According to Die Welt, Venezuela has agreed to allow Iran to establish a military base manned by Iranian missile officers, soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Venezuelan missile officers. In addition, Iran has given permission for the missiles to be used in case of an "emergency". In return, the agreement states that Venezuela can use these facilities for "national needs" – radically increasing the threat to neighbors like Colombia. The German daily claims that according to the agreement, Iranian Shahab 3 (range 1300-1500 km), Scud-B (285-330 km) and Scud-C (300, 500 and 700 km) will be deployed in the proposed base. It says that Iran also pledged to help Venezuela in rocket technology expertise, including intensive training of officersThe sides plan on building the new base some time in 2011.
Venezuela has also become the country through which Iran intends to bypass UN sanctions. Following a new round of UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic, for example, Russia decided not to sell five battalions of S-300PMU-1 air defence systems to Iran. These weapons, along with a number of other weapons, were part of a deal, signed in 2007, worth $800 million. Now that these weapons cannot be delivered to Iran, Russia is looking for new customers; according to the Russian press agency Novosti, it found one: Venezuela.
Novosti reports the words of Igor Korotchenko, head of a Moscow-based think tank on international arms trade, saying that if the S-300 deal with Venezuela goes through, Caracas should pay cash for the missiles, rather than take another loan from Russia. "The S-300 is a very good product and Venezuela should pay the full amount in cash, as the country's budget has enough funds to cover the deal ," Korotchenko said. Moscow has already provided Caracas with several loans to buy Russian-made weaponry, including a recent $2.2-mln loan on the purchase of 92 T-72M1M tanks, the Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems and other military equipment.
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Drudge has ramped up the hype on the story, claiming that the missiles could hit the US. Assuming that the Venezuelans station their missiles at the closest point relative to the US, they'd still be outside the range of hitting the continental US. A missile flying from Caracas to Key West, Florida would have to travel 1373 miles or 1193 nautical miles. The Shahab missile's top range may be 932 miles, which means that it may barely make it - it's at the extreme range and Iranian missile technology isn't exactly known for its reliability or accuracy (then again, neither is its photo editing skills in covering up the unreliability of its missiles and rockets).
That doesn't mean that the Iranian missile threat is nonexistent. Those missiles could still threaten US bases in Puerto Rico, Guantanamo Bay, or US interests throughout the Carribean including the US Virgin Islands and our allies in Latin America.
This is all part of a continuing attempt by the Iranians to sow discord and spread its anti-US message around the world. It has found a fellow-traveler in the form of Hugo Chavez, who regularly lambastes the US and has a long record of suppressing dissent.
The report also once again reinforces the need for the US to continue work on missile defense technologies to deal with threats such as these.