Iranian tanker ‘Fortune’ arrives in Venezuela

The Iranian tanker Fortune, flanked by a Venezuelan Navy escort, continues en route to Puerto Cabello

VENEZUELA’S permanent representative to the UN has welcomed the arrival of Iranian tankers loaded with gasoline to the South American country’s waters, urging US President Donald Trump to avoid any act of aggression based on the ‘wrong advice’ of warmongers.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Samuel Moncada cited an open letter to Trump written by a group of 14 retired experts of the US intelligence community, who warned him against a military attack on the Venezuela-bound Iranian fuel tankers.

‘The Iranian gasoline reaching Venezuela is a landmark in the struggle for sovereignty, independence and peace. Trump and his minions are thinking of a military attack against the tankers amidst the pandemic. His experts advise him otherwise,’ he wrote.

Moncada also enumerated the arguments provided by the experts against any ‘unnecessary adventure’ by the US against the Iranian vessels, saying they believe that ‘the act of war does not serve US interests.’

Any such attack could trigger ‘unpredictable responses’ and lead to ‘unprecedented situations’ beyond US control, the Venezuelan envoy quoted the experts as saying.

He also referred to calls by Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido and his security commissioner Ivan Simonovis supporting such a US move, saying Guaido has lost foreign and domestic support.

‘Warmongering generals and advisers in Washington are playing with fire in a dangerous situation and exploiting Venezuelan extremists. They are seeking a war with Iran in the Middle East contrary to US interests. They’ve have attempted this many times in the past,’ Moncada wrote.

He further emphasised that Trump’s threats will not weaken Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro but rather strengthen him and unify most Venezuelans against aggression.

‘In their long experience in defending the US, they do not understand how attacking legal trade between two countries that do not pose a national threat serves their own interests. Venezuelans, meanwhile, want no war either, but dialogue.’

Moncada went on: ‘Trump’s policy thus far has been a failure and, even with the pandemic, it seems to have no chance of success in the near future. Avoiding a war resulting from the wrong advice of adventurers in Washington and Venezuela is the best option for the US.’

Also on Sunday, the Iranian embassy in Caracas posted a video of a tanker sailing into Venezuelan waters. ‘The first Iranian tanker has reached the Venezuelan coast. Grateful to the Bolivarian Armed Forces for escorting them,’ it tweeted.

This is the first of five Iranian tankers, carrying 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and alkylate, to reach Venezuelan territorial waters to ease the Latin American nation’s fuel crunch despite the US threats.

‘Iran and Venezuela have always supported each other in times of difficulty,’ Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted late on Saturday. ‘Today, the first ship with gasoline arrives for our people.’

The shipments have infuriated Washington as both Iran and Venezuela are under illegal US sanctions.

The US recently beefed up its naval presence in the Caribbean for what it claims is ‘an expanded anti-drug operation’.

Washington has also threatened to take measures against Iran in particular, according to a senior US official, who did not provide further details.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday warned of retaliatory measures against the United States if it caused problems for the tankers.

Meanwhile, the United States has asked Israel to sever ties with China in areas which entail security risks, the Jerusalem Post reports.

Citing an unnamed US official, the Israeli daily revealed that the Trump administration has asked Israel to take concrete steps to reduce its ties with China.

So far: ‘The Israeli side has politely acknowledged our concerns without committing to action,’ the unnamed official said.

‘I don’t think polite deflection will cut it anymore,’ the official added. ‘This is a high priority for the US.’

One industry that the US has pinpointed as particularly sensitive is technology, so much so that the US has been eyeing Chinese-Israeli joint academic research in the field, the report said.

The US is especially concerned with the billions of dollars Chinese companies have invested in technologies that Israel has classified as commercial, but could be used by Chinese intelligence, like artificial intelligence, satellite communications and cybersecurity.

The demand came just days after US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, visited the occupied territories and asked Israel to reconsider its joint projects with China in areas with security risks and sensitivities for the US, including academic projects and technological research and development.

