Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi traveled to Venezuela this week as part of a tour of South America.
Raisi is seeking to cement Iran’s ties to Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the region in general. This is partly aimed at getting around US sanctions and showcasing Iran’s ability to maneuver on the global stage. It is also about increasing Tehran’s influence.
This has ramifications for Israel because some of the countries that are being visited are hostile to Israel or critical of Israel. In addition, this could increase Iran’s trade and lead to more drone sales or other opportunities for Tehran.
There are several key areas that are important to focus on regarding Iran’s influence in South America and this trip specifically. According to pro-government media in Iran, the trip highlights the strategic ties with Venezuela. The Maduro regime in Venezuela had appeared isolated several years ago but now it appears to be making new inroads in the Middle East.
Iran’s ties with Caracas are part of that story, but so are Iran and Venezuela’s outreach to Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The importance of trade in the Iran-Venezuela diplomatic relationship
Trade is one feature of the Venezuela-Iran relationship. This includes energy deals and also potential defense deals.
Iran has sought more markets for its drones. It already supplies drones to Russia. Venezuela may not need missiles or other technology from Iran and Iran may not have much more to offer, but every client for the drone program matters.
Recent reports in the Wall Street Journal say Iran has sought Chinese technology for the drones and also a report in the Jewish Chronicle showed it had also sought to exploit universities in the UK.
It's also known that Iranian proxies have a role in South America. Hezbollah in particular has sought to recruit and infiltrate the region.
In Venezuela, Iran also seeks to sign various new deals relating to “communications and information technology, energy, insurance, maritime transport, higher education, agriculture, medicine and medicine, cultural exchanges, as well as the development of mineral cooperation…oil, defense and support of the armed forces, healthcare and culture,” Iran’s Fars News said.
It is less clear what Iran’s leader will do in Cuba or Nicaragua, however, the same issues of trade and influence peddling are important to focus on. Iran may also be seeking to expand its sphere of influence to include Brazil or other countries. Considering how important this region is to the US and also Israel, any new initiative by Iran is an important and concerning trend.
In addition in regard to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some countries such as Brazil have not always agreed with the wider Western consensus, meaning Iran may be able to try to make inroads there.