When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died in June 1989, there was a brutal heat wave in Tehran. Iranian forces sprayed the crowds who took to the streets with water to prevent heat stroke. The quip on the streets of Tehran at the time was “the old man was so senile, he forgot to close the door on the way down.” With the passing of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, Khomeini surely has company.
The relationship between Chavez and the Islamic Republic of Iran was too often dismissed in policy circles. Some in the State Department approached it almost as an amusing curiosity, while on the right it became exhibit A in the strange confluence of radical Islamism and unrestrained leftism.
There was much more to the relationship than rhetorical solidarity. Give credit where credit is due: Roger Noriega, a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, has established a record of accuracy when utilizing insider sources to report on Chavez’s health. He was given accurate diagnoses when the State Department was accepting their own interlocutors, who were supplying far more optimistic accounts of Chavez’s health, going back years.
Roger has also been at the forefront of reporting on the Iranian-Venezuelan military and nuclear cooperation. Just over a year ago, Roger described “Iran’s Gambit in Latin America” in COMMENTARY. He also described the curious interaction of Venezuela and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in The American:
According to reliable sources in the Venezuelan government, Iranian Major General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Revolutionary Guard Corps aerospace commander who previously headed Iran’s missile program, visited the facilities in Maracay and Moran in July 2009 and November 2011. An independent source who infiltrated Hezbollah on behalf of a South American security agency attended several lectures from 2006 to 2008 at the Iranian-run petrochemical training facility by radical cleric Mohsen Rabbani, who is wanted by Interpol for his role in the 1992 and 1994 terrorist bombings against the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Now that Chavez is gone, it should be a priority for the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry to push to see just what Iran and Chavez were up to. Russia, China, and Turkey always water down or undercut sanctions by arguing there is no proof that Iran has nefarious intentions. That proof may very well lay in Venezuela. Then again, perhaps Obama and Kerry would be just as happy as Putin and Erdoğan to see no proof emerge. In that case, their best strategy might simply be not to look. If it’s a choice between being proven wrong on their strategy of outreach and protecting U.S. national security, let’s hope that Obama and Kerry put country before pride.