IRANIAN warships believed to be taking weapons to Venezuela have diverted to Africa after the US vowed to take "appropriate action", say officials.
They could now be heading north to Russia, or to Syria, the American defence sources added.
The Iranian destroyer Sahand and intelligence-gathering support vessel Makran were sailing the Atlantic Ocean, having departed last month from Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas.
Fast-attack craft aboard the Makran are the type Iran uses in its tense encounters with US warships in the Persian Gulf and its narrow mouth, the Strait of Hormuz.
The vessels are being monitored by US security officials – who told Politico that they're now sailing up the west coast of Africa.
Defence sources said they suspected a clandestine arms transfer had been planned, with the course changed several times already.
But, it's now believed they are heading for the Mediterranean, to sail off Syria, or north towards Russia, the unnamed sources added.
The sudden change of course has been pegged to strong pressure from Washington to stop the vessels from reaching Venezuela.
US President Joe Biden's administration officials had both publicly and privately asked the governments of Cuba and Venezuela to block the vessels, and refuse to allow them to dock in ports.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “We are prepared to leverage applicable authorities, including sanctions, against any actor that enables Iran’s ongoing provision of weapons to violent partners and proxies around the world."
The vessels' movements have also been revealed on the Twitter account of Tanker Trackers.
It said on June 14: "We believe that the Iranian navy vessels Makran and Sahand are on their way to Syria in order to engage in navy exercises with Russia.
"They will be able to pass Gibraltar on July 4th, which is the 2yr anniversary since the Grace 1 supertanker was arrested en route to Syria."
In 2019 the Sun Online wrote about Gibraltar releasing Grace 1 after a month-long stand-off between London and Tehran.
The 15,000-tonne tanker was seized by the Royal Marines on suspicion of attempting to smuggle oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
The dramatic action sparked a furious row with Iran.
Two years on, Iran's state TV revealed on June 10 that its Iranian destroyer and support vessel were sailing in the Atlantic Ocean – in a rare mission far from the Islamic Republic.
But, it didn't announce the vessels' final destination.
However, the move was suspected to be in support of US-arch enemy Maduro, amid fears they would block the Panama Canal.
US defence officials admitted to being "greatly concerned" as they were believed to be smuggling weapons to Venezuela.
Iran maintains close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and has shipped gasoline and other products to the country amid a US sanctions campaign targeting fuel-starved Caracas.
Venezuela is believed to have paid Iran, under American sanctions of its own, for the shipments.
Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, Iran's deputy army chief described their mission as the Iranian navy's longest and most challenging voyage yet, without elaborating.
Iranian state TV released a short clip of the destroyer cruising through the Atlantic's rough seas.
The video was likely shot from the Makran, a converted commercial oil tanker with a mobile launch platform for helicopters.
Images from Maxar Technologies dated April 28 appear to show seven Iranian fast-attack craft typically associated with its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Makran's deck.
Satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. suggested it left a port at Bandar Abbas sometime after April 29.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh has declined to say where the Makran was going.
He said: "Iran is always present in international waters and it has this right based on international law and it can be present in international waters.
"No country is able to violate this right, and I warn that no one makes miscalculations.
"Those who sit in glass houses should be careful."
Source: Read Full Article