Archive for July 28, 2010
Iranian Shock Troops in Venezuela?
We were a little surprised near the end of the (July 27) Senate confirmation hearing for Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to be the new head of U.S. Central Command when Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) brought up Venezuela.
LeMieux said he was very concerned about the connection between Iran and Venezuela including secret flights between the two countries and the presence of “Iranian shock troops in Venezuela.”
LeMieux, who was appointed last year to serve out the remaining term of Mel Martinez, has fretted often about Venezuela recently, calling President Hugo Chavez’s decision to break diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia “troubling” and complaining about “the deepening deterioration of human rights and democracy in Venezuela” along with six other senators in a July 21 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps even more surprising was Mattis’ answer, telling the Florida Republican “I register your concern” and adding “I have no argument with you.”
In April, a Pentagon report to Congress about Iran’s current and future military strategy noted the activities of an elite unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qod Force, to “clandestinely exert military, political and economic power to advance Iranian national interests abroad.” Those activities range from gathering intelligence to supplying training, arms and financial support to surrogate groups and terrorist organizations, according to the 12-page unclassified version of the report. Those groups include Hezbollah in Lebanon and HAMAS in Palestine.
The Qods Force is well-established in the Middle East and North Africa “and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela,” the Pentagon report said, noting that if the U.S. gets more involved in local conflicts in those regions, contact with the Qods Force “directly, or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential.”
Chavez has denied there are any Iranian troops in his country, calling the Pentagon report “totally false.” Iran and Venezuela have developed close links since Chavez took office in 1999, but there have been no formal military cooperation deals.
And U.S. officials have denied Chavez’s claims that the U.S. is backing a potential attack on Venezuela by neighboring Colombia. Bogotá claims Chavez is giving sanctuary to Colombian rebels known by the acronym FARC.
To view the recorded Webcast of the Mattis confirmation hearing click here. LeMieux’s question comes near the end at 146 minutes and 12 seconds.