By Andrew Melton
Ask someone about Iran right now, and you will most likely hear a response related to the Strait of Hormuz or its nuclear program. Many Americans see the Iranian threat as one confined to the Middle East. They hope to neutralize it with increasingly restrictive sanctions meant to further isolate Iran. However, instead of penning in Iran, these sanctions have forced the Persians to search for new trading partners. Tehran hopes that they have found these new partners in Latin America. Iran has increased its diplomatic and military presence in the region with some countries responding more favorably than others.
Venezuela is Iran’s biggest ally in the region. The two nations have often been the target of Western criticism, naturally bringing them together. The trading partnership between the two is strong and likely to continue. Iran’s focus is on countries maybe not as controversial as Venezuela, but that have had problems with the West. This month President Ahmadinejad will visit Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, and Nicaragua. The latter three have relatively uncertain economic futures with the United States.
The United States, however, should not worry too much about the economic implications of Iran’s interest in Latin America. Whether it is fair or not, Iran is somewhat of a toxic commodity on the international stage. Most countries are not going to pick a side in this fight, and if they were to, I would not expect it to be Iran’s. What are worrisome are the security implications of Iran’s military expansion. Members of the elite Quds Force, a special branch of the Iranian military, are being stationed at embassies in Latin America.
Many fear that this build up signifies Iran’s commitment to violent retaliation in response to sanctions. Such was the case in October when the United States government foiled an assassination plot in Washington DC with suspected connections to the Quds Force and Mexican nationals. The bold and reckless nature of the October plot that easily could have started a war is cause for alarm. If Tehran was willing to risk war months ago, what will they be willing to do in the future in response to more restrictive sanctions?
Perhaps it means Iran is in a state of desperation trying to find an answer for Western sanctions, or maybe Tehran is simply trying to find another way of annoying the United States. I think 2012 will show the former to be true. When you look at Tehran’s increased involvement in Latin America in the context of the extreme rhetoric revolving around the Strait of Hormuz, Iran looks more and more like a nation running out of options. Whether Latin America is the answer, 2012 can only tell.