Iran is supporting embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government with weapons and troops, a U.S. military official told the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, bolstering suspicions that the two governments — which have been roiled by economic and political pressure from the United States — are developing stronger military ties.
Iran has reportedly sent members of its Quds Force, a military unit known for its paramilitary operations in the Middle East, to support Maduro’s effort to stay in power, Admiral Craig Faller from U.S. Southern Command told the Journal in a call with reporters.
Faller said the military is also tracking an “uptick” in arms shipments from Iran to Venezuela, though he didn’t specify the types of weapons supplied. Faller previously mentioned an “Iranian presence in Venezuela” in March.
Russia has offered Venezuela’s military more assistance this year, Faller said Wednesday, and Cuba supports Maduro’s intelligence service.
“We’re real concerned about what Iran is up to, not just globally, but here in this hemisphere,” Faller told the Journal on Wednesday.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to bring an end to Maduro’s regime, which it has called a human rights abuser and a national security threat, doubling down on efforts by former President Barack Obama. The United States has placed heavy sanctions on the country, and after Maduro’s questionable reelection in 2018, the Trump administration deemed opposition leader Juan Guaidó the country’s legitimate leader.
Meanwhile, Trump has also placed extreme economic pressure on the Iranian regime. Partly in reaction to this pressure, the two countries have developed trade links, but U.S. officials rarely accuse Iran of sending weapons to Venezuela directly, the Journal reports.
In the last year, the United States has enacted sanctions aimed at stopping coordination between Iran and Venezuela’s governments. The Trump administration sanctioned Maduro in September for undermining a global arms embargo against Iran, and it tried to stop gasoline shipments from Iran to Venezuela in October.
Iran’s Quds Force, which the United States has called a foreign terrorist organization, is notorious for its operations in foreign countries. The elite force has reportedly supported Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi’ite militias and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. In January, the United States killed Quds Force leader Qassem Solemaini in a drone strike, claiming he had plotted attacks on U.S. military personnel.