The Pentagon and US intelligence agencies are closely tracking two Iranian ships that Tehran claims are bound for Venezuela.
At the Pentagon and other agencies, officials said that at the moment the ships’ passage is not a concern, but they are being monitored and the intelligence community is working to assess what Iran’s intentions are.
The two countries – both subject of harsh US sanctions – are allies and trading partners that have helped each other withstand the American measures.
While it’s still unclear if the ships are carrying any weapons, satellite imagery shows one of them is carrying the kind of small, fast-attack boats that Iran has used to harass US naval ships in the Persian Gulf.
According to analysts, if Iranian vessels gain the ability to access the Atlantic, it would be a significant step forward for the country’s navy, which has tried and failed to do so in the past.
Officials say the US has been monitoring the ships for approximately two weeks. The vessels have been off the east coast of Africa for the past seven days. While they were initially expected to round the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the continent around June 9 to June 11, experts tracking their movement say that now they are not expected to arrive until July.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that would be a “provocative act” and a threat to US allies.
“While DoD will not comment on intelligence matters, we would note that the delivery of such weapons would be a provocative act and a threat to our partners in this hemisphere. As such we would reserve the right to take appropriate measures — in concert with our partners — to deter the delivery or transit of such weapons,” said Kirby in a statement.