In previous public statements, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and other State Department officials had focused on the establishment of a more robust review process for foreign investments that might pose risks, and a reduction of reliance on China for emergency equipment in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The US and Israel share some of the most sensitive intelligence with one another.

In addition, American contractors sell Israel some of the most classified military hardware and weapons in the US like the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, according to the Israeli daily.

The US is concerned that with China building most of Israel’s infrastructure – roads, trains, tunnels, ports and more – it will eventually gain access to the lines of communication through which Israel and the US communicate intelligence with one another. That is something that Washington will not tolerate, said the report.

For too long, Israel has cozied up to China while ignoring potential ramifications or fallout with its greatest ally, the United States, the newspaper said.

However, Tel Aviv could be on a collision course with Washington unless tight restrictions are imposed on Chinese investment in Israel, because the US president sees this both as a geopolitical security threat and a distraction from accomplishing the objectives of his trade war with China.

According to Israel’s Army Radio last Tuesday, Tel Aviv has asked Washington to pay Israel compensation in exchange for reducing ties with China – an offer that the US reportedly rejected.

The ongoing friction between the US and China has escalated in recent months in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, and the US has put pressure on many of its allies as a result.

The US has accused China of hiding news of the original outbreak of the novel coronavirus from the world.

President Trump has long called Covid-19 a ‘Chinese virus,’ going so far as to accuse Chinese President Xi Jinping of standing behind a ‘disinformation and propaganda attack on the United States and Europe.’

The current venomous rhetoric by Trump and his allies about China’s ‘culpability’ for the Covid-19 pandemic has led to strong reactions from Chinese officials.

China’s Ambassador to Israel Du Wei – who was found dead in his official residence in Herzliya last Sunday – had made a high-profile defence of his country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with Israel’s Makor Rishon newspaper in April, Du addressed the matter of Chinese investments in Israel, expressing hope for further cooperation.

He also expressed hope that ties between Israel and China would be strengthened, and strongly addressed the accusations levelled against his country as being responsible for the outbreak of the virus.

Mystery and speculation surrounds his death, and comments from readers under an online article in the Jerusalem Post included: ‘Something smells fishy here.’

Another said there was ‘A long list of suspects,’ and the envoy’s death was like something in a spy movie, or the US murder investigation show CSI (Crime Scene Investigation).

Others suggested a link to Pompeo’s recent whirlwind visit to Israel, during which he was overtly critical of China, and demanded that Israel stop sharing confidential military information with Beijing.

Meanwhile, International nonproliferation advocates have warned of ‘dangerously destabilising consequences’ after a report revealed that the Trump administration is in discussion about conducting the United States’ first nuclear test since 1992, amid rising tensions with Russia and China.

A senior administration official and two former officials said the issue was raised at a May 15 meeting of senior national security officials after the White House accused Russia and China of carrying out low-yield nuclear tests, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a global civil society coalition working to promote full implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, warned in a Twitter post that the decision would have dire consequences.

ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn also issued a statement warning that a nuclear test by the United States would ‘plunge us back into a new Cold War.

‘It would also blow up any chance of avoiding a dangerous new nuclear arms race. It would complete the erosion of the global arms control framework,’ she said in the statement.

A US Administration official told the Post, on condition of anonymity, that it was suggested during the meeting that a nuclear test would enhance Washington’s negotiating position as the US resumes nuclear arms control talks with the Kremlin.

The meeting did not conclude with any agreement to conduct a test, but a senior official said the proposal is ‘very much an ongoing conversation’.

Other nuclear nonproliferation advocates also warned that the resumption of nuclear testing by the US could set off a dangerous nuclear arms race.

‘It would be an invitation for other nuclear-armed countries to follow suit,’ Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told the newspaper. ‘It would be the starting gun to an unprecedented nuclear arms race.’

Trump has expressed willingness to leave the Open Skies Treaty, which governs unarmed and reconnaissance overflights, which was initially established to avert a conflict between the US and Russia.

The US is the only country to have deployed a nuclear weapon against another nation, and carried out more than a 1,000 nuclear tests between 1945 and 1992 when it stopped testing.