Five Iranian tankers likely carrying at least $45.5 million worth of gasoline and similar products are now sailing to Venezuela amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, the AP reports. The tankers' voyage come after Venezuela's socialist leader Nicolás Maduro turned to Iran for help in flying in chemicals needed at an aging refinery amid a gasoline shortage, a symptom of the wider economic and political chaos gripping Latin America's one-time largest oil producer. For Iran, the tankers represent a way to bring money into its cash-starved Shiite theocracy and put its own pressure on the US, which under President Trump has pursued maximalist campaigns against both nations.
But the strategy invites the chance of a renewed confrontation between the Islamic Republic and America both in the Persian Gulf, which saw a series of escalating incidents often involving the oil industry last year, and wider afield. "This is like a new one for everyone," says an analyst. "We haven't seen anything like this before." All the vessels involved belong to Iranian state-owned or state-linked companies, flying under the Iranian flag. A top Trump administration official told Reuters this week that Washington might take action over the oil shipment, while Iran's Nour news agency warned that if the US acts "like pirates, [and] intends to create insecurity on international waterways, it would be taking a dangerous risk and that will certainly not go without repercussion."
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