The Berlin-based daily Die Welt published a news story on May 13 citing “Western security sources” who reported that Venezuela’s authoritarian strongman Hugo Chavez secretly met in February 2011 with the chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Air Force, Amir al-Hadschisadeh.
The pair, according to Die Welt, finalized the location for a missile base, said to be located on the Peninsula de Paraguana, a jut of land 120 kilometers from the Colombian border. Engineers from the Iranian state-owned construction agency Khatam al-Anbia, Die Welt added, have already begun preliminary work on the base.
Thus far there has been no response from the Obama Administration.
Chavez has long expressed interest in acquiring Russian-made missiles. He has purchased and showcased hundreds of shoulder-fired IGLA surface-to-air missiles and has been in the market for Russian S-300 missiles, the same powerful weapon that Russia has thus far denied to Iran. Chavez claims that U.S. aggression is his number one security threat.
More than one report on Iran’s missile intentions surfaced late last year. With the help of North Korea, Iran continues to extend its missile range capability and may now have weapons with sufficient capacity to reach the U.S. Add a nuclear weapon or WMD and one has a prescription for another Cuban missile crisis.
The central question that must be asked with increased urgency is: To what lengths will Chavez go to demonstrate the operational commitment of his alliance with Iran? Is this alliance one of rhetorical convenience filled with venom and bluster but little concrete action? Or is it an increasingly cooperative and operational venture that aims at accumulating military power, sharing resources (including access to uranium), and exploiting petroleum ties that will, as Chavez routinely promises, “hasten the end of U.S. imperialism”?
With an election year looming in 2012, with an increasingly active and united opposition gearing up for the campaign, and with Venezuela’s state-dominated, socialist economy in the doldrums, Chavez might seek more direct conformation with the U.S. as a political and strategic tool to consolidate his authoritarian grip on power.
For the Obama Administration—which has for the most part refused to take the Chavez challenge seriously and consistently downplays potential strategic security threats in the Western Hemisphere—another unconfirmed press report may be easy to ignore. This would be the wrong approach. The Administration should be open, frank, and authoritative in responding to an issue of high security importance.