Back in May Iran sent a convoy of five tankers carrying gasoline to Venezuela, helping the Maduro regime deal with a major gas shortage. At the time, the Trump administration was said to be debating how aggressively to respond. No direct confrontation of the convoy happened then but the situation changed dramatically this week when U.S. prosecutors moved to seize the cargo onboard four tankers headed for Venezuela.
The action comes weeks after Iran sent five tankers and 1.5 million barrels of gasoline in a symbolic gesture of support to embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in defiance of the Trump administration.
A U.S. judge in Washington signed a seizure warrant Thursday for Venezuela-bound shipments aboard four other tankers — the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna — whose deliveries were disrupted. Prosecutors estimated their cargo included 1.2 million barrels of gasoline worth nearly $50 million — the seizure of which would be a blow the U.S. government aimed at Iran’s use of third-party shippers to avert economic penalties…
Prosecutors claimed the movements were arranged by Mahmoud Madanipour, an Iran-based man affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard.
The Post published the civil forfeiture lawsuit which includes details about Madanipour’s involvement:
A confidential reliable source stated that Mahmoud Madanipour was the Iran-based individual who arranged the shipments of the Defendant Properties on behalf of Mobin International Ltd. (“Mobin International”). According to a confidential reliable source, Mahmoud Madanipour is affiliated with the IRGC…
A confidential reliable source has also stated that, during planning discussions regarding sanctions evasion, Madanipour said that any business conducted by foreign entities would require IRGC consent. Madanipour also said that in order to conceal IRGC involvement, the government of Iran had officially retired numerous IRGC leaders and then placed them at the heads of companies in key Iranian industrial sectors…
A text message between Madanipour and a co-conspirator noted difficulties in the voyage for both the Bella and the Bering. The co-conspirator texted, “the ship owner doesn’t want to go because of the American threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed We will also buy the ship.”
And because the IRGC is a designated terrorist group, the U.S. is claiming the gasoline onboard those ships should be forfeit. But Iran says any attempt to take the gasoline would be “piracy.”
“Any attempt on the high seas to prevent Iran from engaging in lawful trade with any country it chooses will be an act of piracy, pure and simple,” said Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Tehran’s office in New York. “This is a direct threat to international peace and security and in contravention of international law including the U.N. Charter.”
Iran has other problems including those mysterious fires at their nuclear enrichment facilities. Still, they seems to be in a fighting mood. Earlier this week Iran issued an arrest warrant for President Trump over the killing of Qasem Soleimani. It seems this conflict is going to continue to escalate.