The Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro—who has held on to the reins of power after his country’s national assembly declared Juan Guaidó the legitimate president in January—has turned to his longtime allies in Moscow and Tehran for support as domestic unrest increases. In moves strongly reminiscent of their efforts to prop up Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the two countries have sent arms, military advisers, and possibly troops to Venezuela. Jay Solomon writes:
Russia is believed to have deployed around 150 military and security personnel in Caracas in recent months. Iran has commenced weekly flights to Caracas, potentially to ferry military supplies to Maduro. Meanwhile, Hizballah and Cuba have deployed a network of intelligence officials to help him maintain control of the military and the streets, according to Venezuelan and American officials briefed on the relevant intelligence.
If Maduro survives, Russia, Iran, and Hizballah would score another major victory against the West, essentially replicating their defense of Assad in the Western Hemisphere at a much lower cost in lives and treasure. They would also solidify a beachhead in Latin America through which to challenge U.S. allies while drawing from Venezuela’s enormous energy and mineral wealth. U.S. officials are particularly concerned about Hizballah’s ability to exploit the weakened state to generate more revenue from narcotics trafficking. . . .
[The Iranian flights to Venezuela] commenced just a week after Maduro’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, visited Lebanon and Syria to meet with two of Tehran’s closest allies: Assad and Hizballah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah. . . . The Iranian proxy militia has been active in Latin America for decades, often infiltrating Arab émigré populations to conduct operations. For example, investigators concluded that the group coordinated with Iran to bomb the Israeli embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s, with some senior Argentinian officials accused of complicity in the latter crime. More recently, the Treasury Department blacklisted the Lebanese Canadian Bank in 2011 on charges of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars of Latin American drug money into Hizballah accounts in Beirut.