Iran's military presence at the Panama Canal, the major maritime chokepoint in the Western Hemisphere -- which is controlled by America's main enemy, China -- is a serious national security threat to the United States in more ways than one.
The Biden administration, seemingly as usual, has been turning a blind eye to the Iran's increasing military presence in Latin America. Its latest activities now pose a grave danger to North America's security and US national interests.
The Iranian regime, under the Biden administration's watch, has been rapidly moving its military into Latin America. By now, the mullahs have been emboldened to the extent that, for the first time, Iran is stationing warships in the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal, which was built by the United States at the excruciating expense of life and treasure, enables ships to transit between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans without having to sail around the entire continent of South America. Stupidly, it was turned over to Panama in 1999.
Iran's state-controlled news outlet bragged on January 21, 2023:
"The Iranian flotilla, comprised of Dena and Makran warships, will reportedly arrive at the Brazilian port within the next few days.
"The 86th flotilla set sail from south of Iran in early autumn with the purpose of circumnavigating the world.
"The trip to Brazil appears to be part of a mission to the Panama Canal.
"On January 11, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani said plans are underway to dispatch naval forces to the Panama Canal as Iranian servicemen are approaching the coasts of the Americas.
"Dena is a Mowj-class warship that joined the Iranian Navy in June 2021. The military vessel is equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes and naval cannons.
"The other vessel of the flotilla is Makran, a forward base ship weighing 121,000 tons.
'The oil-tanker-turned-warship can carry five helicopters and is employed for providing logistical support for the combat warships."
An Iranian delegation recently met with the Brazil's new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, during his inauguration ceremony. Soon after, Brazil, disregarding the US concerns, allowed the Iranian warships to dock at its port. U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar told Fox News:
"Iran has been aggressively strengthening its ties to the Western Hemisphere through like-minded socialist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. They are also looking for opportunities elsewhere, and it's no coincidence that Iranian ships are docking in Brazil just a month after a socialist retook power in the country. Instead of supporting the Iran-friendly socialist and left-wing regimes in Latin America, the Biden administration should be strengthening political forces committed to keeping our hemisphere free of antisemitic terror."
Other senators have also raised concerns about Iran's increasing influence in the US backyard; Senator Marco Rubio told Fox News in a statement:
"Iran's growing presence in the Western Hemisphere should come as no surprise as the Biden Administration has a history of appeasement and engaging with authoritarian regimes. Tehran's ability to expand its military presence in our hemisphere should be a warning sign, especially as it seeks to support the left-wing Marxist regimes that will undermine peace and stability throughout the region."
The Iranian regime has also been using Latin American countries to evade sanctions. For example, the Islamic Republic has been shipping considerable amounts of oil to Venezuela, without either country fearing repercussions from the Biden administration. According to Reuters on June 13:
"The [Iranian] cargo is the third of Iranian crude supplied by Iran's Naftiran Intertrade Co (NICO) to Venezuela's state-run oil firm PDVSA following a supply contract providing the South American nation with lighter crude. Venezuela has been processing the Iranian oil in its refineries.... Other two Iran-flagged tankers, the very large crude carriers (VLCCs) Dino I and Silvia I, had arrived last month at Venezuelan ports carrying the first cargoes of Iranian crude for Venezuela."
Iran has also been signing long-term agreements with its oil clients to permanently insulate its economy from the US sanctions. Last June, for instance, Iran signed a 20-year cooperation agreement with Venezuela to expand ties in the oil and petrochemical industries, as well as in military fields. Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro said, "We have important projects of cooperation between Iran and Venezuela in the fields of energy, petrochemicals, oil, gas and refineries."
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is an advisory board member of United Against Nuclear Iran, said that Panama has also been helping with Iran's oil smuggling. Panama, he added, "has been instrumental in the [Iranian] regime's continued survival" and that Panama is "strengthening Iran by helping it to circumvent sanctions."
Iranian ships will be allowed to sail through the Panama Canal "as long as they abide by international norms," Panamanian authorities said this week. However, according to Reuters:
"Panama's vessel registry, the world's largest, has withdrawn its flag from 136 ships linked to Iran's state oil company in the last four years, the country's maritime authority said this week, pushing back against claims by an anti-nuclear group."
So, you can tell which country is really in charge.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu