Austin said he shares Blumenthal’s concerns, adding that “I am absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons, of any kind, in our neighborhood.”
Austin declined to answer Blumenthal’s questions about what weapons are on board, saying he would provide information in a closed session. He added that he had not spoken with any other leaders of countries in the region about the movement of ships.
POLITICO first reported last week that US authorities monitored two Iranian naval vessels, the advance vessel Makran and the frigate Sahand, which sailed along the east coast of Africa around the Cape of Good Hope and are now heading for the northwest across the Atlantic. The intelligence community has evidence that the Makran is transporting fast attack boats, probably intended for sale to Venezuela, POLITICO reported on Wednesday.
The Biden government has urged Venezuela and Cuba, through diplomatic channels, to refuse the ships, while promising that the US will take “appropriate measures” to stop what it considers a “threat”.
“The release of such weapons would be a provocative act and perceived as a threat to our partners in the Western Hemisphere,” a senior government official said in a statement to POLITICO. “We reserve the right to take appropriate measures in coordination with our partners to prevent the transit or delivery of such weapons.”
Austin is not the only defense officer in the Western Hemisphere to warn of the ships. Captain Gerry Gouveia, Guyana’s national security adviser, told POLITICO that vessels are a major concern. Guyana borders Venezuela to the east, and Venezuela claims much of its land and maritime territory. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil is operating a joint venture to drill oil in the Stabroek Block, which lies in Guyana waters. On Wednesday, it announced that it had made a new discovery there, as reported to Reuters. The arrival of Iranian fast-attack boats in the region could threaten the stability that such projects demand, according to Gouveia.
“[I]If it is indeed a matter of shipments of sophisticated material, including speedboats, it must be of great concern to all of us in this hemisphere, especially Venezuela’s neighbors, including Guyana, for which Venezuela claims five-eighths of our territory and our maritime space ”, he wrote in a message to POLITICO.
“The reported acquisition of this weaponry, as revealed by US intelligence sources, would certainly serve as a threat to hemispheric peace and security. Media reports say the shipments include fast attack boats,” added Gouveia. “Given the tactics of the Iranian swarm with these boats that threaten ships in the Gulf, there is concern about our offshore oil and gas operations and protecting our sovereignty. [exclusive economic zone]. ”
A defense official said the Pentagon is currently not making plans to more closely monitor ships using air or naval assets in the region, or to conduct an intercept in international waters.
But the US military planned such a contingency beforehand, according to a former senior defense official. Last summer, amid reports that Venezuela was considering buying long-range missiles from Iran, DoD officials judged the arms transfer to be a “red line,” the person said.
“We had defined options for such a contingency – from very visible to clandestine,” said the person. “In the end, we never had to consider them.”