Iranian state TV has announced at least five least five Iranian-flagged tankers are transporting fuel to Venezuela through the Atlantic Ocean and plan to break the American blockade on the Latin American country.
Iran has warned that any US attempt at intercepting its fuel tankers "would have serious repercussions for the Trump administration ahead of the November elections."
State-funded PressTV underscores that "Iran is shipping tons of gasoline to Venezuela in defiance of US sanctions on both countries in a symbolic move guaranteed by Tehran’s missile prowess."
Both countries have been targeted under US sanctions and various levels of covert military action of late. President Trump has taken a personal interest in renewed pressure on Maduro, within the past months reportedly pushing his generals to go forward with a 'naval blockade' of the socialist nation.
State media has further emphasized that the Iranian fuel tankers will not attempt to conceal their presence or mission: "Iran has intentionally hoisted its own flag over the huge tankers which are navigating through the Atlantic before the eyes of the US Navy," according to the report.
Reuters has also reported that US defense officials are planning a potential response:
The United States has a “high degree of certainty” that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is paying Iran tons of gold for the fuel, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is not only unwelcome by the United States but it’s unwelcome by the region, and we’re looking at measures that can be taken,” the official said.
The contentious issue of closer ties between Tehran and Caracas became center stage after in April a series of sanctioned Iranian Mahan Air flights landed in Venezuela to transport badly needed equipment to fix fuel refining plants for domestic gas consumption amid a severe national shortage.
Secretary of State Pompeo at the time called on all countries to block airspace for such 'banned' flights. In the past months the US administration reportedly ordered a naval build-up in the Caribbean in order to thwart 'illegal' sanctions-busting activities involving Venezuela.
With the Iranians now brazenly advertising their efforts, and with Trump apparently in the mood to renew counter-Maduro efforts, things look headed toward another 'tanker war' showdown such as played out in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean last summer (when the UK and Gibraltar captured an Iranian tanker, but then Tehran returned the favor with the IRGC capture of the Stena Impero tanker).
But given such a scenario could repeat in what the US sees as its own backyard of the Caribbean, things would get much messier and likely more aggressive.