The United States has warned both Iran and Venezuela that it will not tolerate any attempt of the Islamic Republic to ship long-range missiles to the Maduro government.
"We will make every effort to stop shipments of long-range missiles, and if somehow they get to Venezuela they will be eliminated there," White House Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams said.
"Every delivery of Iranian arms destabilizes South America and the Caribbean and is especially dangerous to Venezuela’s neighbors in Brazil, Columbia, and Guyana," he added.
"Iran has announced its intention to engage in arms sales, and Venezuela is an obvious target because those two pariah regimes already have a relationship," Abrams alleged.
"Venezuela is paying in gold to buy gasoline from Iran, and there is an Iranian presence in the country. Venezuela’s economy has collapsed, so every bar of gold for Iran is tens of thousands of dollars the Venezuelan people need for food and medicine."
Though there's no evidence that it's happened yet, Maduro - himself long targeted for US-backed regime change - is indeed naturally the first country to likely pursue Iranian weapons purchases. Recently it's become clear there's been some significant advances in the Islamic Republic's domestic production capabilities, which the country ramped up as it found itself so isolated under sanctions.
Following the expiration of the Oct.18 UN arms embargo on Iran, its Ministry of Defense indicated it is ready and willing to sell weapons to "countries despised by the US" - as one state media headline read at the time. And as another report emphasized, "The end of the embargo means Iran will legally be able to buy and sell conventional arms, including missiles, helicopters and tanks."
It's widely believed that for years Iran was already covertly shipping ballistic missiles to Yemen's Shia Houthi rebels, considered a game-changer in terms of ability to strike deep in side Saudi territory, as happened with the Aramco Abqaiq–Khurais attack involving small drones but also likely missiles.
The potential for Iranian ballistic missiles to be in Venezuela would raise the question of such advanced weapons actually being able to reach the US mainland and locations in the Caribbean. Abrams comments at the start of this week emphasized the US military would likely take them out once they reached Venezuelan soil.