Iran’s Mahan Air, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly transporting military equipment to war zones in the Middle East, began direct flights from Teheran to Caracas, Venezuela last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“This is Iran intervening in South America. That’s not in the best interests of the South American people, and the United States stands ready,” Pompeo told Voice of America in an April 13 interview.
Mike Pompeo said there is “no doubt” that Iran has a financial presence in South America.
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“Iranian money remains in South America being used for malign purposes, supporting Hizbullah, supporting transnational criminal organizations, supporting efforts at terrorism throughout the region,” Pompeo told VOA during a stop in Paraguay.
Iran is among the nations continuing to support socialist Nicolas Maduro. Russia, China and Cuba also continue to back the Venezuelan dictator.
The United States and much of the West support interim President Juan Guaido.
Maduro, who took office in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez, was sworn in for a second term in January following what many in the international community said were sham elections in May 2018 that were marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging, leading to mass street protests.
Meanwhile, the U.S. last week announced new sanctions against a Lebanese network accused of laundering millions of dollars for “drug kingpins” and helping finance the Hizbullah terrorist organization, AFP reported.
The U.S. Treasury Department said it has added Kassem Chams to its blacklist, along with two related entities: the “Chams Money Laundering Organization” and Chams Exchange, a money service business in Lebanon.
“Kassem Chams and his international money laundering network move tens of millions of dollars a month in illicit narcotics proceeds on behalf of drug kingpins and facilitate money movements for Hezbollah,” Treasury said in a statement.
The Chams network moves money to and from multiple countries including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, France, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Spain, the United States and Venezuela, according to the statement.
The sanctions are part of the administration’s “unprecedented campaign to prevent Hizbullah and its global terror affiliates from profiting off violence, corruption, and the drug trade,” said Treasury under secretary Sigal Mandelker.
Earlier this month, the U.S. designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. Hizbullah was created at the initiative of the IRGC during the Lebanese civil war in 1982.
In another development, an Israeli air strike in central Syria wounded six combatants on April 13 killed several Iranian fighters and wounded 17 Syrian troops and their allies, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The Observatory said the strike targeted a Syrian military college in the town of Misyaf and two buildings used by Iranian forces in nearby villages, a development center for medium-range missiles in Zawi and a training camp in Sheikh Ghadban.
Syrian’s state-run “Around 2:30 a.m. … the Israeli air force carried out a strike targeting one of our military positions in the town of Misyaf,” Syrian state-run media outlet SANA quoted a military source as saying. “Our air defense batteries intercepted some of the Israeli missiles,” the source said, adding that the strike “wounded three combatants and destroyed buildings.”
Israel is believed to have carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria against Iranian and Hizbullah targets.