the next Cuban Missile Crisis? Two days ago the Wall Street Journal reportered there was internal disagreement in the Trump administration about how to respond:

The Trump administration has been debating how aggressive its response should be, the officials said. The U.S. Navy has deployed a flotilla of destroyers in the Caribbean to crack down on narcotics smuggling. Military personnel on those ships could theoretically board the Iranian vessels for inspection, the U.S. officials said.

Some U.S. officials have advocated restraint, arguing that the U.S. should only intervene if the Iranian shipments become a permanent fixture, people familiar with the matter said.

So it seems unlikely that anything dramatic is about to happen unless the Iranians or the Venezuelans do something to press their luck. What is likely is additional sanctions on Iran to prevent future shipments.