Iran Crisis Triggers Alarm On Venezuela

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If Tehran plans further retaliation for Qassem Soleimani’s elimination, Venezuela could pose a threat. Iran, after all, is second only to Cuba as Venezuela’s top ally.

“Until 2006, our relation with Iran was minimal,” says a Venezuelan journalist, Maibort Petit, currently based in America. That year, she says, Venezuela’s president, at the time Hugo Chavez, traveled to Tehran and all but fell in love with the country’s then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Pretty soon, “Iran became very important for the Bolivarian revolution,” Ms. Petit says.

Mosques in Venezuela started popping up. Daily flights between Caracas and Tehran carried suspicious cargo, including arms. Mr. Ahmadinejad was a frequent visitor, at one point spewing Holocaust-denying theories as Chavez nodded in enthusiastic agreement. Ties established, Hezbollah, Iran’s top terror proxy, started using the country as a South American base.

Today, led by Cuban-backed strongman Nicolas Maduro, the once-thriving oil-rich democracy of Venezuela is no longer a real country. It’s ruled by a corrupt crime syndicate that thrives on proceeds from illicit trading in drugs and arms and smuggling oil. Its citizens, meanwhile, are reduced to dumpster diving, petty crime, and other desperate means of obtaining life’s most basic necessities.

A toxic mixture of anarchy, repression, and a new generation fed on anti-American propaganda makes the country vulnerable as a hot spot for hostile activities against America.

A top aide to Mr. Maduro, Tareck el Aissami, is widely considered a Hezbollah bagman. In April, Mr. Maduro’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, visited Lebanon and Syria, meeting with top Hezbollah officials and Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. According to some reports, he also conferred with Gen. Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike earlier this month.

Ominously, Venezuela is the fifth largest producer of thorium, considered an heir to uranium as top nuclear-bomb fuel — and the country offers a friendly base within a little more than spitting distance from Miami.

All of this makes Venezuela one of America’s top worries. Helping the country end its alliances and emerge out of its current state should be a top goal. Washington desperately needs to find a credible, incorruptible ally, capable of leading a viable movement to topple the Maduro regime, which is hated by long-oppressed Venezuelans.

This week President Trump’s Venezuela point man, Elliott Abrams, highlighted the latest political turmoil there. “Congress has voted a fair amount of money to help the democratic opposition in Venezuela, and we will be thinking of ways to use those funds,” he said.

So far, these funds have mostly gone to supporting the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, recognized by most world democracies as Venezuela’s interim president. Mr. Guaido, though, lacks power.

This week, in the aftermath of an election, sentries employed by Mr. Maduro barred Mr. Guaido from entering the National Assembly. A day later, however, Mr. Guaido walked in and presided over a legislative session (though some Venezuelans suspect it was staged for TV cameras).

According to some reports, we recently tried to turn Disdado Cabello, a top Maduro lieutenant, to America’s side and against his boss. That didn’t work too well: This week Mr. Cabello walked into the Iranian embassy in Caracas to convey condolences on General Soleimani’s demise and join in anti-American chants.

One of the only direct flights currently available from Caracas’ international airport is to Damascus — far from a top vacation destination, but a prominent capital in Tehran’s orbit. Right now, some plane-spotting is in order, as is intensified intel gathering on our hemisphere’s growing ring of terror masters.


@bennyavni. This column first appeared in the New York Post.

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